Ameer Abdullah will test Miami's defense.
There’s plenty of history between Miami and Nebraska, but when these two teams play on Saturday night, the focus will shift to 2014 and two programs that are looking to reclaim their place among college football’s elite.
After going 9-3 in back-to-back years from 2004-05, Miami is just 57-44 since 2006 (and 72-50 if you include 2004-05). Nebraska saw its share of ups and downs since 2004, including a 5-6 mark ('04) and a 5-7 record in 2007. However, the Cornhuskers have fared much better in its overall mark, recording an 84-46 mark since the start of the 2004 season.
A win on Saturday night won’t move Miami or Nebraska back to the top of college football’s elite. But this game has plenty of importance for both programs as a key non-conference matchup, as well as a good barometer test before conference play begins in full.
The all-time series is tied at five between Nebraska and Miami. The last meeting was in the 2001 Rose Bowl, with the Hurricanes winning 37-14.
Miami at Nebraska
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Nebraska -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Quarterback play
As simple as it sounds, this is where the game could be won or lost. Miami’s Brad Kaaya and Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong are two quarterbacks with bright futures. However, both quarterbacks are still developing, and with a tight game expected, a mistake or two could be magnified. Kaaya – a true freshman – has thrown for 693 yards and seven touchdowns on 45 completions. Kaaya is coming off his best performance of 2014 (342 yards, four scores) and faces a Nebraska secondary that has allowed just two passing touchdowns. Of course, the Cornhuskers haven’t exactly faced the gauntlet of quarterbacks, but the secondary is limiting opponents to just 9.4 yards per completion. On the other sideline, Armstrong is off to a fast start, completing 43 passes for 773 yards and seven scores. The sophomore has only one interception and has been an effective runner (258 yards, 9.6 ypc). Considering Armstrong’s experience and growth from 2013 to 2014, the edge at quarterback should go to Nebraska. Can Kaaya pickup where he left off against Arkansas State? Or will the Cornhuskers’ defense simply be too much?
2. Improvement for Miami’s defense?
The Hurricanes struggled mightily on defense last year. But through three games, there’s some optimism in Coral Gables for some improvement on the stat sheet in 2014. Miami is allowing only 19.3 points per game through three weeks, a significant step forward after giving up 26.8 in 2013. The Hurricanes are also allowing 3.7 yards per play, a major improvement after allowing 5.8 last year. And Mark D’Onofrio’s group has been tougher against the run so far, giving up just 2.0 yards per rush after giving up 4.4 last year. Considering Miami was big favorites in two out of its three games, it’s tough to read too much into these stats. However, the addition of junior college recruit Calvin Heurtelou, along with the steady play of senior linebacker Denzel Perryman has made Miami’s front seven a tougher matchup for opposing offenses. But will that hold true on Saturday? Nebraska’s offensive line and rushing attack will be the best Miami has played this year. Can running back Ameer Abdullah find rushing lanes? Or will the Hurricanes hold the Cornhuskers to less than three yards per carry?
3. Ameer Abdullah vs. Duke Johnson
Normally, we would devote one of the three keys to breaking down a matchup, but let’s give some attention to the battle at running back on Saturday night. Ameer Abdullah and Duke Johnson were both popular selections on preseason All-America teams, and neither have done anything to dispel the notion they will finish with high accolades this year. Johnson is returning from a leg injury that ended his 2013 season early, but the junior has yet to show any rust. In three games, Johnson is averaging 6.4 yards per carry and has scored twice. Abdullah has already provided one of the year’s highlight plays by taking a short reception for a 58-yard score to beat McNeese State. The senior ranks second among Big Ten rushers by averaging 132.0 yards per game and leads the conference with 17 runs of 10 or more yards. Watching two of the nation’s top 10 running backs makes the Nebraska-Miami matchup one of the key reasons to tune in on Saturday night.
In terms of name value, it doesn’t get much better than Nebraska and Miami. While both programs have dropped in national hierarchy in recent years, this game still has plenty of intrigue. The battle between Duke Johnson and Ameer Abdullah will produce plenty of highlights, but quarterback play and defense will decide this one. Can Kaaya be trusted to win a huge road test? Will Miami’s defense revert to its old form against a good offense? For the Cornhuskers, can Armstrong continue his solid start to the season? With this game in Lincoln, combined with an edge at quarterback, Nebraska should win this one by a touchdown or 10 points.