For the first time in more than a decade, Miami and Nebraska will face off on the gridiron for a primetime matchup in front of 90,000 fans.
The Hurricanes (2-1) visit the 24th-ranked Cornhuskers (3-0) at Memorial Stadium in the 11th meeting between the teams, the last of which came in the 2002 BCS national championship. Miami captured the fifth of its five championships that day.
Through 10 games, the programs have split the difference. Saturday marks their first meeting in the regular season, since 1976 when Nebraska won in Lincoln, 17-9. The Cornhuskers are 3-0 against Miami at home and 3-1 in regular-season meetings. Six of the 10 previous contests between Miami and Nebraska had national-title implications.
The Cornhuskers will celebrate the 20th anniversary of their 1994 national championship, which was won at the Orange Bowl over Miami, this weekend.
Since dropping the season opener at Louisville, the Hurricanes have bounced back with consecutive wins, outscoring Florida A&M and Arkansas State 82-27. The Cornhuskers survived a scare in Week 2 by holding off McNeese State, 31-24.
Could a win over Nebraska appease fans about Miami’s progress?
"It’d be awesome," true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya said. "It’d make a statement definitely against a top-25 team at Nebraska."
All-ACC running back Duke Johnson won’t be the only dangerous No. 8 coming out of the backfield on Saturday.
Abdullah, a likely Heisman Trophy candidate, is the nation’s active leader in all-purpose yards (5,449) and 100-yard rushing games (19). He ranks second with 3,373 rushing yards in his career.
As a team, Nebraska averages 324.3 rushing yards per game, eighth best in the country. The combined output through three contests is the best since 2010. When rushing for 200 or more yards, the Cornhuskers are 39-6 under coach Bo Pelini.
The Hurricanes have allowed just 82.7 yards rushing per game — 15th in the nation — a vast improvement over 2013. The 2.0 yards per carry is fourth. But Abdullah has rushed for 100 yards in two of the three games this season. Louisville, Miami’s toughest opponent so far in 2014, ran for 135 yards on 43 carries (but just a 3.1 average).
Last season, the rushing defense struggled, particularly down the stretch. Over 13 games, it allowed 176.5 rushing yards per game. In the final seven the unit permitted 217 rushing ypg with 18 touchdowns. Georgia Tech (335) and Duke (358) tallied exorbitant amounts.
This year, Miami has improved on its tackling and limiting yards after contact. The defense has also forced seven fumbles and recorded 11 sacks. Redshirt junior Ufomba Kamalu will need to disrupt the line, while senior linebacker Denzel Perryman becomes a ballhawk.
"There were a lot of instances in the game the other day where we just are fitting in much better," head coach Al Golden said. "Guys know where they need to be, guys know where the ball needs to be directed, and then the free hitter is showing up. Most particularly, our safeties are tackling a lot better in the alleys, and we have to continue to do that because that’s going to be important. When we do get the ball to the perimeter, the cornerbacks have to show up.
It is a great challenge… it’s not like the old days where you can just pin your ears back. They have a big strong physical offensive line, but they have a quarterback who does a lot of shell game. Is he giving it? Is he keeping it? Is one of the receivers in motion? Does Abdullah have it? From that standpoint, you have to have discipline coupled with gap integrity and unselfishness."
Miami: The Hurricanes have won seven straight regular-season non-conference games. The last loss came Oct. 6, 2012 at Notre Dame. Miami’s defense ranks eighth nationally with 259.7 yards allowed per game. Sophomore walk-on Justin Vogel’s 45.3 net punting average ranks sixth in the country.
Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have been victorious in 13 consecutive home night games and are 39-5 overall. Nebraska is 3-0 for the first time since 2011. The Cornhuskers have won 10 straight games decided by seven points or less.
Miami: Over their last four road regular-season games dating to last season, the Hurricanes are 1-3. They have been outscored by 21 points in the losses. Under Al Golden, the Hurricanes are 3-6 against ranked opponents.
Nebraska: Although the Cornhuskers are near the top of most statistical categories in the Big Ten and top 50 nationally, kickoff returns (19.8 yards) and turnover margin (-0.3) are 71st and 75th, respectively. Under Pelini, Nebraska is 11-17 when trailing at halftime.
Miami:OUT— Matt Goudis (Lower Extremity), Alex Gall (Lower Extremity) and Rashawn Scott (Upper Extremity)
Nebraska:OUT— WR Sam Burtch (ACL); QUESTIONABLE— WR Brandon Reilly (Undisclosed)
DID YOU KNOW?
The Hurricanes are one of seven teams in the nation to have at least five different players recover a fumble.
In a win over Fresno State last Saturday, the Cornhuskers scored four touchdowns of more than 50 yards.
"We were excited about Brad coming in for sure, but you can never judge someone’s work ethic, their sacrifice, their dedication, their ability to see it. That part of it is hard to see. He was here live in camp, so we saw him throw live. We knew he had a good arm. Since he arrived on campus, he’s lost about 22 pounds, he’s learned a lot of football, he’s moving better, he’s quicker. He’s just really mature. We’re excited about him and obviously we had a whole group that rallied around him on Saturday, which was great."— Golden on Kaaya’s career day against Arkansas State
"For us, the offense as a whole is clicking a lot more. A lot of synergy going on. There’s guys making plays, guys laying out. There’s a lot more trust just between all of us right now." — Kaaya on the unit’s progress
"He’s a good back, but we practice against one of the best backs in the nation as well." — Senior defensive lineman Olsen Pierre on Abdullah
"I wouldn’t say it’s going to be twice as loud. There’s only so many decibels you’re going to hit as some point." — Senior offensive lineman Shane McDermott on the expected crowd at Memorial Stadium
"At first I was like, ‘Damn I need to play smarter,’ and then I was like, ‘That was awesome.’ When I saw the flags fall I saw Coach Golden yelling, and I said, ‘I’m in trouble now.’" — Kamalu on his personal-foul penalty for Saturday’s body slam
Miami returns home to host Duke on Sept. 27. The Blue Devils beat the visiting Hurricanes 48-30 en route to the Coastal Division title last season.