MIAMI — Nebraska did it the hard way Saturday night.
Just when it appeared the Huskers had fumbled and bumbled enough for another Orange Bowl appearance to end in a fizz, the Cornhuskers regrouped.
They did it with two touchdowns in the last 16:25 of the game to score a dramatic 21-20 victory over Louisiana State.
The Cornhuskers had to overcome six turnovers – four in the first half and one in the third quarter and one in the last period – to fight their way back from a 17-7 deficit. LSU took that lead when Juan Betanzos kicked a 28-yard field goal with 6:40 left in the third quarter.
“We wanted it to be close going into the fourth quarter,” Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne said. “We thought we could win at that stage.”
Nebraska, the nation’s best rushing team, went to the pass against the rugged Tiger defenders, including the Huskers' first play of the game.
NU outyarded the Tigers, 403 to 211, with 211 rushing and 184 through the air. Turner Gill completed 13 of 22 passes.
The Huskers got it close when quarterback Gill threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to I-back Mike Rozier with 1:25 left in the third quarter. Rozier’s score made it 17-14.
The Huskers then got a break on the first play of the fourth quarter when LSU’s Clay Parker couldn’t get off a punt under heavy pressure from NU defensive end Tony Felici. Parker decided to run, and gained 12 yards before he was stopped by Wade Praeuner and Bret Clark short of a first down at the LSU 48.
From there, Nebraska needed just eight plays for the winning touchdown, a 1-yard sneak by Gill.
One of the key plays of the drive came on third and 5 from the LSU 43. Gill threw toward Todd Brown, but it fell incomplete. Then pass interference was called on defensive back James Britt.
The score with 11:14 left in the game put the Huskers ahead 21-17.
“LSU had a great football team, without doubt one of the very best football teams we played this year,” Osborne said. “We’re very pleased to win the football game and overcome all the adversity.”
The reward for the comeback will be Nebraska’s highest finish in the polls during Osborne’s career. Nebraska, ranked third entering the bowls, could finish as high as second. The previous best by an Osborne team was seventh.
Osborne’s 10th NU team was the first to win in the Orange Bowl, and the first to beat Oklahoma and win a bowl game in the same season.
The Cornhuskers had hopes that the Sugar Bowl would end in a tie, and that they might someway slip into the national championship by beating LSU.
Those hopes ended when second-ranked Penn State beat top-rated Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. The Nittany Lions should be voted the national championship, and the Cornhuskers will have the consolation of knowing they came close.
Nebraska’s only loss was 27-24 to Penn State in the third game of the season.
The Nittany Lions scored their winning touchdown with four seconds remaining in the game.
Nebraska and LSU drew just 54,407 spectators. There were 68,713 tickets sold and 14,306 no-shows.
The crowd, which was probably held down because of the civil disturbances in Miami this week, was the smallest for an Orange Bowl since Rice and Tennessee drew 36,152 in 1947.
Those who showed saw an action-packed game. Nebraska’s turnovers were enough to keep LSU, 8-3-1 and a 10½-point underdog, in contention all the way.
LSU coach Jerry Stovall was happy with the showing of his players, who lost two of their last three games in the regular season. The Tigers were 3-7-1 last year.
“I told them I loved them,” Stovall said. “We played a great game. If we would have got it back one more time, we would have won the game.”
LSU did get close when Betanzos kicked a 49-yard field goal with 5:05 left to make it 21-20. Nebraska didn’t give the 13th-ranked Tigers another chance by keeping the ball the rest of the game.
Osborne said the turnover problem was out of character for this Nebraska team.
“We haven’t been a team that turns the ball over a lot,” he said. “Any time you play a good football team and have six turnovers you probably will get beat.”
Nebraska’s turnovers led to both of LSU’s touchdowns in the first half and both field goals in the second.
The Huskers might not have won if one of Osborne’s gambles didn’t pay off, but he also had a couple in the game that didn’t work.
The one that worked was on the 80-yard touchdown drive that followed the field goal giving LSU its 17-7 lead.
The gamble was a pass on fourth-and-one from the Tigers 35. It worked when Gill connected with split end Brown for an 18-yard completion.
“They were going to load up for the run, and we thought we could get Irving Fryar open in the flat,” Osborne said.
