January 2, 2017


No Team Was Ever Higher (John Underwood, 1/09/84, Sports Illustrated)

To offset the Huskers' tonnage, the Hurricanes chose to forgo the reckless chances--safety blitzes and the like--other teams had taken against Nebraska. Instead, Miami combined its natural tenacity with a bewildering number of looks, which defensive coordinator Tom Olivadotti had devised in hopes of getting the Corn-huskers into a "second-and-15 situation" at least once every time they had the ball. Certainly the Hurricanes weren't wholly successful, but Olivadotti's tactics worked frequently enough. Before the game Schnellenberger had said, "Weight only works against you if it's leaning on you. If it's not, if it has to stop to figure out where to lean, it's not a factor."

Looking at the films the Miami coaches had picked up a vital key: Nebraska center Mark Traynowicz snapped the ball on his own count--that is, whenever he was ready. The Miami linemen, like the Husker blockers, keyed off Traynowicz, which gave the Hurricanes a crucial split second they wouldn't have had if Nebraska had gone on a snap count determined in the huddle. Further, the Hurricane front five and linebackers seemed to strike from every possible angle, which saved them the wear and tear of straight-on confrontations with the Huskers' beefy line. Finally, the Miami linemen got a stunning variety of support from the secondary. "I'd give my left ear if I could get them to pass," Schnellenberger had said, and he tempted the Huskers by sending his irrepressible cornerbacks, Rodney Bellinger and Reggie Sutton, flying up to meet the dreaded Nebraska option plays. As often as not, Bellinger and Sutton were playing like linebackers, and as a result, every Husker TD drive, save the last, consumed at least 10 plays. In other words, Miami denied Nebraska the big play.

The Hurricanes had Nebraska's 52-points-a-game offense misfiring for a quarter and a half. They didn't give up a score until Husker coach Tom Osborne dusted off an old hidden-ball play that had 270-pound guard Dean Steinkuhler pick up a deliberate fumble by quarterback Turner Gill and, running against the direction of the play, pound 19 yards to a touchdown. For the remainder of the half Miami went overly pass-happy, and the Cornhuskers effectively mixed up their coverages and, for the time being, shut down Kosar. Meanwhile, I-back Mike Rozier, the Heisman winner, broke loose on a couple of options, and Nebraska pulled even. A Gill sneak late in the second quarter and a 34-yard field goal after a fumble recovery a minute-plus into the second half made the score 17-17.

At this point, it seemed that Miami's jig was up and the inevitable rout on--were it not for two things Schnellenberger had emphasized in his pregame analysis: 1) that the Hurricanes could move on Nebraska whenever they got their pass-run act in proper balance and 2) that as long as Miami kept the score close, the Huskers would have to play their starters. "With the season they had, blowing everybody out, their regulars aren't used to playing so much," he'd said. "If it's hot, they'll wear out. Their size will work against them."

The weather wasn't hot (66° at kick-off), but Miami was on two well-designed third-quarter drives. The first covered 75 yards in 10 plays. It was made up of three Kosar completions--the first to his best receiver, Eddie Brown, who wound up with a game-high six catches--and an assortment of traps and counters that featured freshman fullback Alonzo Highsmith. Highsmith scored on a one-yard dive to put Miami ahead for good.

Miami drove to another touchdown and took a 31-17 lead into the fourth quarter. If a rout was on, the wrong team was doing the routing. Miami was getting superior blocking from its "rejects and retreads," as Schnellenberger calls his linemen, and, equally important, from fullbacks Highsmith and Albert Bentley. The Cornhuskers realized from the start that given time Kosar would pick them apart, so early in the second quarter they started sending their safeties and corner-backs crashing in--as often as not to be met by crushing blocks from Bentley or Highsmith. Kosar seldom was pressured and never was sacked.

Schnellenberger doesn't worry about falling behind because, he says, "our entire offense is a two-minute drill." The ploys used to offset Nebraska's size and rush included quick screens and sprint draws. Indeed, the Hurricanes were much more successful on the ground than expected. On the night, Highsmith gained 50 yards on just seven carries, Bentley picked up 46 on 10, and Keith Griffin added 41 on nine.

If Schnellenberger's forecast regarding the Nebraska regulars was correct, the Hurricanes were in the clubhouse with their 14-point lead with less than 12 minutes remaining. But Nebraska had saved something for the last hole. With Jeff Smith spelling Rozier, who had left the game with a twisted left ankle in the third quarter after having gained 147 yards on 25 carries, the Cornhuskers marched 76 yards--the last yard coming on a Smith plunge--to make the score 31-24. Then, after a Miami field-goal attempt went wide, Nebraska got the ball back with 1:47 to play.

One-forty-seven was an extravagance. Gill needed only 59 seconds to take the Huskers 74 yards, but he nearly ran out of downs. On fourth-and-eight from the Miami 24-yard line Smith took a Gill pitch, swept right and dived into the end zone. Suddenly it was 31-30: a point to tie and still gain the national title, two to win. "I knew they'd go for two," said Hurricane roverback Kenny Calhoun. "They're champions. They had to."

We saw this Cornhusker team in the old Kickoff Classic, against defending National champs Penn State, which finished #17 in '83.  By the end of the game, Osborne's 3rd string moved the ball at will in the worst loss of Paterno's career (to that point).

Interesting that Miami identified that depth as a weakness.

Posted by at January 2, 2017 4:14 PM