Lincoln, Neb. — Nebraska didn’t let a few scuffles with Miami spoil the party at Memorial Stadium and the show Ameer Abdullah put on Saturday night.
Abdullah ran 35 times for 229 yards to lead a punishing ground game, and the No. 24 Cornhuskers celebrated the 20th anniversary of their 1994 national championship team with a 41-31 victory.
The Huskers (4-0) will start Big Ten play next week off a performance that drew a record crowd of 91,585 that came to see a meeting of programs that combined for eight national titles from 1983 to 2001.
Miami (2-2) got within three points in the third quarter, but its five personal fouls in the second half helped the Huskers pull away. Only the coaches and team captains shook hands after the game. Fans booed as Miami left the field.
“The game of football is about passion, and I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Abdullah said. “Good thing we were the bigger men.”
The Hurricanes have lost five straight and 11 of their last 12 on the road against ranked opponents since 2006.
“There was a lot of jawing,” Miami offensive lineman Taylor Gadbois said. “They wanted it. We wanted it. It was really physical. It was two teams putting all on the line to win.”
Tommy Armstrong Jr. passed for 113 yards and two touchdowns and ran 13 times for 96 for Nebraska. Miami’s Brad Kaaya threw for 359 yards and three touchdowns but was intercepted twice, and Duke Johnson ran 18 times for 93 yards.
After Armstrong was intercepted in the third quarter, giving Miami a chance to tie or take the lead, cornerback Josh Mitchell ran back Johnson’s fumble 57 yards for a touchdown to put Nebraska up 31-21.
Tempers flared after a roughing-the-passer penalty nullified Nate Geary’s interception of Kaaya on Miami’s next series. Players from both sides squared off, drawing offsetting personal fouls.
Another scrum broke out after Josh Kalu intercepted Kaaya in the fourth quarter, and offensive lineman Ereck Flowers’ obscene gesture toward fans in the north end zone after Miami’s last touchdown prompted the fifth personal foul against the Hurricanes.
“I thought our guys handled themselves well,” Nebraska coach Pelini said. “We didn’t have guys leave the sidelines. We only had guys pulling guys off. I give their staff credit. It could have gotten out of control.”
Miami coach Al Golden said, “I like the fact that it meant a lot to our guys. We don’t want to lose our poise like that.”
The Hurricanes came in allowing 2 yards per rushing attempt, but they hadn’t faced a back nearly the caliber of Abdullah. He worked in harmony with Armstrong on tough-to-stop zone-read runs and even took snaps out of the wildcat formation a couple times while strengthening his Heisman Trophy candidacy.
Abdullah also broke 1972 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers’ school record for all-purpose yardage. His 313 all-purpose yards were the second-most in a game for Nebraska, and it raised his career total to 5,762. Rodgers had 5,586.
Abdullah had six runs of 10 yards or longer and Armstrong had four.
“We just stressed physicality all week,” Abdullah said. “We knew if we come out physical every play and hit them in the mouth, we’re going to wear them out. First quarter you could tell we could move the ball on these guys.”
Miami and Nebraska played for the first time since the Hurricanes’ clinched their fifth, and most recent, national title in the 2002 Rose Bowl. Before Saturday, their last five meetings had come in bowl games, and four of those times the winner was crowned national champion.
Even though the programs are now shells of their former selves, the history they share made this the Huskers’ most anticipated non-conference home game since top-ranked Southern California visited in 2007. Suspended New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez was on hand to cheer his hometown Hurricanes, and U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts came as a guest of Justice Clarence Thomas, who became an ardent Huskers fan after he married a Nebraskan.
Players from the ‘94 Nebraska team that beat Miami 24-17 in the Orange Bowl showed up in big numbers along with their coach, Tom Osborne, and members of his staff. The old players and coaches formed a gauntlet for the Huskers to run through as they came out of the tunnel before kickoff.