Blowout for Hurricanes : Orange Bowl: Top-ranked Miami makes its point with effortless 22-0 victory over Nebraska, the Cornhuskers' first shutout since 1973.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Since he hardly broke a sweat in Miami's surprisingly easy 22-0 Orange Bowl victory against Nebraska on Wednesday night, Hurricane wide receiver Lamar Thomas offered to take a special part-time job, effective the moment the nation's poll voters began pondering their first-place choices.

"If I could get in the voters' minds tonight," Thomas said, "I'd be a little fairy flying around in their heads saying, 'C'mon, guys, Miami is No. 1. We're clear cut."

Not to worry. Barring the unexpected, at least one of the two major polls--the AP or the USA Today/CNN--will have Miami ranked ahead of everyone else. Of course, the rub, as far as the Hurricanes are concerned, is that they will probably have to share a national championship with Washington, which, like Miami, finished the season a perfect 12-0.

The voters will have to decide which record was more perfect, but this much is sure: The Cornhuskers, shut out for the first time since 1973--a span of 221 games--know who would earn their first-place ballot.

"Gentlemen," said Bob Devaney, who won two national championships at Nebraska before becoming the school's athletic director, "we played Washington and they're not in the same ballpark as Miami."

Devaney would know. So would the 77,747 fans who filed into the rain-soaked Orange Bowl. So would a national television audience.

Now then, what about the fickle voters?

Last year, the writers and broadcasters of the AP poll chose Colorado, while the coaches, now affiliated with the USA Today/CNN poll, picked Georgia Tech. Another split vote is almost guaranteed.

"We're No. 1. Period. No question and everyone knows it," said defensive end Rusty Medearis, who recorded four sacks Wednesday night.

But reminded of Washington's record, including a convincing Rose Bowl victory of their own against Michigan, Medearis acknowledged the inevitable.

"Ah, I wouldn't mind (a split vote)," he said. "They deserved it. They played well. I can see how they would get (a championship), but I can't see how we wouldn't."

If Miami earns another national title, it would be their fourth such championship since 1983 and their third since 1987. Hurricane Coach Dennis Erickson has been here three seasons and already he has two ring fingers spoken for.

Naturally, he wasn't complaining about any jewelry dilemmas. Nor was he shy about his voting allegiances.

"I want to congratulate Don James and his football team, but obviously I think our team is No. 1," Erickson said. "I vote in the coaches' poll and I'm going to vote us No. 1 and Washington No. 2. And obviously, Don James is going to do the same thing--vote us No. 1 and Washington No. 2."

Erickson got a laugh out of that line, which is more than you can say for the Cornhuskers, who should probably be happy they allowed only those 22 points. It could have been worse had Miami not committed 12 penalties for 143 yards (not one was a personal foul). Or if Carlos Huerta hadn't missed a field goal. Or if Thomas and tailback Darryl Spencer hadn't taken turns dropping passes from quarterback Gino Torretta.

"We went easy on them," Thomas said. "With those Big Eight teams they would have fired (Nebraska Coach) Tom Osborne."

Poor Osborne. His Cornhuskers have lost five consecutive bowl games. He is 2-3 against Miami and 0-3 in the Orange Bowl, site of 45 consecutive Hurricane victories.

Of course, Cornhusker historians might rank Wednesday night's performance as one of the worst. Or one of Miami's best.

The Cornhuskers gained only 171 net yards, compared to 439 for the Hurricanes. They allowed five sacks. They switched quarterbacks. They struggled.

"We thought we had a good chance," Osborne said. "We thought we could move the ball better and get the score."

Nebraska's night was full of surprises.

Remember all that talk about Miami's troubled running game, the one supposedly handicapped by the absence of injured fullback Stephen McGuire? McGuire's substitute, redshirt freshman Larry Jones, carried the ball 30 times for 144 yards and one touchdown. Before he left the stadium, he was also seen carrying the trophy awarded to the game's most valuable player.

"I felt all night like they couldn't stop us," Jones said. "A lot of (teammates) told me before the game that I would be the MVP. But I never really thought I would be in this position."

As for Torretta, it wasn't his finest game, but then again, it didn't need to be. He completed 19 passes for 257 yards and one score. Seven different Hurricanes caught passes, including Kevin Williams, who finished with eight receptions, 126 yards and a touchdown.

The Hurricanes wasted little time doing what they could to impress the assorted poll voters. Aware of Washington's comfortable lead against Michigan in the Rose Bowl, Miami scored on its first possession . . . and second . . . and third.

And then it rested.

But not before the Hurricanes had 13 points in 11 minutes, causing the Cornhuskers to wonder if perhaps they hadn't made a terrible mistake--like showing up.

Nebraska was most concerned about Miami's fondness for throwing long, and with good reason. The Hurricanes featured perhaps the best trio of wide receivers in college football, while the Cornhuskers featured a secondary that was suspect at best.

Torretta threw for 119 yards and one touchdown in the first quarter alone. On the first drive , Williams had 44 yards in receptions and a score.

This is the way it went for the Cornhuskers in the early going. Of course, it didn't help that Nebraska's defensive strategy included such brilliant tactics as sticking linebacker Mike Anderson on Williams, who covers 40 yards in 4.28 seconds, the fastest ever recorded by a Hurricane player. Williams ended Miami's first possession with an eight-yard touchdown reception with 11:04 remaining in the quarter.

Huerta added a 24-yard field goal six minutes later, a sight repeated with 4:02 left in the quarter. That gave Miami its 13-0 lead and gave the sold-out Orange Bowl audience something to talk about. Suddenly the possibility of a blowout became a hot topic.

But whether it was because of exhaustion or boredom, the Hurricanes were unable to build on the lead. Instead, they seemed satisfied with doing everything but score more points.

They outgained Nebraska, 160-1, in the first quarter. By halftime, the margin was 267-62.

The Cornhuskers didn't record a first down until 6:11 left in the second quarter. They didn't cross into Miami territory until 3:40 remained in the half. And the big, powerful Cornhuskers, whose offensive line outweighed the Hurricane defensive front by an average of 40 pounds per man, who led the nation in rushing yardage per game (353), could manage only a net 15 yards against Miami in those first two quarters.

"The score could've been 30-0 at halftime," Miami defensive back Charles Pharms said.

The Hurricanes returned from their halftime break and immediately drove for a touchdown and a 19-0 lead. Jones, who carried the ball five of the 10 plays on the drive, scored on a one-yard run with 11:19 remaining in the third quarter.

Almost everything Nebraska did failed. Quarterback Keithen McCant, the Big Eight offensive player of the year, was no factor. That meant his favorite target, tight end Johnny Mitchell, was of little use, too.

Mitchell had been the most vocal of the Cornhuskers in the pregame talk, going so far as to predict a Nebraska victory. "And it won't be an upset," he had said.

Instead, Mitchell had to watch Huerta add another field goal and three more points to Miami's lead. This kick covered 54 yards, a career high for Huerta.

Nebraska did threaten to score a touchdown--once. It came midway through the fourth quarter, the ball on the Miami 22. But quarterback Mickey Joseph, called in to replace the ineffective McCant, fumbled a snap and the Hurricanes recovered. So much for moral victories.

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