Miami Tries Harder, but Still No. 2 After Defeating Nebraska

Times Staff Writer

The outcome is as certain as a show of hands in the Politburo, but the University of Miami tried stuffing college football’s ballot box one last time Monday night, and the Hurricanes used an obliging Nebraska to do it.

Miami’s 23-3 squeeze of the Cornhuskers in the Orange Bowl may have done nothing to enhance its national championship aspirations, but it made the No. 2 Hurricanes early contenders in the running for sore winners of 1989.

If there was another game played for No. 1 Monday, Miami was slow to acknowledge it. Notre Dame-West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl? At least one Hurricane chose to tune out.

“It was such a boring game,” Miami quarterback Steve Walsh said. “I watched about a quarter of it.”


Not that the Orange Bowl set new standards for excitement, or was worth watching for much longer. It was 20-0 at halftime, and only a 50-yard field goal by Nebraska kicker Gregg Barrios in the third quarter kept the Cornhuskers from being shut out for the first time in 185 games--since a 27-0 loss to Oklahoma in 1973.

This was Nebraska’s worst bowl defeat since 1967--a 34-7 loss to Alabama--and it was the fewest points ever scored by the Cornhuskers in 27 bowl appearances.

” More than anything else,” Miami Coach Jimmy Johnson said, “that’s what we wanted to prove tonight and to the country--that we were the very best. We might not be No. 1, but at this time, we are the best football team in the country.”

At another time, back in October, the Hurricanes lost to Notre Dame, 31-30, when a 2-point conversion failed.

“I told my team that we probably gave Notre Dame the ranking of No. 1 by not kicking the extra point,” Johnson said. “We’re not normally that generous.”

To Nebraska, Miami showed no quarter, especially a Hurricane defense that sacked Cornhusker quarterback Steve Taylor 6 times, intercepted 2 Taylor passes, held him to minus-2 yards passing in the first half, and 12 yards rushing on 17 carries in the game.

The Cornhuskers, remember, entered the game as the nation’s No. 1 team in rushing offense, averaging 382 yards and more than 5 touchdowns a game.

But not on this surface, where Miami is unbeaten in its last 26 games.

This is how Nebraska’s eight possessions went in the first half: punt, punt, punt, punt, interception (by Maurice Crum), punt, blocked punt (by Bubba McDowell, the 10th of his career), interception (by Rod Carter, fittingly on the last play of the half).

“The big thing about Taylor tonight,” said Miami defensive end Bill Hawkins, who was in on 5 tackles and one of Miami’s 6 sacks, “was that on the second play of the game he tried to run a sprint around Greg (Mark, the defensive end on the other side), and he contained him. After that, we just lowered the boom on him.

“He definitely took some hits tonight. I got him a couple of times, Greg sacked him twice, and everybody hit him at least a few times.

“I’ll tell you. He’s a tough kid. After the game, I congratulated him and told him he was a tough guy. A lot of guys would have just tried to lay on the ground, because we really laid him out.”

As relentless as the Miami defense was, there were those--including Bob Trumpy in the NBC broadcast booth--who suggested that Johnson may have been overzealous in proving the unprovable, that the Hurricanes were No. 1.

When Johnson was shown on the sidelines raging at the officials despite a 20-point lead, Trumpy said that although Johnson was a great guy and all, he was leaving some people with the impression that he was “a used-car salesman.”

When Walsh’s backup, Craig Erickson, was throwing passes into the end zone with 29 seconds left, Trumpy was even more pointed in his criticism of the Miami coach.

“This is unhealthy, this is not right, this is not good,” Trumpy said. “This offends a lot of people, and there’s no reason for Jimmy Johnson to offend them.”

Just guess who was offended when Trumpy’s remarks were relayed to Johnson.

“If they (the Cornhuskers) line up in a blitz, we’re going to audible to a pass,” Johnson bristled, in explaining Erickson’s attempted touchdown fling. “We’re not going to let anyone knock us on our backs, we haven’t all year.”

As for being characterized as a used-car salesman, Johnson snapped: “We play the game with intensity, I coach with intensity. Some people should do their jobs as well.”

Though Walsh, a junior All-American, was named the game’s most valuable player and set Orange Bowl records for completions (21) and attempts (44) Monday night, he didn’t quite do the dazzling job expected.

He had 3 passes intercepted (2 by Nebraska cornerback Charles Fryar), was sacked twice and spent most of the night dumping the ball off to his backs.

Sophomore Leonard Conley caught 2 passes for touchdowns--one a 22-yarder when he was wide open over the middle at the 7-minute mark of the first quarter, the other a 42-yarder in which he turned a little flip toss into a sprint down the left sideline, abetted by some terrific downfield blocking by Miami’s wide receivers.

Besides catching 4 passes for 94 yards, Conley also rushed 10 times for 40 yards, keeping Miami’s first touchdown drive alive with an 8-yard run on a third-and-7 play. Conley, as Walsh readily acknowledged, was at least as deserving to be MVP.

“It was a frustrating game,” said Walsh, who threw for 277 yards, more than double Nebraska’s total net yardage.

“We put 23 points on the board, but we really couldn’t get any rhythm. They did a good job of blitzing and moving guys around. When a team blitzes that much, you have to take the short stuff.”

It didn’t help, either, that Walsh’s best receiver, Andre Brown, had been suspended a couple of weeks ago for unspecified disciplinary reasons.

But as much heat as Nebraska applied on Walsh, it couldn’t compare to the firestorm faced by Taylor, who finally was lifted by Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne after one final, futile scramble in the game’s closing moments.

“We knew Nebraska has trouble picking up the blitz,” Miami defender Hawkins said. “We watched film of the Missouri game, and they had trouble with Missouri’s blitz--Missouri almost beat them.”

And Missouri has nowhere near the speed, the quickness, the depth, the coaching, the sheer skill of the Hurricanes, who just may be who they think they are.

“As far as I’m concerned, they’re the best football team we’ve faced this season,” said Osborne, who sought out Johnson to shake his hand after the game, dispelling the suggestion that he would take public offense at the notion that Johnson was trying to run up the score.

“I’m sure that Notre Dame will be No. 1,” Osborne said, “but I don’t think there are many teams that would come into the Orange Bowl and be favored to beat Miami.”

Walsh wasn’t planning to stay up and watch any election returns in the future, either.

“I sort of assumed Notre Dame was going to win,” Walsh said of the Fiesta showdown. “We really wanted to go out and show everybody we’re the best team in the country.

“And I fully believe that.”