LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) Miami will play No. 24 Nebraska on Saturday night for the first time since the programs were finishing their runs of dominance, and the history isn’t lost on today’s players.
But to them, the game at Memorial Stadium is more about the future of two teams that haven’t won a title of any kind the past decade.
”It’s a big thing when it comes to playing Miami because of the tradition,” quarterback Tommy Armstrong said, ”but we’re not looking back on that. We are just going to play like any other week and prepare the right way. It’s a normal game for us.”
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There was nothing normal about the last five games between the teams, all in bowls. The winner in four of them was crowned national champion, most recently Miami after the 2002 Rose Bowl.
This is by far the most anticipated game on Nebraska’s home schedule. It coincides with the 20th anniversary celebration for the 1994 national championship team, which defeated Miami in the Orange Bowl for the first of Tom Osborne’s three national titles.
Osborne, as athletic director, set up the home-and-home series that winds up in Miami next year.
”There was no grand scheme behind it,” Osborne said. ”Miami turned out to be available, so we signed them up.”
It was 2009 when the games were scheduled, and Blake James was still four years from becoming Miami’s athletic director. James senses the nostalgia, though. He worked in administrative jobs at both Miami and Nebraska in the 1990s.
”I think they’re some of the greatest times in Hurricane football history,” James said. ”And so, excited to have these two games set up.”
Nebraska (3-0) takes a big step up in competition before opening Big Ten play against Illinois next week. The Huskers’ closest game was a shockingly close win over FCS McNeese State. They also have blown out Florida Atlantic and Fresno State.
Miami (2-1) is coming off easy wins over FCS Florida A&M and Arkansas State after a season-opening, 31-13 loss to Atlantic Coast Conference newcomer Louisville. The Hurricanes totaled only 244 yards at Louisville, and they’re converting only 23 percent of their third downs for the season. Saturday’s game is an opportunity to measure their progress with freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya.
”We’re getting in rhythm,” running back Duke Johnson said. ”I wouldn’t say we’re there yet, but we’re working on it and that’s something we’re trying to improve on – getting there from the beginning of the game and staying there to the end. We have to be efficient and make sure that every play counts.”
Things to watch when Miami plays Nebraska and goes for its first road win over a ranked opponent since 2009:
RANDY’S DANDY: Nebraska’s Randy Gregory showed against Fresno State last week that he’s full speed after having minor knee surgery on Aug. 31. The defensive end, who led the Big Ten in sacks, makes everyone around him better. He’ll be a headache for Kaaya and his offensive line. ”No. 4 is the guy we’re paying the most attention to,” Johnson said.
BIG-PLAY HUSKERS: Nebraska had four scoring plays of more than 50 yards against Fresno State and is tied with Arizona State for the national lead with nine plays from scrimmage of 40 yards or longer. Coach Bo Pelini said those long gains stem largely from opposing defenses stacking the box to stop the run. Opportunities for big plays could be limited this week because Miami’s defense is good enough to play the Huskers straight up.
PHIL-ING THE STAT SHEET: Miami’s Phillip Dorsett has caught eight balls for an average of 36 yards, and he’s the only receiver in the nation this season with three catches for at least 50 yards in a game.
DOMINANT DEFENSE: Miami is eighth nationally in total defense (260 yards per game) and is allowing just 2 yards per rush to rank fourth. The Hurricanes also are 13th with 11 sacks, and they’ve forced six fumbles in three games.
NIGHT TIME’S RIGHT TIME: Nebraska has won 13 straight home night games and is 39-5 all-time under the lights in Lincoln. Thirty of those 39 wins have been by at least 13 points.
AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Coral Gables, Florida, contributed to this report.