NEW ORLEANS — The 1985 Sugar Bowl was a showcase of resiliency for the Nebraska football team, and nobody bounced back quite like quarterback Craig Sundberg.
The Cornhuskers’ senior quarterback, who lost his starting job after throwing three interceptions this season against Oklahoma State, finished his career as the outstanding player Tuesday night in Nebraska’s 28-10 victory over Louisiana State.
“I’m very proud of Craig Sundberg,” Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne said after the victory in which the Huskers rallied from a 10-0 second-quarter deficit.
“He had the flu the last two days. We didn’t even think he’d be able to play this morning. He wasn’t able to hold anything down. He came out and really played a great football game.
"He showed the kind of athlete he is, and the kind of character he has. He really kind of typified our seniors.”
Osborne said he was especially proud of the seniors after the victory that looked like a long shot the way LSU played early in the game.
LSU, 8-3-1, stunned Nebraska early with the speed of running backs Dalton Hilliard and Garry James and the passing of quarterback Jeff Wickersham, who completed 17 of 25 passes for 212 yards in the first half.
Nebraska’s defense shut down Wickersham in the second half, holding him to 9 yards passing.
In the end, it was interceptions that haunted the Tigers. Nebraska swiped four of Wickersham’s passes and five overall.
Reserve linebacker Chad Daffer intercepted two Wickersham passes, the first to set up Nebraska’s go-ahead touchdown by Sundberg. He scored on a 9-yard run with 8:14 left in the third quarter. It put the Huskers ahead 4-10.
Sundberg, a senior from Lincoln, wrapped up his night with touchdown passes for 24 yards and 17 yards to tight end Todd Frain to clinch the victory.
It was a night of redemption for Sundberg and the Cornhuskers. Sundberg was making his first start since the Oklahoma State game. It was a big victory for the Huskers, coming after the 17-7 loss to Oklahoma in the final game of the regular season when the Huskers were ranked No. 1.
“This is one of the biggest wins we’ve had at Nebraska,” Osborne said. “It came at an awfully good time for our program.”
It also came at a good time for Osborne, who spent much of last week in an attempt to counter charges by Booker Brown, a former Southern Cal football player, that Osborne had violated recruiting rules 12 years ago.
The win, before the expected noisy crowd of 75,608 at the Superdome, should guarantee Nebraska of a high finish in the final wire service polls.
Nebraska, 10-2, entered the game ranked No. 4 in United Press International and fifth in the Associated Press,
“I think we’ll be fairly high,” Osborne said, “possibly second or third. And maybe there’s a chance of being No. 1.”
Osborne said he wouldn’t lobby for No. 1, but it was evident he would welcome a national championship if it came.
“I think it would be very gratifying after what happened the last three years,” Osborne said. “That would be very gratifying after what happened the last two years if we happened to back in.”
Nebraska finished 10-2 and improved its record to 34-4 over the last three season, the best record by any team in the country.
“I was very pleased for the seniors,” Osborne said. “Over the last three years they only lost four games. This is really an outstanding way for them to end up. I’m really proud of their efforts and leadership.”
The final victory for Nebraska’s 28 seniors didn’t come easy.
“It was kind of an unusual game,” Osborne said. “We were very fortunate to go in at halftime trailing only 10-7 because LSU outplayed us badly. We made some goal-line stands and got lucky.”
Nebraska’s luck came in several ways. One time it was LSU freshman Ronnie Lewis missing a 19-yard field goal. Lewis had made a 28-yarder earlier in the drive, but the Tigers chose to try for a touchdown when Husker cornerback Dave Burke was called for roughing the kicker on the attempt Lewis made. LSU drove inside the 1 before a procedure penalty hurt the Tigers.
Then after Burke broke up a pass on third-and-2, LSU decided to try another field goal. This time Lewis was wide right.
Lewis, who kicked a 37-yarder for LSU’s first score in the first quarter, ended a tough night by missing to the left on a 24-yarder in the third quarter.
