Miami's Johnson torches Nebraska secondary for 199 yardsPosted: Friday January 04, 2002 2:12 AM
By Stewart Mandel, CNNSI.com
PASADENA, Calif. -- Andre Johnson knew he was as open as a receiver can get who’s not playing catch in the backyard with a pine tree as the defender.
Nebraska cornerback Keyuo Craver had just fallen down not far past the line of scrimmage and Johnson was looking at a clear path to the end zone. As Ken Dorsey’s pass sailed through the air, Johnson was thinking one thing.
“Please let me catch it, please let me catch it.”
Johnson did catch it and went the rest of the 49 yards to a touchdown, the game’s first, with 6:51 to go in the first quarter. Miami would go on to score 27 more unanswered points before the half, and Johnson’s touchdown -- coming on the first play following a Miami fumble recovery -- was a telling sign of the onslaught to come.
Try as it might, Nebraska would not be able to solve Johnson, who caught seven balls for a career-high 199 yards en route to Rose Bowl co-MVP honors. The touchdown was the first of several long catches in which he burned Craver, considered an All-America cornerback by many, and when the Huskers switched his defender to DeJuan Groce, Johnson burned him too.
“Today, I came out, I felt like I had something to prove,” said Johnson. “I brought my A-game.”
Prior to the touchdown, Johnson’s first of two, and the Eric Crouch fumble that preceded it, neither team had really established momentum. If anything, it was on the side of Nebraska if for no other reason than the estimated 65,000 Husker fans who had turned the 94,000-seat Rose Bowl into a sea of red and had been worked into a frenzy from the time their band came on the field 20 minutes before kickoff.
Roaring at the slightest sign of progress by their offense or tackle on defense, they had turned the event into a road game for Miami, which appeared slightly tense early on. Dorsey, in particular, found himself running from some rare pressure and overthrowing a couple receivers.
But as soon as linebacker D.J. Williams stripped Crouch on one of his patented keeper plays and William Joseph recovered, a wave of confidence seemed to sweep through the ‘Canes. They thrive on just these situations, their offense producing quick-strike scoring drives after their opportunistic defense, that of 48 turnovers on the season, puts them in good field position. In this case, the Nebraska 49.
“That’s so demoralizing to a team,” said defensive tackle Matt Walters. “That tires a defense out, I know. When you come off the field you want to catch a break and then you have to go right back out there.”
It was early enough that Craver probably wasn’t tired on the play that would follow, but he was caught off-guard by a swift bump from Johnson that sent him falling to the turf.
“Miami is a very physical team,” said Craver. “I was pulled down and the guy [Johnson] beat me.”
Dorsey would go on to have a career game, throwing for a personal-high 362 yards and three touchdowns on 22-of-35 passing, but he needed that first big play to get into a rhythm. Even that throw could have been better, though it was hard to mess it up after seeing Craver fall down before he released.
“I think I tried to put a little too much on,” said Dorsey. “I got excited, just threw it out there. Andre did a great job of making a play.”
From there, it quickly became apparent what was going to happen. Following Johnson’s touchdown, Nebraska fumbled yet again, this time Josh Davis on the kickoff return. The Huskers survived that one, but came up short of scoring on the following drive. Before you knew it, Clinton Portis was running in from 39 yards out, James Lewis was running back a Crouch interception 36 yards, and the rout was on.
Johnson would go on to haul in sideline bombs of 45 and 34 yards among his receptions as Nebraska never wavered from its man-to-man coverage schemes. A sophomore whose previous career best was 116 yards, Johnson made a statement that Miami’s passing game will only get scarier next year, when he, Kevin Beard, Ethenic Sands and Jason Geathers all return.
“I’m definitely coming back,” said Dorsey, who said the same thing as far back as August. “It means a lot to me to … be there for guys like Andre and Kevin Beard. I had the privilege of benefiting when guys like Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne stayed.”