PASADENA, Calif. Now the ‘Caneing is complete.
Finishing off a perfect season by providing even more proof that college football needs a playoff, top-ranked Miami demolished No.4 Nebraska 37-14 before 93,781 at the Rose Bowl last night, securing its first national title since 1991.
“We never flinched,” said 53-year-old first-year coach Larry Coker after steering Miami to its fifth national title. “Miami football is officially back where it belongs.”
As the score indicates, the game was a total laugher practically from the opening kickoff. The Hurricanes (12-0) needed less than a half to send a sizeable number of the 70,000 Nebraska fans in attendance scrambling toward the exits in humiliated silence. Miami took a 7-0 lead on its third possession, cashing in on a fumble by Nebraska Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch with a 51-yard scoring toss from Miami junior quarterback Ken Dorsey to sophomore wideout Andre Johnson.
Dorsey, who finished third in the Heisman balloting but scandalously outplayed Crouch all night, found a new favorite target in Johnson, a 6-foot-3, 212-pounder with gamebreaking speed. The two spent the entire half mocking Nebraska’s single coverage on the outside, as Dorsey found Johnson five times before intermission for 160 yards and two touchdowns.
But the Miami onslaught, which resulted in a 34-0 halftime lead, wasn’t just Dorsey to Johnson. Junior tailback Clinton Portis, who is likely to skip his senior season and head to the NFL, ran over and around the Nebraska defense at will. Not that anyone was surprised about that success. After all, the Blackshirts were torched for 380 rushing yards in their last outing against Colorado in what was then a program-worst 62-36 loss.
And the Miami defense, which supposedly couldn’t stop the run, completely stifled Crouch and the nation’s most potent running game, forcing three first-half turnovers and tackling Crouch for losses as often as not. Nebraska’s final turnover allowed the Miami defense to actually outscore Nebraska in the half, as Miami safety James Lewis turned a tipped, high pass from Crouch to tight end Tracey Wistrom into a 46-yard interception return for a touchdown. Lewis’ score put the ‘Canes ahead 21-0 with 12:52 remaining in the half and effectively ended the competitive portion of the game.
“I was just making my reads,” said Lewis. “We knew they were going to try a lot of underneath stuff off play action, and we didn’t think Crouch was accurate enough to hurt us. The minute I saw that ball in the air my eyes lit up because I knew I was going to take it to the house in the biggest game of the season.”
Then again, none of the four BCS games was remotely competitive this season. Perhaps that’s what happens when you allow the BCS, with it’s computer-aided formula, to determine the pivotal bowl matchups.
Under the old system, Miami would have played once-beaten Oregon (which was ranked No.2 in the final AP poll) in the title game. The Ducks (11-1), of course, destroyed the same Colorado team in the Fiesta Bowl that buried Nebraska back on Nov.23.
“Obviously, I think the system is flawed,” said Oregon coach Mike Belotti, who was at last night’s game. “We would have liked a shot at Miami, but we did all we could.”
Perhaps ABC, which has the rights to the BCS games through 2006, took such a beating at the bank over the last three days that they will entertain playoff proposals. After all, a lot of East Coast TVs either went off or found more entertaining programming around 10 last night with the game well in hand.
But in spite of the system, nobody can deny that the best team wound up at the top of the heap when the white towels finally stopped waving in the four BCS bowl blowouts. Miami, whom the system might have owed one after spurning them in last season’s title game in lieu of a Florida State team they beat, was the only Division I-A team to finish the season undefeated. And despite incredible escapes at Boston College and Virginia Tech, the Hurricanes unquestionably had the best combination of size, skill, speed and balance in the nation.
From Dorsey to Portis to the nation’s best corps of offensive linemen and defensive backs, Miami entered the season with a load of talent and the burden of expectation and successfully carried the bullseye as the nation’s virtual wire-to-wire No. 1 team.
Last night, Johnson emerged as the team’s electric performer of the future, sharing MVP honors with Dorsey. And Miami reclaimed its past glory as college football’s preeminent program.
“It feels even better than I could have ever imagined,” said safety and team leader Ed Reed. “I knew we were going to do it all along, but now I get to wake up tomorrow morning and see Miami as No.1 in every paper and every sports channel across the nation.”