Miami Expects Good Huskers Defense

Wednesday, January 2nd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Art Kehoe throws away past performances when Miami plays Nebraska.

The Hurricanes' offensive line coach has been a part of four Orange Bowls involving the teams, and on Thursday night, it'll be a Rose Bowl matchup in the BCS national title game.

Miami's key to victory is its ability to focus on the good Nebraska defense, not the one that showed up in a 62-36 loss at Colorado on Nov. 23.

``All the other stuff before is out,'' Kehoe said. ``In a game like this, we're going to have to play our tails off and find a way to win. We have great respect for them. They have a great team. I know we're in for a big-time scrap.''

He's probably right. Top-ranked Miami (11-0) is favored by eight points, but the Hurricanes upset the 17-point favorite Cornhuskers in the Orange Bowl to win the 1983 national title.

While All-American left tackle Bryant McKinnie figures the 'Canes can duplicate Colorado's domination, right tackle Joaquin Gonzalez is a bit more realistic.

``The ends are their best defensive players and we've got to contain them on the pass rush,'' Gonzalez said, referring to DeMoine Adams and Chris Kelsay. ``They also have some great linebackers, so we'll definitely have to take advantage of their secondary.''

Which is what McKinnie expects to happen.

``Once you get through their front seven, the secondary looked like it had trouble tackling,'' McKinnie said. ``We're going to open some holes, there's going to be some big plays made. ... Our backs, Frank Gore and Clint Portis, will have fun.''

These days, it's easy to bash the Blackshirts, the name given to Nebraska's starting defensive players.

Rolling to 11 straight wins by an average margin of nearly 29 points, the Huskers (11-1) broke down in Boulder. The 62 points were the most allowed by a Nebraska defense, with Colorado piling up 592 total yards, 380 on the ground, and reserve Chris Brown running for six touchdowns.

It's been a humbling experience for a proud program.

``To be a part of that is disappointing and embarrassing to an extent,'' Kelsay said. ``We have guys all over the nation watching every game we play. We let them down, we let ourselves down, it's a huge disappointment.''

``I don't think most people on this team can get over the loss until after this game,'' cornerback Keyuo Craver said.

Portis, who ran for 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns, says going against the Blackshirts is ``scary and exciting.'' Scary because he knows adjustments have been made and he doesn't know what they are; exciting because ``maybe we can do what Colorado did and expose them.''

Thanks to the wacky world of the Bowl Championship Series, at least Nebraska has a chance at redemption.

After the loss to Colorado, the Huskers appeared out of the national title chase. But an extraordinary string of upsets allowed them to end up second behind Miami in the final BCS standings, just five hundredths of a point ahead of Colorado. Oregon, which defeated Colorado 38-16 in the Fiesta Bowl on Tuesday, was fourth.

If the Huskers win, there's a strong chance Oregon (11-1) will grab a share of the national title by finishing first in the AP media poll.

In the two polls that crown champions, the top four teams are Miami, Oregon, Colorado and Nebraska. The Rose winner is automatically crowned champions in the USA Today-ESPN coaches poll.

``Right now, we've got a lot to prove to the nation,'' Kelsay said. ``We've got to show them the type of team we really have.''

The task is formidable, as coach Frank Solich knows all too well. As a Nebraska assistant under Tom Osborne, he watched Miami win two national titles with Orange Bowl wins over the Huskers _ 31-30 in the '84 game, and 22-0 in the '92 OB.

``Miami's not an easy team to play, they generally move the ball against anybody they play,'' Solich said. ``The idea is to slow them down, not let them get out of control.''

While the Huskers hope their defense rebounds, Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch must find ways to score on Miami's aggressive defense. Led by All-American safety Ed Reed, the 'Canes held opponents to a national-low 9.4 points per game, and finished first in turnovers (45) and interceptions (27).

``They react pretty fast to pretty much everything,'' Crouch said. ``The biggest thing we have to do is get bodies on bodies and not miss blocks. Be physical, make contact. That's the biggest way to attack their speed.''

Crouch is certainly capable. He ran for 1,115 yards and 18 TDs, and threw for 1,510 yards and seven more scores.

``What scares me most about him is when he drops back and scrambles,'' Miami cornerback Phillip Buchanon said. ``He has a lot of running ability. He's a player.''