Lincoln, Neb. - Husker Heisman hopeful Ameer Abdullah carried No. 24 Nebraska to victory over an old nemesis with the biggest all-purpose yardage total of his career, as the Big Red battled to a 41-31 win over Miami at Memorial Stadium on Saturday night.
Playing in front a Memorial Stadium record 91,585 fired up Husker fans, Abdullah exploded for a career-high 313 all-purpose yards, including 229 rushing yards and two scores on a career-high 35 carries. He added a three-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter and 81 yards on four kickoff returns to finish the night as Nebraska's career all-purpose yardage leader with 5,762 yards. He passed 1972 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers (5,586) with one of the most significant records in Husker history.
Along the way, Abdullah notched his second 200-yard rushing game of the young season to help the Huskers complete an unbeaten non-conference season with a 4-0 record. With the 20th 100-yard rushing performance of his career, Abdullah climbed to No. 3 on Nebraska's all-time rushing list with 3,602 yards, passing both Roy Helu Jr. and 2001 Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch (3,434).
Abdullah's 313 all-purpose yards marked the second-best total in Husker history, trailing only Helu's 321 yards against Missouri in 2010. His 229 yards on the ground were just three yards shy of his career high, which he set in a season-opening win over Florida Atlantic.
In a game with the intensity and play-making reminiscent of the historic games in the series between the Huskers and the Hurricanes, Abdullah made play-after-play with hard runs and spectacular cuts. As a team, the Big Red rolled up 343 rushing yards to maintain possession for 33:20 and wear down the Hurricane defense. The Huskers averaged 6.4 yards per carry against the 'Canes on 54 attempts.
On the flipside, the Blackshirts held the Hurricanes to 76 rushing yards on 23 attempts (3.3 ypc). Quarterback Brad Kaaya completed 28-of-42 passes for 359 yards and three scores, as Miami managed 435 total yards.
Nebraska finished the game with 456 total yards, as sophomore quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. completed 9-of-13 passes for 113 yards, including a three-yard touchdown pass to Abdullah, and a 40-yard connection with Kenny Bell to account for NU's first two scores.
Abdullah, Armstrong and the Husker offensive line took control of the game in the second quarter. Trailing 14-7, NU covered 79 yards in 14 plays in 6:43 capped by Armstrong's pass to Abdullah.
The Blackshirts quickly forced a three-and-out, setting up an 11-play, 50-yard drive that covered the final 6:01 of the half and resulted in Drew Brown's 19-yard field goal to send the Big Red to halftime with a 17-14 lead. Abdullah carried the ball 12 times for 73 yards on NU's final two drives of the half.
Nebraska opened the second half with the ball and went on another long march, covering 75 yards in 11 plays in 4:54 to take a 24-14 lead on Abdullah's six-yard touchdown run. Abdullah carried six times for 33 yards on the drive, racking up 18 carries for 106 yards on the three drives that gave the Huskers control.
From the moment the 'Canes led 14-7, the Big Red possessed the ball for 17 of the game's next 18 minutes, and ran 36 plays from scrimmage compared to just three for Miami.
While the Huskers gained a measure of control, Miami was far from out of it. The Hurricanes answered with a 10-play, 76-yard scoring drive capped by Malcolm Lewis' nine-yard touchdown reception from Brad Kaaya with 5:09 left in the third quarter to pull Miami within 24-21.
On Nebraska's next drive, the Huskers picked up a pair of first downs on the ground before Armstrong threw an interception to Miami's Tracy Howard, setting the 'Canes up at their own 28.
Momentum appeared to be fully shifting an Kaaya's 18-yard completion to Braxton Berrios for 18 yards to the Miami 46. But on the next play, linebacker Trevor Roach and cornerback Josh Mitchell joined forced for the Blackshirts' biggest play of the night.
Hurricane running back Duke Johnson carried the ball for seven hard-fought yards up the middle before Roach stripped the ball. Mitchell scooped it up and sprinted 57 yards for the first defensive touchdown of the season for the Huskers. The play, which marked NU's longest fumble return for a score since Ralph Brown went a school-record 74 yards against Kansas State in 1998, returned the Big Red's lead to 31-21 to close the third quarter.
