LOS ANGELES Sometimes conventional wisdom is conditionally flawed.
A large contingent of the media gathered for tonight’s Rose Bowl matchup between No.1 Miami and No.4 Nebraska has decided an upset is in the offing. The logic that has made the underdog Cornhuskers (11-1) the chic pick in Pasadena seems relatively sound:
The Nebraska defense is still steaming about the team’s humiliating 62-36 loss to Colorado, giving the Cornhuskers just enough of an intensity edge on the Butkus side of the ball to negate Miami’s superior offensive personnel. And the Nebraska offense, tops in the nation in rushing (314.7), provides the perfect solution against a Miami defense that is almost impregnable through the air but was 40th in the nation against the run (132.7 yards).
“They have never seen an offense like ours,” Nebraska I-back Dahrran Diedrick said earlier this week. “We have one of the best option quarterbacks ever in Eric Crouch, a great offensive line and great backs who can pound you up the middle or burn you with speed on the edge. They haven’t played an option team, and we think it’s going to be a shock to their defense because there’s no way to simulate our level of executing the option in practice.”
Asked if Nebraska’s virtually nonexistent passing game would allow Miami to put nine guys in the box and stifle the predictable Nebraska offense, Diedrick responded flatly:
“It should be kind of easy for them to stop our running game because they know what’s coming. But it never works out that way. Teams have known for 35 years exactly what Nebraska was going to try and do, and by and large they’ve never stopped it. It comes down to technique, pride, determination and execution. Nebraska has been running the option forever because when it’s properly executed, it’s almost impossible to stop.”
OK, you can put down your copies of “The Big Red Book an option manual from Devaney to Osborne.”
There are a number of major flaws in the Nebraska-runs-over-Miami reasoning.
First, the idea that the Hurricanes (11-0) have a suspect run defense is a myth. Miami gave up 132.7 yards a game on the ground this season because teams simply couldn’t throw the ball against them. If you want stats, consider these two hidden gems that explain Miami’s seemingly flawed run defense. Because they couldn’t throw the ball against Miami’s secondary and because Miami’s efficient offense doesn’t eat much clock while producing points, teams attempted more rushes against Miami (468) than any team in the nation this season. A far more important stat than how many rushing yards Miami gave up a game is how few yards Miami gave up a rush (3.1). That number ranks among the top 10 in the nation and outstrips Nebraska’s run defense (3.4 yards an attempt).
Second, Miami gave up considerable chunks of rushing yardage to Florida State (214), West Virginia (193) and Virginia Tech (167) because the Hurricanes were protecting leads in all three games and defending primarily against the big pass play.
“It’s true we’ve haven’t faced a running team as talented as Nebraska, but it’s not like we’ve never seen the option,” Miami linebacker Jonathan Vilma said. “Syracuse ran quite a bit of option against us and didn’t have much success.”
That’s a major understatement. The Orangemen, the only team who brought a considerable option package to bear against the Hurricanes, gained just 105 yards on 46 rushes and were emasculated 59-0 by Miami.
Finally, Nebraska has faced only one team this season with Miami’s team speed on defense Oklahoma. Like Miami, which features a ball-hawking, versatile All-American safety in Ed Reed, Oklahoma walked All-American safety Roy Williams up to the line to help neutralize Crouch and the effectiveness of the option on the edge. Like Miami with Vilma, Oklahoma had an All-American linebacker patrolling the middle in Rocky Calmus. The result: Nebraska won the game 20-10 thanks to some trickery and Oklahoma’s anemic offense but was held to a conference-season low of 164 rushing yards. If Nebraska manages just 164 rushing yards and 20 points against Miami, they have almost no chance.
“We watched a lot of film of that Oklahoma game because we think we have a similar defensive scheme,” Reed said. “Defensively, they played well enough to win that game because they defended the option perfectly. The key to stopping the option is discipline and tackling. If your responsibility is to blow up the lead blocker, you can’t go after the quarterback or the tailback. And if you’re in a position to make the tackle one-on-one, you can’t blow it.
“Nebraska’s whole system is designed to get their skill guys in the option isolated on an island with your linebackers and defensive backs. The option only works if they make you miss in those situations. We have the kind of athletes that don’t miss. That’s Miami football.”