“Obviously the missed field goals helped us,” Osborne said. “We missed some in the Oklahoma game. Maybe we had some coming.”
Another Nebraska break in the game was a holding penalty in the first quarter that wiped out a 26-yard touchdown pass from Wickersham to James. LSU settled for Lewis’ field goal on the drive.
In the third quarter, LSU’s Rogie Magee appeared wide open for a touchdown pass, but he stumbled and the momentum of his slip carried him out of bounds.
LSU Coach Bill Arnsparger said his team played well until making critical errors in the second half.
“I don't think you ever have a team like Nebraska on the ropes,” Arnsparger said. “To beat a team like them you have to play well the entire game and we didn’t.”
Sundberg completed 10 of 15 passes for 143 yards and three touchdowns. The first was a 31-yard screen to Doug DuBose in the second quarter that capped a 70-yard drive in six plays, Nebraska’s first sign of life in the game. The Huskers had been limited to just nine plays from scrimmage in the first quarter.
LSU kept the ball for 9:49 and gained 122 yards to just 29 for the Cornhuskers in the first quarter.
Nebraska’s start was reminiscent of last year when Miami jumped on top 17-0 and beat the Cornhuskers 31-30 for the national championship in the Orange Bowl. The Cornhuskers are in a groove of slow starts in bowl games that goes back to the 1982 Orange Bowl loss to Clemson.
Osborne said he didn’t know how to explain Nebraska’s early problems other than the possibility of some links to the six-week layoff between the Sugar Bowl and the loss to Oklahoma.
“I don’t think we were tight,” Osborne said, “but we just looked lethargic. I told the team at halftime it looked like we were playing 80 percent. We didn’t do anything quick.”
In comparison, LSU’s Hilliard and James appeared jet-propelled. Several time they got outside on runs. LSU’s quick receivers also caused Nebraska a lot of problems in the first half.
“We’ve got a fast scout team,” Nebraska defensive end Scott Strasburger said, “but haven’t seen any speed like LSU’s before. It was incredible. But as soon as we got adjusted to how fast they were, we started to shut them down.”
Strasburger made a leaping, acrobatic interception of a Wickersham pass in the fourth quarter at the Tiger 34-yard line. It set up Nebraska’s final touchdown, the 17-yard pass from Sundberg to Frain.
The Husker defense forced six LSU turnovers — the five interceptions and a second-quarter fumble recovery by middle guard Ken Graeber.
Nebraska’s interceptions were the two by Daffer, Strasburger’s and one each by lineback Marc Munford and safety Chris Carr. LSU’s five interceptions tied a Sugar Bowl record for the most in a game held previously by Nebraska in the 1967 game against Alabama.
Daffer, a junior from Nebraska City who enjoyed the best game of his career, said the defense had been disappointed in not getting more turnovers during the season.
“We’ve had a pretty good defense all year,” Daffer said, “but the thing that’s eluded us is we haven’t been able to come up with a lot of turnovers. Tonight, we just made up for the whole year I guess.”
Osborne sadi Nebraska’s improved defensive play in the second half didn’t come from anything the coaches did.
“We just played better,” Osborne said. “We played real hard and picked some passes off that really helped us.”
Osborne said the main adjustment on defense was in pass drops by the linebackers.
“We played more of what we call a cob,” Osborne said. “One linebacker drops back into the 18- to 20-yard zone in the middle. He picked a couple off.”
Osborn said that particular defensive adjustment is one the Huskers picked up from LSU’s Arnsparger when he was defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins.
“I think we actually got that from Bill Arnsparger,” Osborne said, “when he was at Miami. The middle zone was vulnerable and we gave up some big plays. We had success with that defense in the second half.”
Osborne had been concerned about noise being a factor in the game.
“It wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be,” Osborne said. “We thought it was just going to be unbearable. We were able to change the play a little bit. It was very loud, but it wasn’t too bad.”
|Yards per carry||5.4||4.7|
Nebraska is 5-0 all-time against LSU.
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 6|
|Kansas State||Oct. 27|
|Iowa State||Nov. 3|
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