“The end ran with him so we had to hit the split end. It was a gamble play.”
The first gamble that failed was a fake punt in the first half, and the second was a fake field goal in the fourth quarter that could have padded NU’s lead if it had worked.
When the Huskers lined up for the kick, back Tim Brungardt started to run off the field. He was acting as if he was the 12th player on the field, and trying to get to the sideline.
When the ball was snapped, Brungardt turned up the field for a pass from Gill. He had it in his hands but dropped it at about the Tiger 4-yard line.
Nebraska’s first turnover in the second half was a bad pitch by Gill to Fryar that LSU recovered at the Husker 40. It led to Betanzos’ 28-yard field goal, and gave LSU its 17-7 lead.
LSU had two turnovers – both interceptions of Alan Risher passes.
The second was on a spectacular play that followed Nebraska’s fake field goal.
The deep pass was tipped by Clark, and caught by Husker cornerback Dave Burke, who was on his back when he made the play.
LSU got the ball back on the next play when Gill’s pass was tipped by Al Richardson and intercepted by Lawrence Williams, who ran the ball back to the Husker 37.
Nebraska’s defense, which held LSU to just 38 yards rushing and 173 passing, protected the lead by limiting the Tigers to Betanzos’ 49-yard field goal.
Nebraska started the game with an impressive drive on its first possession, but not much else went right in the first half.
The Cornhuskers lost fumbles the next three times they touched the ball, and had a fourth turnover before halftime when a Gill pass was intercepted by LSU linebacker Rydell Melancon to wipe out an opportunity that could have either tied the game or produced a field goal.
Nebraska got the ball at the LSU 42 following a punt with 2:08 left in the half and drove to the 20 before Gill was intercepted. Gill had thrown his 83 previous passes – going back to the fifth game of the season against Colorado – without an interception.
Nebraska opened scoring on a 5-yard touchdown run by fullback Mark Schellen with 10:57 left in the first quarter. The Huskers needed just six plays to cover 51 yards for the score.
Schellen, a junior, made his first career start in place of junior Doug Wilkening.
The Cornhuskers had a break backfire midway through the first quarter, which contributed to LSU’s tying touchdown.
LSU used Risher’s passing to get in position for a 35-yard field goal by Betanzos with 7:30 left in the first quarter. But Nebraska’s Allen Lyday was called for roughing the kicker, and LSU gave up the three points to try for a touchdown.
The decision to take the penalty momentarily backfired for the Tigers two plays later when a Risher pass was tipped by middle guard Jeff Merrell and intercepted by defensive tackle Toby Williams at the NU 7.
LSU quickly got another chance when Nebraska’s Mike Rozier fumbled on the next play, and Liffort Hobley recovered at the 11.
The Tigers capitalized with a 1-yard run by Dalton Hilliard.
Gill was sharp with his passing early. He completed a 22-yarder to Irving Fryar on the Huskers’ first play from scrimmage in the game. He was 8 for 12 in the first half for 106 yards.
The throwing was a departure in form for the nation’s No. 1 rushing team. Nebraska ran for just 80 yards in the first half, 26 less than they got through the air.
Gill completed four of four passes for 43 yards in a late-first quarter drive that ended on the Huskers’ second lost fumble of the game. Schellen lost it and LSU’s Melancon recovered on the first play of the second quarter.
LSU was forced to punt, but got another break – this one unforced – when Fryar fumbled on the return. He dropped the ball without even being hit.
Gene Lang recovered for the Tigers at the Huskers’ 45 with 13:23 left in the second quarter.
From there, the Tigers drove for the go-ahead score on a nine-play drive that featured passes of 24 and 14 yards from Risher to Hilliard.
The Huskers stiffened after LSU got to the 1 by stopping Hilliard twice for no gain. The Tigers tried Hilliard again on fourth down, and he scored easily on a 1-yard sweep with 9:32 left before half.
|Yards per carry||1.2||3.7|
Nebraska is 5-0 all-time against LSU.
|New Mexico State||Sept. 18|
|Penn State||Sept. 25|
|Kansas State||Oct. 16|
|Oklahoma State||Nov. 6|
|Iowa State||Nov. 13|
Nebraska has played 27 games on Jan. 1. See them all »
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