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Ameer Abdullah, Duke Johnson to square off Saturday

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Gary Kazanjian/Associated Press
Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah has rushed for 396 yards on 57 carries this season.

Saturday's Miami-Nebraska game is a chance for both teams to gain some positive attention for themselves and for their leagues. It's also a chance for two of the best running backs in the nation to show off.

Nebraska senior Ameer Abdullah (5-foot-9, 200 pounds) has a good shot at finishing second in school history in rushing yardage and is well on his way to becoming the first Husker in history to have three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Miami junior Duke Johnson (5-9, 206), meanwhile, also has a legit chance at finishing second in his school's history in rushing yardage.

They are similar-sized backs, with each adept at finding holes between the tackles but also able to turn the corner with ease. Both also are good receivers, though neither has been used much in that facet this season. And if you need one more thing they have in common, both wear No. 8.

While Nebraska looks to have the better overall defense and Miami the better passing attack, it's likely the winner will be the team that runs the best. That means the onus is on the star backs to produce.

"He's a great back, man," star UM inside linebacker Denzel Perryman told reporters Monday. "He's powerful for his size. He's a speed guy. He's elusive. He's an all-in-one back. Great footwork. It's going to be a nice little matchup. I'm looking forward to playing him."

The feeling seems mutual.

"They're a rowdy bunch," Abdullah told reporters about Miami's defense. "They like to talk, they like to jump around, which I love. That makes the game of football much more fun."

UM's run defense has been poor in each of the past four seasons, with the Hurricanes allowing at least 162 rushing yards per game each season. That figure is down to 82.7 yards per game this season, but Nebraska is the first team that will make it a priority to run on UM -- and it has the athletes to do so.

"We've been better against the run," Miami coach Al Golden told reporters Monday. "This will be our best challenge this year. We'll see if we're up to it."

The Hurricanes will be facing a team with an offensive line that needs to improve, according to Abdullah.

"We have to get better," Adbullah said Monday. "We lose our fundamentals sometimes. The guys are trying really hard. ... But when you're in the game setting, the most important thing is your first step, keeping your first step on blocks -- just the fundamentals we work on every day in practice.

"You can't lose sight of that just because it's a game setting. You have to go through your techniques and stuff. A lot of guys get too excited and forget the fundamentals. ... Up front, we've been pretty good to this point, but we have to be much better."

Abdullah has 3,373 career yards, which is fifth in school history. But he is just 62 yards shy of moving into third place and 508 yards away from surpassing Ahman Green for second place. He's unlikely to catch school career leader Mike Rozier, who has 4,780 yards.

Johnson, who missed the final six games last season with a broken leg, has 2,144 yards, which is eighth in school history, one spot ahead of Willis McGahee and two spots ahead of Frank Gore. He is 817 yards away from replacing Edgerrin James as the school's No. 2 rusher; Johnson seems unlikely to catch Ottis Anderson at the top (he needs 1,188 to pass Anderson).

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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