Nevada falls to Miami in MPC Computers Bowl
December 31, 2006
BOISE, Idaho – One blown coverage. Take that away, and Nevada beats perennial powerhouse and five-time national champion University of Miami.
Nevada gave Miami a gift touchdown late in the third quarter enabling the Hurricanes to go ahead by a score, and then Miami cornerback Chavez Grant stopped the Wolf Pack’s potential game-winning drive with an interception in the closing minute to save a 21-20 win in Sunday’s 10th annual MPC Computers Bowl at Bronco Stadium.
Nevada finished a respectable 8-5, and Miami improved to 7-6, sending outgoing coach Larry Coker out with a victory.
“We went into the game not just interested in coming close, but winning,” Nevada coach Chris Ault said. “We had our opportunities. We played hard. We played four quarters.
“Miami is a terrific team with tremendous personnel. Take away three big plays; take away one. I felt like we could move the ball and get into field-goal range. Jeff (Rowe) threw it one-tenth of a second too late. Their kid (Chavez Grant) made a real nice play.”
The one big play Ault was referring to moments after Nevada had tied the game at 14 on Brett Jaekle’s 31-yard field goal with 6:22 left in the third period.
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On the first play on the ensuing possession, Miami quarterback Kirby Freeman was pressured and started to scramble. Just a few feet behind the line of scrimmage, he lofted a pass to a wide open Sam Shields, who caught the ball at Nevada’s 48, and raced the rest of the way to complete the 78-yard play, which gave Miami a 21-14 lead.
“We were in a cover 2,” Nevada cornerback Joe Garcia said. “The safety has the deep half. The quarterback was scrambling around, and the safety came up and left it wide open.”
When Shields caught the ball, there wasn’t a Nevada defender within 25 yards of him. Freeman thought he might have gone past the line of scrimmage.
“It was unbelievable,” said Freeman, who passed for a career-high 272 yards and two scores. “I told him before the play to stay alert that anything could happen.
“I didn’t know (if I crossed the line). I came back and asked coach (Larry) Coker.”
After an exchange of punts, Nevada came back with a nice drive, culminated in a career-high 44-yard field goal by Jaekle to make it 21-17 with 14:05 left in regulation.
Nevada was the benefit of an unfavorable review on the drive. On third-and-10 from the Miami 27, Rowe threw one over the middle to tight end Anthony Pudewell, who took a big hit. The ball popped up in the air, and Pudewell appeared to have it trapped between his legs. The officials ruled it incomplete. Ault called time-out, and the replay official stayed with the call on the field. Jaekle kicked the field goal on the next play.
“Pudewell said he caught it,” Ault said. “You know kids.”
Nevada’s defense, led by Ezra Butler and Jason DeMars, held Miami on the following possession.
Nevada got a break this time around. On second down from the Miami 40, Mike McCoy fumbled a handoff on a reverse and recovered the ball for a 10-yard loss back at midfield. However, Baraka Atkins was nailed for a 5-yard facemask penalty, and the infraction wasn’t marked off where McCoy fell on the ball, but from the line of scrimmage.
On second down, Rowe threw to McCoy for 10 yards down to the 25. Robert Hubbard was stopped short of a first down on the next play, and Jaekle kicked a 40-yarder to make it 21-20 with 9:25 left.
Neither offense could move the ball. Ault opted to punt the ball away with less than three minutes left in the game. The strategy was obvious. He had three timeouts left, and figured that if the defense could hold again, the offense would get another shot.
The Hurricanes gained only one yard on three plays, and Nevada got the ball back at its own 38 with 1:24 remaining.
Rowe misfired on first down, and then he found Pudewell for nine yards to the 47. Hubbard kept the drive alive with a 5-yard run to Miami’s 48 for a first down. Rowe eluded a heavy pass rush and scrambled out of bounds at the Miami 36.
After an incompletion on second down, Rowe tried to hit Caleb Spencer along the right sideline, but Grant read the play perfectly and made a diving interception.
“We have great coaches and they put us in position to make big plays, and I made one,” Grant said. “I knew what they were going to do. I just laid out and caught it.”
Ault said that after a tough first quarter, Rowe played well.
“The first quarter he was holding the ball too long,” Ault said. “I took him out so he could see what the secondary was doing. The pass protection was great. The sacks were the quarterback’s fault.
“I thought the offense did a good job. We could have done better in our passing game.”
Shoulda, woulda, coulda. Nevada has nothing to be ashamed about. It gave Miami everything it wanted and more.
Miami scored on its first possession, driving 70 yards on 13 plays, with Freeman sneaking over from the 1. The Hurricanes were so efficient that they only faced third down twice.
The key plays were passes of 13 and 10 yards to Shields and a 10-yard run by Javarris James.
Miami got a break after Nevada’s next possession. Bruce Johnson fielded Zach Whited’s punt, and tried to find a hole. There weren’t any, and he appeared to have fumbled after a hit by Uche Anywanu. Josh Mauga recovered for Nevada, but officials ruled that Johnson’s progress had stopped.
Miami was awarded the ball on the 12, and two runs by James lost a yard. On third-and-nine, Freeman dropped back and under pressure by Butler, threw the ball out of play from the end zone, resulting in a safety with five seconds remaining in the quarter to make it 7-2.
The score stayed that way until Mauga intercepted a Freeman pass intended for Greg Olsen and returned it to the 45.
Nick Graziano came in for Rowe, and promptly completed a 15-yard pass to Caleb Spencer for a first down at the Miami 40. Luke Lippincott was stopped for no gain on the next play, and Rowe returned to the game.
On the next play, Rowe, under duress, flipped a shovel pass to Robert Hubbard, who scampered 13 yards for a first down at the 27. Rowe rolled right on the next play and threaded a bullet to Marko Mitchell in the end zone for a score, giving Nevada an 8-7 lead.
After calling its second timeout, Ault elected to go for two. Rowe rolled right, but was stopped short of the end zone by Baraka Atkins.
The pressure Miami’s defensive front was able to get on Rowe forced Ault to adjust the play calling.
“We had to do something (to slow that rush down),” Ault said. “That’s what you have to do.”
Miami took a 14-8 lead when Freeman found Ryan Moore with a 52-yard pass down the right sideline. The ball was underthrown, and Moore was able to come back for it. Replays also showed that he got away with a shove against Garcia.
Miami never lost the lead, though Nevada did tie the game at 14 and 21.
“Nevada was one of the most complete teams we played,” Coker said. “They did a good job nickel and dimeing our defense on that last drive (that ended in Grant’s interception. I didn’t want to see us lose on five field goals.”