When in doubt, give the ball to Ameer Abdullah.
That was the philosophy for 22nd-ranked Nebraska on Saturday night, as the senior Heisman trophy candidate carried 35 times for 229 yards and two touchdowns in addition to a receiving touchdown to help the Huskers dispatch Miami 41-31 at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. The win moves the Huskers to 4-0 on the season, marking the third time under Bo Pelini that Nebraska has finished the non-conference portion of their season unscathed. Another stellar performance from Abdullah didn’t surprise Pelini at all.
“Number eight showed just how special he is tonight. He ran like a man possessed,” Pelini said.
Abdullah also ran like a man who’ll go down as one of the all-time Husker greats. With his 229 yards rushing, Abdullah moved into third place among the all-time Nebraska rushing yardage leaders with 3,602 yards, passing Roy Helu Jr. and Eric Crouch. Next up is Ahman Green with 3,880 yards and then Mike Rozier, who tops the list with 4,780 yards. Abdullah also became the all-time leader in all-purpose yards at Nebraska with 5,762, passing the great Johnny Rodgers with a total of 313 on the night.
“We just trust physicality all week,” Abdullah said. “We come off physical every play. Hit ‘em in the mouth, hit ‘em in the mouth…I feel like we had the upper hand on those guys.”
After the Huskers took a 17-14 lead into halftime, Nebraska began the second half with an 11-play, 75 yard drive that was capped off by Abdullah’s 6-yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 24-14. Miami would answer however, as the Hurricanes got a 9-yard touchdown pass from Brad Kaaya to Malcolm Lewis. After Tommy Armstrong was intercepted by Miami’s Tracy Howard, the Hurricanes were on the move.
Running back Duke Johnson appeared to have inched forward for a first down just inside Nebraska territory with just over two minutes to play in the third quarter. But momentum shifted big time toward Nebraska as Trevor Roach stripped the ball free from Johnson, Josh Mitchell recovered and scooted 57 yards for a momentum-swinging score that the Hurricanes never recovered from. Miami head coach Al Golden certainly thought his team had everything going in its favor before Johnson’s fumble.
“I felt that we were really moving the ball well there, obviously that was a tough one,” Golden said. “Thought we had a chance to go up by four, if not tie it. Instead, we ended up going down by 10.”
“We just had too many turnovers to overcome on the road against a good team.”
Johnson’s fumble overshadowed what was a decent night from the senior, who had 18 carries for 93 yards and a touchdown, in addition to five catches for 84 yards.
“I needed to get in the end zone, but I need to protect the ball when I’m going down. That was my bad,” Johnson said.
“That play changed the game in a big way.”
The fumble, coupled with two interceptions from Kaaya led to 14 Nebraska points. Linebacker David Santos got the ball rolling for the Huskers with an interception in the first quarter with the Hurricanes threatening to retake the lead.
“We talked about making more turnovers. It was a big plan this week,” Santos said. “We really hadn’t had any earlier this season so our objective was to go out, make the play and make the turnovers.”
“That forced fumble couldn’t have come at a better time. It was all a big momentum swing for us.”
The game got a bit chippy, especially in the second half, after Nebraska had extended its lead after Mitchell’s fumble return. There were numerous personal fouls called on both teams, but two in particular hurt Miami after Joshua Kalu intercepted a Kaaya pass in the fourth quarter. Miami was called for two personal foul penalties after the play had finished, giving the Huskers 30 free yards that Nebraska didn’t let go to waste, with Abdullah scoring on a 10-yard touchdown run to put the game on ice with 4:13 to play.
Pelini had his thoughts about the increased hostilities in the second half, but wouldn’t elaborate much.
“I thought it got a little out of control. I thought it could have been managed better,” Pelini said. “At the end of the day, there’s going to be some of that. Two teams playing hard and going after each other.”
Nebraska controlled the line of scrimmage, rushing for 343 yards as a team while allowing only 76 yards by Miami. Although Kaaya finished 28-of-42 for 359 yards and three touchdowns, the two interceptions turned out to be game changers for a defense that had only forced one turnover this season entering Saturday’s game.
Armstrong was efficient for the most part, completing 9-of-13 attempts for 113 yards and two touchdowns, although he did have an interception and one lost fumble. Overall, Armstrong liked how the offense attacked Miami’s defense, which was ranked 8th nationally before Saturday’s game.
“We just ran our offense,” Armstrong said. We go into every week the same way. We run offense based on whatever they give us.”
The win keeps Nebraska unbeaten at 4-0 for the third time since Bo Pelini took over as head coach in 2008. Next up for the Huskers is another night game against Illinois next week in Lincoln, kicking off at 8 p.m. on Saturday. Abdullah says their season is just beginning.
“We’re actually 0-0 right now because it’s a new schedule every time we play a game. We have a long journey ahead of us,” Abdullah noted.
“We can enjoy it tonight, but tomorrow we take the film with a grain of salt and get back to it.”