To a man, the Huskers believe they outplayed Florida State in the national title game last January. They claim their days of being spooked by the Orange Bowl and the Hurricanes are over. Sapp will be the responsibility mainly of Wilks and Zatechka, but there could come a series, a play, an instant when Sapp lines up opposite Wiegert—Lombardi winner versus Outland winner, a dream matchup within a dream matchup. "I'd love it," Wiegert says. As for the crowd and history and the Hurricanes' in-your-face ways, he laughs.
"If they want to do it, let 'em," he says. "They talk trash, I'll talk it right back. I ain't scared. They always think, The white boys come down from Nebraska, we're going to intimidate 'em, talk smack. I guarantee we won't be intimidated by that. They can do their thing, we'll do ours—and we'll see who wins."
Leaving the Fiesta Bowl last Jan. 1, humiliated after Miami's 29-0 lashing by Arizona, Sapp decided this: "I'd never feel that way again. If you didn't feel bad walking off the field with 72,000 watching you just get kicked.... Well, I just promised myself that I'd never feel that way again."
He hasn't. And if '94 wasn't the dominant season Miami always strives for—the 10-1 Hurricanes lost to Washington at home, struggled with lowly Pitt at home and didn't crack the Top 10 in any major offensive category—that isn't Sapp's problem. He led the team with 10.5 sacks and was fourth in tackles despite nearly constant double-teaming. Only Rutgers made noise about trying to handle him one-on-one (or so it was reported to Sapp before the game), and when Sapp heard that, he blurted, "Are you kidding me?" His teammates rode him about what the Rutgers guard would do to him, and Sapp stewed. "Oh, man," he says. "He issued a challenge to me. I had to accept." His performance netted him Big East Defensive Player of the Week honors. Eight weeks later, after the Miami offense turned the ball over against Boston College, Sapp yapped on the sidelines, "Don't worry. We'll get it back for you"—and no one doubted him.
Just ask him about Nebraska's potent offensive line, and Sapp snaps, "What are we? Puppies?"
Hardly. Keyed by safety C.J. Richardson, linebacker Ray Lewis and the rest of the front line, Miami has limited opponents to 10.8 points per game—a number that shrank steadily toward the end of the season. Since Oct. 8, when Sapp led the 34-20 dismantling of Florida State with seven tackles, two sacks and two passes batted away, the Miami defense has been virtually impenetrable, allowing an average of eight points and limiting opponents to just 14 third-down conversions in 77 tries. While the Miami offense muddled through inconsistently, the defense proved it was made of the same stuff that built the Hurricane dynasty. On one side of the ball, Sapp is proud to say, nothing has changed. "It doesn't matter who we're playing," he says, "we're going to come out and play defense. That's just it. They can come out five-wide, whatever they want to do. Just bring it on."
Abruptly he asks, "How would you attack our defense?"—knowing there is no good answer. Miami's starters on defense average 4.64 in the 40-yard dash and specialize in running down anyone who gets past Sapp & Co. up front. The best response to Sapp: If Nebraska can somehow forget where it's playing, blow Miami off the line and control the clock with the run, the national title heads west. Sapp's grin goes wider; he loves the idea. It makes Nebraska's offensive line pivotal. It puts everything on him.
"If ifs and buts were candy and nuts," he says, "every day would be Christmas, wouldn't it?"