It is easy around here to place the white hat on the Huskers, and paint the other side as the bullies in leather jackets, but let’s be fair about it: Both Nebraska and Miami were ready to jab at each other when the teams met a season ago.
The football field, by the end, seemed more like a fire pit than a field in a game/scuffle the Huskers won 41-31.
You might remember that game featured two skirmishes that interrupted action, one Hurricane flipping the bird to Husker fans, Randy Gregory in multiple entanglements, and relatively few postgame handshakes because both sides, probably wisely, decided it better to go their separate ways.
Usually you hear Husker fans clapping the opponents off the field. This time, booing.
“I remember it was really physical, very verbal, and they kind of made it a personal game,” said Husker senior cornerback Jonathan Rose. “We might not have known them personally, but they would take shots at you verbally and physically. … It’s just going to be one of those physical, verbal games where you have to keep your head and not get overwhelmed at what’s going on.”
Highlight that phrase: Keep your head.
That’s what Mike Riley wants to see out of his team Saturday when it heads to Miami for the rematch.
The Husker head coach has only heard about the intensity surrounding last year’s game. "I don’t know much else about it other than knowing it was emotional.”
But Riley does understand the historical ramifications that come with Nebraska-Miami. You’d think some of those old Orange Bowl meetings in the '80s and '90s could make a rivalry old news, but as last year showed, strong feelings can carry even over a couple decades.
Husker defensive tackle Maliek Collins on Monday described last year's game against Miami as his favorite game he's played in. And Riley has gotten the vibe from other players that playing the Hurricanes is a big deal.
“That’s pretty good stuff, and it’s led to a nice, current-day rivalry,” Riley said. “I know our players … I did not realize how they felt except through time, hearing them talk. Unfortunately it won’t happen, but I think the first thing De’Mornay (Pierson-El) said to me when he got hurt is, 'I really want to play in that Miami game.'"
Perhaps tempers will be better kept in check this time around.
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Some of the lead figures in last year's scuffles are no longer in the programs. Offensive lineman Ereck Flowers, who gave fans the one-fingered salute in the final seconds, is now starting for the New York Giants. And offensive linemen Taylor Gadbois and Shane McDermott, who mixed it up for Miami in that game, are also no longer around.
Same goes for Gregory, who either created much of the commotion or had it follow him, depending on which side you ask.
For those who are around, Riley wants to see his team stay poised in its first road trip of the season. A little extra chirping and pushing isn't worth 15 yards.
"We’ve had two unsportsmanlike penalties, two cheap shots, and we’re going to get rid of all that," Riley said. "Self-control is always really, really important, so when you come up into a deal like this, you’ve just got to be under control."
Riley knows it's a fine line players have to walk in a game where the right amount of passion, and attitude, can serve you well.
But it'll be a critical line to stay on in a game that, as linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey put it, "can set the tone" for the rest of the season.
Again, deep breath: Keep your head.
"It's really, really hard for anybody to get into a deal and not respond when everything in your world tells you that you feel like it," Riley said. "That’s the kind of thing that we’re going to have to deal with. There’s so much of it that is so much fun about the passion and emotion of football, and then there’s some hard stuff like that. You’ve just got to deal with it, because it’s the retaliator that usually gets caught, and that’s when your team gets hurt."
Riley then would like the words coming from Rose.
The senior, who could have a pivotal role in Saturday's game, knows getting caught up in all the noise and some personal beef with an opposing player can only bring your game down a couple levels.
“In the heat of the battle," Rose said, "that’s one of those key factors that can probably win or lose you the game."