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Miami hopes to take page from Colorado's book
LOS ANGELES -- The biggest player in the Rose Bowl figures if Colorado was able to run it up on Nebraska, so can No. 1 Miami.
Bryant McKinnie, the Hurricanes' 6-foot-9, 336-pound left tackle, wasn't bashful in assessing the Huskers' humiliating 62-36 loss to the Buffaloes on Nov. 23.
"Once you get through their front seven, the secondary looked like it had trouble tackling," McKinnie said on the final day of player interviews before Thursday's Rose Bowl. "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 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," defensive end Chris 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, and "what better way to get out the bitter taste we have right now than to beat the No. 1 team in the land," Craver said.
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 played Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl on Tuesday, was fourth.
If the Huskers win, there's s strong chance the Fiesta winner 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 Fiesta winner could win the AP media poll's national title, while the Rose winner is automatically crowned champions in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll. AP voters are free to vote for any team with their final ballot.
"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 to find ways to score on Miami's ultra-aggressive defense. Led by All-American safety Ed Reed, the 'Canes held opponents to a nation-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. The option quarterback also knows Reed and fellow safety James Lewis will be waiting for those play-action passes.
"They put those seven guys in the box, they put the corners up tight and their safeties are roaming around back there and intercepting balls," he said. "That poses a problem if we can't run on them."
Like Solich, Miami's offensive line coach Art Kehoe has been around for all four Hurricane-Husker Orange bowls. He said the Huskers' defense is similar to Florida State's.
"Not a lot of gimmicks, just ends that are fast and put pressure on the quarterback and tough tackles insides," Kehoe said. "Then they move up with the strong safety or the free safety. We've had a lot of work on it against Florida State, and hopefully we'll be ready for it."