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Denied No. 1, Miami proves point to NU

MIAMI Fla. (Jan. 2, 1989) — The possibility of a second-straight national championship disappeared early for the University of Miami. But that fact led to no Hurricane letup in the 55th Orange Bowl Classic against Nebraska.

Before taking the field, second-ranked Miami learned that unbeaten, top-ranked Notre Dame had throttled West Virginia, 34-21, in the Fiesta Bowl and clinched the No. 1 ranking. The Hurricanes thus had no chance for the national title thanks to a 31-30 loss to Notre Dame back on Oct. 15 at South Bend when a 2-point conversion pass fell incomplete in the final seconds.

The Hurricanes then went out and gave sixth-ranked Nebraska no chance at an upset as they dominated the Huskers from start to finish in a 23-3 win.

Nebraska was kept out of the end zone for the first time since a 20-3 loss to Alabama in the 1978 opener at Birmingham, and the Hurricanes came within a whisker of keeping the Huskers off the scoreboard for the first time since 1973.

The Huskers' only serious scoring threat came early in the second half after Tahaun Lewis picked off a Steve Walsh pass and returned it 31 yards to the Miami 37. On first down, I-back Ken Clark gained 16 yards to the 21, but after Steve Taylor was sacked for a 13-yard loss (one of six sacks against NU), Nebraska had to settle for a career-long 50-yard field goal by Gregg Barrios.

The Hurricanes' defense was so dominant that Nebraska managed just 10 first downs, and, after leading the NCAA in rushing during the regular season at 382.3 yards per game, the Huskers managed only 80 against the 'Canes, their lowest rushing total in 150 games since netting 77 in a 37-28 loss to Iowa State, Nov. 13, 1976.

"We got fired up that the chance to be voted national champion was out of reach. We wanted to show we were the best on the field, if not in the polls," said Walsh, who was named the game's most valuable player after completing 21 of 44 passes for 277 yards and 22- and 42-yard touchdowns to halfback Leonard Conley.

"We just got beat by a better football team," said Husker Coach Tom Osborne. "Our big problem was that we couldn't generate enough offense to keep the pressure off our defense. I really felt our defense played well enough to win a lot of football games."

The Nebraska defense did play well, as it held the Hurricanes to 354 total-offense yards — nearly 100 under their season average — and intercepted Walsh three times. A goal-line stand stopped Miami twice at the NU 1 early in the second period, forcing UM to settle for a field goal following an interception. Late in the first half the Hurricanes blocked a John Kroeker punt and recovered at the Nebraska 11, but the Black Shirts again held, and forced the 'Canes to settle for three.

Cornerback Charles Fryar was named Nebraska's MVP by NBC, after he intercepted Walsh twice, broke up one other pass, and recorded seven tackles, including six unassisted and one for a loss of four yards.

"We might not be No. 1 in the polls," said Miami Coach Jimmy Johnson, following what proved to be his last game with the Hurricanes before moving on to the Dallas Cowboys. "But right now, we are the best team in the country."

Few Husker partisans would argue.