LINCOLN, Nebraska — Miami's defense was one of the best at stopping the run through three games. But the Hurricanes hadn't faced a running back nearly the caliber of Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah.
Abdullah ran 35 times for 229 yards to lead a punishing ground game that helped send the Hurricanes to a 41-31 loss to the No. 24 Cornhuskers on Saturday night.
"He's every bit of what he was on film," linebacker Thurston Armbrister said. "We knew he was a good back, and we knew what we needed to do to stop him. We just didn't execute."
Miami (2-2) allowed 343 yards on the ground after giving up a total of 268 in the first three games.
That was way too much on a night when Miami freshman Brad Kaaya threw for 359 yards and three touchdowns but was intercepted twice, with one of the picks leading to a Nebraska touchdown. Duke Johnson ran 18 times for 93 yards.
The game was marred by two scuffles in the second half, and the Hurricanes drew five personal fouls, with the last one coming when offensive lineman Ereck Flowers made an obscene gesture toward fans in the north end zone.
"I like the fact that it meant a lot to our guys," Miami coach Al Golden said. "We don't want to lose our poise like that."
A Memorial Stadium record crowd of 91,585 came to see a meeting of programs that combined for eight national titles from 1983 to 2001.
Miami got within three points in the third quarter on Kaaya's 9-yard pass to Malcolm Lewis, but the personal fouls helped the Huskers pull away. Only the coaches and team captains shook hands after the game. Fans booed as Miami left the field.
"The game of football is about passion, and I wouldn't want it any other way," Abdullah said. "Good thing we were the bigger men."
The Hurricanes have lost five straight and 11 of their last 12 on the road against ranked opponents since 2006.
"There was a lot of jawing," Miami offensive lineman Taylor Gadbois said. "They wanted it. We wanted it. It was really physical. It was two teams putting all on the line to win."
After Tommy Armstrong was intercepted in the third quarter, giving Miami a chance to tie or take the lead, cornerback Josh Mitchell ran back Johnson's fumble 57 yards for a touchdown to put Nebraska up 31-21.
Tempers flared after a roughing-the-passer penalty nullified Nate Geary's interception of Kaaya on Miami's next series. Players from both sides squared off, drawing offsetting personal fouls.
Another scrum broke out after Josh Kalu intercepted Kaaya in the fourth quarter.
"I thought our guys handled themselves well," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "We didn't have guys leave the sidelines. We only had guys pulling guys off. I give their staff credit. It could have gotten out of control."
Abdullah had six runs of 10 yards or longer and Armstrong had four.
"We just stressed physicality all week," Abdullah said. "We knew if we come out physical every play and hit them in the mouth, we're going to wear them out. First quarter you could tell we could move the ball on these guys."
Miami and Nebraska played for the first time since the Hurricanes' clinched their fifth, and most recent, national title in the 2002 Rose Bowl. Before Saturday, their last five meetings had come in bowl games, and four of those times the winner was crowned national champion.
Even though the programs are now shells of their former selves, the history they share made this the Huskers' most anticipated non-conference home game since top-ranked Southern California visited in 2007. Suspended New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez was on hand to cheer his hometown Hurricanes, and U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts came as a guest of Justice Clarence Thomas, who became an ardent Huskers fan after he married a Nebraskan.
Players from the '94 Nebraska team that beat Miami 24-17 in the Orange Bowl showed up in big numbers along with their coach, Tom Osborne, and members of his staff. The old players and coaches formed a gauntlet for the Huskers to run through as they came out of the tunnel before kickoff.