NEBRASKA, September 21, 2014 — Since the first week of the season, the conversation about which conferences look poised to lock up a berth in the NCAA’s first year of the playoff series, has featured the write off of the Big 10. Ohio State and Michigan State sustained losses – Ohio State to Va Tech, Week 2 and Michigan State to Oregon in a blowout in the second game of their season. Since then, every team in the Big 10 has had one or two losses.
Every team that is, except one – the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Prior to their game at home against Miami, a team with which the Huskers have had a bit of history, the media was making a lot of hay about the doors slamming shut on the Big Ten’s prospects to factor at the end of the season. Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini and his team were having none of it.
Nebraska, heading into last night’s game against Miami, was 3-0, including an ugly and unimpressive win over McNeese State, a team they should have dispatched with ease and style. They bounced back with a dominating 55 – 19 win out in Fresno, California last week against the Fresno State Bulldogs. But this still wasn’t sufficient to demonstrate whether Nebraska was on a comeback run, or just good enough to manhandle a team that was pretty good last year, but a shadow of itself this year. To move up in the standings, the Huskers needed something other than a cream puff non-conference opponent.
Enter the Miami Hurricanes, a program that, like Nebraska has had its glory days and like Nebraska, has suffered an extended reversal of fortune. In fact, it was back in 1994, when Miami was last in the hunt for a National Championship and got routed by the Cornhuskers 24-17 in the Orange Bowl – a payback for 3 prior heartbreaking losses to the ‘Canes. No matter the national status of either of these teams – when they play one another, they bring their A game and to every player, it feels like the Orange Bowl.
Miami, brought their A game, but it wasn’t nearly enough for Nebraska’s A game. The Huskers and the ‘Canes were reasonably well matched going into the game and in terms of overall offense at the end of the game, both teams put up good numbers; Miami, 65 plays for 435 yards and Nebraska 67 plays for 456 yards. Miami’s offense kept the Huskers on their toes all night, but Nebraska won the battle of time of possession, with an in-your-face ground game that Miami just did not have an answer to.
The game was saturated with emotion. Two huge fights broke out on the field, each time causing a flurry of yellow flags from officials and there was a lot of trash talk going on between the teams the entire game. Much of it between Nebraska’s stud Defensive End, 6-6, 240 lb., Randy Gregory – a lock for the NFL, and various members of the Miami O-Line. “There was a lot of jawing,” Miami offensive lineman Taylor Gadbois said. “They wanted it. We wanted it. It was really physical. It was two teams putting all on the line to win.”
Nebraska’s defense came out in the first quarter, pretty flat and Miami, with a true Freshman Quarterback, scored quickly on their opening drive. Brad Kaaya threw for 359 yards and three touchdowns and Duke Johnson ran 18 times for 93 yards in the game. But for the first time, Nebraska’s defense showed an opportunistic streak taking two picks from Kaaya and recovering a fumble, which Husker cornerback Josh Mitchell ran back for 57 yards and a touchdown to put Nebraska up 31-21.
By the third quarter, Nebraska took control of the game, Miami never getting closer than within 7 in the second half, the final score – Nebraska 41, Miami 31.
Tommy Armstrong, Husker QB, showed that his explosive play making capability is not a fluke, but also showed that he has a ways to go in terms of consistently making good decisions on the field, losing a fumble on an ill-advised keeper and throwing an interception into tight coverage.
Ameer Abdullah, not only broke Nebraska’s team and Heisman Trophy legend Johnny Rodgers’ record for all time yardage, hitting a career total of 5,762, but also gave the Miami defense fits with 313 all-purpose yards, second most in a game for Nebraska. Abdullah grabbed 3 touchdowns and also pushed his way into the Heisman discussion, moving closer to the top tier candidates, Marcus Mariota of Oregon, Todd Gurley of Georgia and the reigning Heisman winner Jamais Winston, QB at Florida State, who didn’t play last night, suspended for his off-field antics.
Nebraska is carrying the Big Ten on it’s back with a 4-0 record. They have a lot of room for improvement and they will have to steadily improve in order to run the table in conference play – facing tough challenges from Michigan State and Wisconsin, both on the road. But what is scary about this team is that the offense has so many weapons and the team is overall very deep at most positions.
The Big Ten is not down and out of the playoff picture just yet. Not if Nebraska has anything to say about it.