||Thursday, January 3
Updated: January 4, 4:05 AM ET
'They might be a little sore tomorrow'
By Wayne Drehs
PASADENA, Calif. -- Two series.
That's how long it took sophomore linebacker Jonathan Vilma to realize the speed advantage the Miami defense had on Nebraska Thursday night. Vilma sensed such an advantage in watching game film, but it didn't really sink in until a few minutes into Thursday's game.
When it did, he could only smile.
"I just sorta knew," Vilma said. "We had a great scheme and great assignments, so when I noticed that, I had a good feeling."
"The talk got old, real old," sophomore linebacker D.J. Williams said. "We were sick and tired of it. But I don't think we'll be hearing about that anymore."
It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why Miami's defense was as successful as it was. Not only were they fast, but they played physical. And created turnovers.
On the rare occasions when quarterback Eric Crouch or I-back back Dahrran Diedrick slipped into the middle of the defense, they were met with resounding blows. None bigger than the de-cleater Vilma put on Ben Zajicek in the game's final seconds.
On the play, Crouch flipped the ball to Zajicek, who was looking the other way when Vilma lifted Zajicek off this feet and slammed him down, forcing the ball to come loose and the Miami bench and faithful to whoop it up in delight.
"I knew it was one-on-one, just him and I," Vilma said. "And I knew he was bigger than me and was probably going to try to run me over. So I tried to match that intensity."
Such was the theme of the night for the Hurricanes. Though it was Nebraska that came into the game with the reputation of being a physical, bruising football team, it was Miami that spent much of the night delivering the punishment.
"We hit them and drove them not only into the ground, but through the ground," defensive tackle Matt Walters said. "And the ground doesn't give. You drive someone through the ground and it hurts. They might be a little sore tomorrow."
When the Miami defense wasn't busy smacking the Huskers around, they were participating in another Hurricane tradition -- creating turnovers.
Nebraska fumbled the football four different times, losing it twice. One of those fumbles, a first quarter snafu by Crouch, was followed by a 49-yard touchdown strike from Ken Dorsey to Andrew Johnson. That score gave Miami a 7-0 lead and set the tone for the night.
"We proved that our defense isn't just speed, isn't just guys flying to the ball," Williams said. "We can play power football and hit you hard with the best of them."
Nebraska's other critical turnover, a second-quarter interception that James Lewis returned 46 yards for a touchdown, all but sealed the Huskers' fate, 21-0.
Pouncing on turnovers and converting them to instant points was nothing new for Miami. Entering the game, they led the nation in turnover margin at plus-2.36 per game. Miami had recovered 45 turnovers, nine more than second place Fresno State and Purdue.
They also led the nation in non-offensive scoring with 10 TDs and one safety for a total of 70 points. Last year's defense scored 89 points.
"I got tired of looking at game film and watching them tip a pass, intercept it and then run it back," Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. "And then it happened to us."
Throughout the week, the second most popular question, behind whether Nebraska belonged, was whether Miami could defend the option. Some suggested that the Hurricanes, which were giving up 132.7 yards per game on the ground, might be vulnerable to the Huskers' pitch and run.
They weren't. Though they did give up 114 rushing yards to Eric Crouch, they didn't give up the backbreaking play to let the Nebraska fans in the game.
"Everybody said we couldn't stop the option. That we would have trouble with their execution and angles," Walters said. "It wasn't a problem."
Which was just how defensive coordinator Randy Shannon planned it. His game plan was simple: swarm to the football, hit the ball carrier hard when you get there and if the pigskin pops loose, pounce on it.
"Judging by the fact that we won the game, I'd say it was perfect," Shannon said.
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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