The Hurricanes had Nebraska's 52-points-a-game offense misfiring for a quarter and a half. They didn't give up a score until Husker coach Tom Osborne dusted off an old hidden-ball play that had 270-pound guard Dean Steinkuhler pick up a deliberate fumble by quarterback Turner Gill and, running against the direction of the play, pound 19 yards to a touchdown. For the remainder of the half Miami went overly pass-happy, and the Cornhuskers effectively mixed up their coverages and, for the time being, shut down Kosar. Meanwhile, I-back Mike Rozier, the Heisman winner, broke loose on a couple of options, and Nebraska pulled even. A Gill sneak late in the second quarter and a 34-yard field goal after a fumble recovery a minute-plus into the second half made the score 17-17.
At this point, it seemed that Miami's jig was up and the inevitable rout on—were it not for two things Schnellenberger had emphasized in his pregame analysis: 1) that the Hurricanes could move on Nebraska whenever they got their pass-run act in proper balance and 2) that as long as Miami kept the score close, the Huskers would have to play their starters. "With the season they had, blowing everybody out, their regulars aren't used to playing so much," he'd said. "If it's hot, they'll wear out. Their size will work against them."
The weather wasn't hot (66° at kick-off), but Miami was on two well-designed third-quarter drives. The first covered 75 yards in 10 plays. It was made up of three Kosar completions—the first to his best receiver, Eddie Brown, who wound up with a game-high six catches—and an assortment of traps and counters that featured freshman fullback Alonzo Highsmith. Highsmith scored on a one-yard dive to put Miami ahead for good.
Miami drove to another touchdown and took a 31-17 lead into the fourth quarter. If a rout was on, the wrong team was doing the routing. Miami was getting superior blocking from its "rejects and retreads," as Schnellenberger calls his linemen, and, equally important, from fullbacks Highsmith and Albert Bentley. The Cornhuskers realized from the start that given time Kosar would pick them apart, so early in the second quarter they started sending their safeties and corner-backs crashing in—as often as not to be met by crushing blocks from Bentley or Highsmith. Kosar seldom was pressured and never was sacked.
Schnellenberger doesn't worry about falling behind because, he says, "our entire offense is a two-minute drill." The ploys used to offset Nebraska's size and rush included quick screens and sprint draws. Indeed, the Hurricanes were much more successful on the ground than expected. On the night, Highsmith gained 50 yards on just seven carries, Bentley picked up 46 on 10, and Keith Griffin added 41 on nine.
If Schnellenberger's forecast regarding the Nebraska regulars was correct, the Hurricanes were in the clubhouse with their 14-point lead with less than 12 minutes remaining. But Nebraska had saved something for the last hole. With Jeff Smith spelling Rozier, who had left the game with a twisted left ankle in the third quarter after having gained 147 yards on 25 carries, the Cornhuskers marched 76 yards—the last yard coming on a Smith plunge—to make the score 31-24. Then, after a Miami field-goal attempt went wide, Nebraska got the ball back with 1:47 to play.
One-forty-seven was an extravagance. Gill needed only 59 seconds to take the Huskers 74 yards, but he nearly ran out of downs. On fourth-and-eight from the Miami 24-yard line Smith took a Gill pitch, swept right and dived into the end zone. Suddenly it was 31-30: a point to tie and still gain the national title, two to win. "I knew they'd go for two," said Hurricane roverback Kenny Calhoun. "They're champions. They had to."
Schnellenberger was so sure of it he ordered up a two-point defense even before he observed which conversion unit Nebraska had on the field. Gill rolled right, and Calhoun's man, wingback Irving Fryar, released to the inside. "When I saw that, I went out to pick him [Smith] up," said Calhoun. "He [Gill] threw a little behind [Smith], and I got three fingers of my left hand on the ball." The pass fluttered away, and with it Nebraska's No. 1 ranking. "I do that kind of thing all the time," Calhoun said, and winked.
The victory, the Hurricanes' 11th in a row, gave Miami the longest winning streak in major-college football. This was also the Hurricanes' first appearance in the Orange Bowl in 33 years, and it's worth noting that they, with the freewheeling Schnellenberger conducting, treated themselves to every pregame entertainment available. "Join the Hurricanes and see Miami," said middle guard Tony Fitzpatrick. The Cornhuskers, meanwhile, kept their noses to the grindstone and their practices off limits—Miami even invited Nebraska reporters to its workouts. On press day Schnellenberger arrived in a helicopter. Osborne came in a Volkswagen bus.
A few nights later, at a private dinner during which the shrapnel from the stone crabs was flying and the football conversation more or less centered on the way the Hurricanes were conducting themselves—enjoyably, for the most part—Osborne asked a friend if Schnellenberger "always did things like that." No, he was told, "but he looks like he would like to get used to it."