Please say hello to the BCS No. 1 University of Miami Hurricanes (11-0) and No. 2 Nebraska Cornhuskers (11-1). Combatants in the Rose Bowl and both hopefuls for a national championship. Both teams took distinctively different routes to their next destination, but they share the same goal.
Leaving the west coast a winner.
On one side there is the Miami Hurricanes, winners of 21 straight games and a unanimous choice to take part in the national championship game as the Bowl Championship Series' No. 1. By going through the regular season undefeated the Hurricanes (11-0) left nothing to chance after being left out of the title hunt a year ago.
In the other corner are the Cornhusker, who despite being blown out in their regular finale at Colorado and failing to win the Big 12 Conference were deemed worthy by the computers to play in the game, inciting a bevy of critics.
Since finishing off Virginia Tech to fill one of two spots, the Hurricanes have maintained they didn't care who their opponent would be. Nebraska knows the country's impression of them isn't a real good one after being trashed by the Buffaloes.
"All we know is we're going up against a great football team that will be ready to play on Jan. 3," said University of Miami head coach Larry Coker. "How they got to the game really doesn't matter at this point. There going to the Rose Bowl and that's the team we have to prepare for."
Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch isn't making any promises. The senior Heisman Trophy winner is just glad his team received a second chance and has a shot of proving that they do should have been in the contest all along.
"Given a second chance you normally go out there and do everything you can- you play harder," said Crouch. "Coming off a loss and the way that ended up, there is no question in my mind that we're out to prove something."
Nebraska players and coaches have noticed the fact they are close to 10 point underdogs. They have read how their deficiencies on defense came to the forefront against Colorado and will be further exploited by Miami. They have all read the glowing comments about the Hurricanes massive offensive-line.
But the Cornhuskers will be there come the first Thursday of 2002- with a plan.
Led by Crouch, only the 13th player in NCAA history to run and rush for over 1,000 yards in the same season, the Cornhuskers have no interest in playing mind games or sneaking up on the Hurricanes defense. They intend to run the football, plain and simple.
For years the Cornhuskers have utilized an option style offense, with an occasional play-action pass. That won't change against a Miami defensive-front of William Joseph, Andre Williams, Matt Walters and Jerome McDougle
"Our offense is geared around running the football and every team we face understands that and knows what we're all about," said Crouch. "So they are going to find a way to stop the run and we're going to find ways to try and make it work."
"That's the great part about football. We're going to go out and expose their defense by running the football. There's no question we're going to do it that way and not by throwing the ball. We feel that we have the talent and the receivers and the system that we can make plays in the power, option and passing games."
And for the most part, the Cornhuskers have found a way.
Despite missing a game, junior I-back Dahrran Diedrick anchors a power running game with a team-leading 1,299 yards and 15 touchdowns on 233 carries. Crouch, known for putting the ball under his arm and running, has a second-best 1,261 rushing yards to go with 18 touchdowns. Junior Thunder Collins has added 678 yards and five touchdowns this season.
Junior split end Wilson Thomas has been effective as Crouch's main target with 37 receptions and 616 yards. But having senior tight end Tracy Winstrom back in the lineup and close to 100 percent against the Hurricanes adds another dimension to the Huskers offense. Winstrom (21 catches, 323 yards, 2 touchdowns) has been slowed by ankle and knee injuries all season.
"We have to be able to run the ball and stay away from third and long situations where we have to throw long balls and force things," said Crouch. "That is going to be key."
Ignoring that the quickness and aggressiveness of past and present UM defensive units has made the option offense ineffective, the Cornhuskers aren't about to change anything in their gameplan. Crouch believes their style is different than what Miami has seen in the past.
"I'm sure they've seen a few teams come out and try to run some options on them, but not a team where , we run quite a few different types of option. So I think it will be a little different for them," said Crouch. "They've got great talent on that team and great athleticism, so we know we're up against a great challenge."
By running the ball, the Cornhuskers will be looking to keep the Hurricanes explosive offense off the field. Although the Hurricanes defense have allowed their opponent just 3.1 yards per rush and an average of 270.9 yards per game, they have surrendered plenty on the ground in the early parts of games all season.
Eight of the Hurricanes opponents this season went over the 100-yard mark rushing, with Florida State compiling a season-high 214 against the UM. Even in losing to Miami, Pittsburgh (133), Troy State (155), West Virginia (193) and (Boston College (131) all had big days in the rushing department. Miami had fewer first downs than their opponent only twice the entire regular season (18 to 30 vs. FSU and 24 to 27 vs. Troy State).
The Hurricanes gave up a lot of yards, but not too many points. UM defense recorded three shutout this season and gave up an average of 9.4 points a game. Miami has allowed 103 points in 11 games.
"The fact is we keep teams out of the endzone," said senior safety Ed Reed. "We've had guys step up and make big plays in critical situations all season long. This group is opportunistic."
Including Reed, considered by many an NFL first-rounder. Reed leads the Hurricanes and the nation with nine interceptions and holds the all-time school record with 21 picks. Sophomore linebacker Jonathan Vilma leads the Hurricanes in tackles with 73, followed by Matt Walters (63), Chris Campbell (63), James Lewis (59), Jerome McDougle (55) and D. J. Williams (51).
The Hurricanes defense could find itself busy chasing Crouch around. Just like Nebraska might be trying to contain the Hurricanes offense.
The Hurricanes displayed offensive balance all season in scoring 475 points. Although starting quarterback Ken Dorsey did not post eye-whopping numbers, he was precise in anchoring the offense. Dorsey, 23-1 as a starter, threw for 2.,652 yards and 23 touchdowns. Junior tight end Jeremy Shockey led the Hurricanes with 40 receptions and added seven touchdowns. Sophomore receiver Andre Johnson provided another threat in the passing game (37 catches, 582 yards, 10 touchdowns).
"We're not going to change anything at this point, either," said Dorsey. "We now exactly what we need to accomplish to be successful in carrying out our plan."
That plan probably will in part be using junior running back Clinton Portis, who this season became just the seventh UM player ever to rush for over 1,000 yards (1,200). Portis scored 10 touchdowns in compiling 5.5 yards per carry behind an offensive-line considered the best in the country.
"We both might have the same plan," Portis said. "We want to run the ball."
The Cornhuskers defense, led by middle linebacker Jaime Burrow with 82 tackles allowed 1,403 rushing yards on the year.
Something has to give in the running for the roses.
"It's going to be a test of wills," said Crouch. "Let's see how wants it more."
Let the running begin.
Running of the Roses
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