UM Defense A Nightmare

The names weren't as flashy as those of Russell Maryland, Warren Sapp, Jerome Brown or Mike Barrow. But regardless, Jonathan Vilma, Ed Reed, William Joseph, Phillip Buchanon and the rest of the national champion Hurricanes defensive unit was just as effective.

The UM defense put an exclamation point on a marvelous season by limiting the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch to 259 yards of offense and boosting the Hurricanes to a 34-0 halftime lead and an eventual 37-14 victory in the Rose Bowl.

The unit forced two of the three first-half Nebraska turnovers and was responsible for one of three second quarter UM touchdowns that ignited a 27-point barrage and put the game on ice for the Hurricanes.

Miami, led by Reed and Vilma with nine tackles each, had the Cornhuskers going in reverse much of the night. The Hurricanes recorded 13 tackles that resulted in negative yards for Nebraska and had three turnovers overall.

The unit wasn't too kind with Crouch, either. The Nebraska quarterback was held to 5-of-15 pass completions for 65 yards. Crouch also ran for 114 yards on 22 carries, although most of that came in the second half when the game was well out of hand.

And by then the Hurricanes had bruised and battered the Cornhusker field leader.

"We wanted to get to him and let him now we were there," said defensive tackle William Joseph, in a loud locker room afterwards. "We had it all working in the first half. That was just awesome. Said Vilma, who finished the season with a team-high 80 tackles after delivering several crunching hits in the final minutes of the game: "We prepared so hard I just knew we would be ready for anything they threw out us. It was special to watch and just to be part of such a great accomplishment."

After assisting in banging him up, Vilma praised Crouch and said he days later he still couldn't believe the Hurricanes were back on top of the college football world.

"By the end of the game they were just hanging their heads and looked exhausted and Crouch was really a warrior. He really is the great player everybody says he is. He took shot after shot and kept getting up."

"There was some violent collisions." Said Reed. And the Hurricanes D defense delivered most of them- in more ways than one.

With under seven minutes to play in the first quarter, the Cornhuskers reached the Hurricanes side of the field for the first time in the game. That's as far as they got.

Miami sophomore linebacker D.J. Williams halted the drive at the UM 49 with a hit on Crouch, resulting in a Nebraska turnover and handing the ball back to the Hurricanes. William Joseph made the recovery. On the very next play, Ken Dorsey found Andre Johnson on a 49-yard TD strike as Miami took a 7-0 lead.

The Cornhuskers gained 66 of their offensive yards for the game in a little over a quarter. Then, Miami safety James Lewis joined in all the fun.

With Miami ahead 14-0 early in the second quarter, Lewis, playing in his final game as a Hurricanes, incepted a Crouch at his knees and sped 47 yards into the endzone. 12:52 still remained in the opening half and the Hurricanes led 21-0.

The Hurricanes defense continued their domination on defense stopping Nebraska on three consecutive plays on the ensuing drive and forcing the Cornhuskers fourth punt of the first half. After their offense added another touchdown, the defense responded once again by forcing another punt after allowing a first down on the drive. D.J. Williams had a sack of Crouch during the sequence.

Miami was able to hang on to their shutout of Nebraska until 2:39 into the third quarter when Josh Davies broke loose of the Hurricanes D for a 16-yard TD run that made the score 34-7. That was it. The only other Nebraska score came on a punt return in the fourth quarter.

"Randy Shannon deserves a lot of credit for drawing up a great plan," said UM head coach Larry Coker. "The guys up front did a great job." Coker was complementary of the work that Jerome McDougle, Joseph, Matt Walters and Vince Wolfork did in pressuring Crouch and staying aggressive against a Nebraska offensive-line that is traditionally one of the best in the country. "You could see it in their eyes," said Vilma. "They were tired."

Despite allowing just 117 points all season and posting shutouts of Temple, Rutgers and Syracuse, the Hurricanes defense repeatedly had to answer questions about their ability against the run. In contrast to allowing 76 first downs through the air, the Canes surrendered 102 on the ground and gave up over 1,600 yards on the season rushing to the opposition.

But the Hurricanes defense came through on more than one occasion and made life even easier for a loaded offense by getting turnovers. Plenty of them. Miami finished the season with 48 turnovers forced and a nation's best 28 interceptions. Of the 39 fumbles they forced, Miami recovered 19 of them. The Hurricanes led the nation in non-offensive touchdowns with 11, including six interception returns for scores.

Reed, a projected first-rounder in April's NFL Draft, had two of those interception returns for touchdowns and was seventh on the team with 53 tackles. Buchanon, also a likely a first-rounder in the pros, had a second-best five interceptions, including one for a TD, and 26 tackles. Buchanon also flashed his special teams expertise with 501 yards worth of punt returns for a touchdown on 35 attempts.

The Hurricanes gave up several big ground plays in the 26-24 victory over Virginia Tech and were repeatedly pushed off the ball in their 18-7 scare at Boston College.

The Cornhuskers were able to manage 197 yards rushing, but were kept in big-play situations the entire game by the Hurricanes and were unable to muster any consistant offensive threat. Any more questions.

"People said we couldn't stop the run, but it doesn't matter now. Does it?," said Reed, who had nine interceptions this season to pass Bennie Blades as the all-time leader in school history. "We're national champions and that's the bottom line. Nothing else matters."

With the entire starting secondary having to be replaced (Reed, Lewis, Rumph and Buchanon), the Hurricanes could be relying on plenty of young faces next season in order to stop the opposition's aerial attack. James Scott will be the only senior and the most experienced player returning. Potential stars Antrel Rolle, Sean Taylor, Maurice Sikes, Al Marshall and Kelly Jennings will all be watched closely next spring and expected to step right in.

"There nothing you can do about losing guys," Shannon said. "You just have to get the guys you have ready to perform and in the best position to make plays."

With William Joseph bypassing a chance to go to the NFL, the Hurricanes should have one of the top defensive-lines in the nation next season. McDougle, Walters and Andrew Williams are all expected to return for their final seasons to go with sophomores-to-be Wilfork and John Sqaure.

"That has the potential of being a special group," Coker said.

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