On Miami's ensuing drive, the game's intensity rose to a fever pitch, as Kaaya had a pass over the middle intercepted by Nathan Gerry. However, the play was wiped off by a roughing the passer penalty on the Huskers. A skirmish ensued after Husker All-American Randy Gregory was tangled up on the ground with Hurricane sophomore tight end Standish Dobard.
The Hurricanes maintained possession and gained 15 yards off the penalty. Miami drove to the NU 6 to end of the quarter, and Gregory opened the fourth with a huge play, a 10-yard sack of Kaaya. The Blackshirts were in full attack mode on the next play as well, forcing the Hurricanes to settle for a 34-yard field goal to cut the NU lead to 31-24 with 13:37 left.
Abdullah and the Husker offense responded on the next drive, marching 54 yards on eight plays capped by Brown's 39-yard field goal. Brown's boot hit the left upright and bounced through for his second field goal of the night and sixth of the season with 9:21 left in the game.
Miami tried to answer on the following drive, but Josh Kalu picked off Kaaya on 4th-and-4 at the NU 35. Kalu, who intercepted it at the NU 25, headed to the Husker sideline with the rest of Nebraska's players to celebrate.
However, the Hurricanes not only lost the ball, they lost their composure. A pair of 'Canes were tangled up with Gregory in front of the Miami sideline, well away from the interception. Both Miami players were flagged for 15-yard tack-on personal fouls, sending the Huskers to the Hurricane 40 to start the drive.
On Nebraska's first play from scrimmage, a three-yard run by Abdullah, the Hurricanes were flagged for a 15-yard facemask to move NU to the Miami 22. Abdullah was unphased, carrying all six plays on the drive for 30 yards capped by his 10-yard touchdown run to put the Big Red up 41-24 and seal the win.
In addition to big defensive plays by Mitchell, Roach and Kalu, the Blackshirts got a game-high 10 tackles from linebacker David Santos. Safety Corey Cooper added eight tackles, while Gregory added seven tackles, including two sacks and fumbled forced on Kaaya for a total of 25 yards in losses, while adding a pair of quarterback hurries.
The Huskers return home next Saturday for Homecoming, as they open Big Ten play against Illinois. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m.
Final: #24 Nebraska 41, Miami 31
Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014
Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, Neb.)
First Quarter (7-7)
MIAMI - 10:26 - Duke Johnson 2 run (Michael Badgley kick), 9 plays, 75 yards, 4:34 - MIAMI 7-0
NEB - 8:12 - Kenny Bell 40 pass from Tommy Armstrong Jr. (Drew Brown kick), 6 plays, 81 yards, 2:06 - 7-7
Second Quarter (NEB, 17-14)
MIAMI - 13:52 - Clive Walford 6 pass from Brad Kaaya (Badgley kick), 4 plays, 56 yards, 1:38 - MIAMI, 14-7
NEB - 7:10 - Ameer Abdullah 3 pass from Armstrong Jr. (Brown kick), 14 plays, 79 yards, 6:35 - 14-14
NEB - 0:00 - Brown 19 FG, 11 plays, 50 yards, 6:01 - NEB 17-14
Third Quarter (NEB, 31-21)
NEB - 10:06 - Abdullah 6 run (Brown kick) - 11 plays, 75 yards, 4:54 - NEB 24-14
MIAMI - 5:09 - Malcolm Lewis 9 pass from Kaaya (Badgley kick) - 10 plays, 76 yards, 4:51
NEB - 2:23 - Josh Mitchell 57 fumble return (Brown kick) - NEB 31-21
Fourth Quarter (NEB, 41-31)
MIAMI - 13:37 - Badgley 34 FG - 8 plays, 47 yards, 3:46 - NEB 31-24
NEB - 9:21 - Brown 39 FG - 8 plays, 54 yards, 4:09 - NEB 34-24
NEB - 4:13 - Abdullah 10 run (Brown kick) - 6 plays, 40 yards, 3:05, NEB 41-24
MIAMI - 0:18 - Braxton Berrios 4 pass from Kaaya (Badgley kick) - 14 plays, 79 yards, 3:49, NEB 41-31
Final: #24 Nebraska 41, Miami 31
Time of Game: 3:24
Game Start: 7:06 p.m. (central)