Hurricane Rewind: Revisiting 2001 BCS Championship
By Ryan Lacey
Most mention the 2001 Miami team on the short list of greatest teams in college football history, and for good reason.
Of the 22 players that started the season opener, 17 of them were drafted into the NFL. In total, 37 players from the squad were drafted into the professional ranks.
This was year one of the Larry Coker era after Butch Davis bolted to coach the Cleveland Browns the season before. Coker inherited a superstar lineup that featured running backs Clinton Portis, Frank Gore and Willis McGahee, receivers Andre Johnson and Daryl Jones, and tight ends Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow II. Quarterback Ken Dorsey had plenty of toys to play with and parlayed that into an excellent junior season. He threw for 2,652 yards with 23 touchdowns and nine interceptions in winning the Maxwell Award as the nation’s top player.
The Hurricanes’ defense was equally dominant, holding opponents to less than 10 points a game with playmakers on every level. The star of the group was Ed Reed, who had nine interceptions in 2001 and was an all-American in both years he started.
The Hurricanes bulldozed their way through the regular season, winning 10 of their 12 games by more than 21 points. They had two close calls, narrowly escaping upsets to Virginia Tech and Boston College (both may be featured on future Hurricane Rewinds).
Nebraska lucked its way into the BCS title game after one of the most chaotic final two weeks in college football history. Despite being crushed by Colorado, 62-36, which knocked the Cornhuskers out of the Big 12 Championship Game, Nebraska was ranked No. 2 after the final week because Tennessee, Florida, Texas and Oklahoma all lost in the final two weeks of the season. The Cornhuskers were led by Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch and coached by Frank Solich.
Miami started off the game slow by its standards, trading punts before Dorsey threw an interception in Nebraska territory. The Miami defense forced a turnover of its own, recovering a Cornhuskers fumble at midfield. On the next play, Dorsey found a wide-open Andre Johnson for a 49-yard touchdown for the first and only score in the first quarter.
The Hurricanes took their play to another level in the second quarter. Clinton Portis ripped off an outstanding run on the second play of the period, breaking multiple tackles before using his speed to find the end zone. On the ensuing possession, Crouch threw a pass that went through the receiver’s hands and into the hands of Miami defensive back James Lewis, who returned the interception for a touchdown.
After the Cornhuskers went three-and-out, Miami took just two plays — a 45-yard bomb to Andre Johnson and a 21-yard touchdown pass by Shockey — to score again. Three touchdowns in 3:53 that made the score 27-0. Game over. The Hurricanes would add another touchdown before halftime to put Nebraska out of its misery.
The Cornhuskers had more success in the second half, but the problem (besides the one-sided score line) was their option offense was not suited to play from behind. Long drives in the second quarter resulted in gaining yards but not points. Nebraska pulled to within 37-14 early in the fourth quarter, but the Huskers were unable to draw closer despite reaching the red zone twice.
Johnson (seven catches for 199 yards and two touchdowns) and Dorsey (362 yards passing and three touchdowns) shared MVP honors.
The Hurricanes’ defensive line absolutely dominated this game. Jerome McDougle and William Joseph controlled the line of scrimmage from the defensive tackle position, making positive runs hard to come by. Crouch had no room to operate whatsoever and once he was able to make it to the second level, the speed of the Miami secondary prevented Crouch from turning a 10-yard run into a long touchdown. I counted three such plays that would have resulted in scores if not for the outstanding quickness of Reed.
In retrospect, this game represents the apex of Miami’s status as a national power. Although the Hurricanes would return to the title game the next season, Coker’s coaching and a steady decline of recruiting combined to cause a slow erosion that continues to this day.