Florida Citrus Bowl
ORLANDO, Fla. — Pull out the Nebraska football history book and an eraser.
A big eraser.
Revisions aplenty are needed after the 13th- and 19th-ranked Huskers’ 45-21 Citrus Bowl loss Tuesday to No. 2 Georgia Tech.
That setback before a record crowd of 72,328 at Citrus Bowl Stadium produced the following entries, few of which NU fans will want to remember:
Four straight bowl losses, a first in the school’s 29-game postseason history.
45 points allowed, matching the most ever given up by a Tom Osborne team in his 18 years as head coach. That mark was established in Nebraska’s previous game, a 45-10 loss at Oklahoma. Thus, the 45 points also were the most ever allowed in a bowl game.
The 90 points allowed in two games are the most since 1945 losses of 61-7 to Minnesota and 54-14 to Indiana.
Three losses in four games (Colorado, Oklahoma and Georgia Tech) is a first for Osborne.
No victories over ranked teams for the second straight year. The last time before 1989 and 1990 was 1967.
But perhaps most painful is that Nebraska could drop out of the national rankings at season’s end, something that hasn’t happened since 1968.
“I’m afraid it’s going to happen,” senior offensive tackle Tom Punt said. “A 9-3 Nebraska isn’t what people expect.”
Junior middle guard Pat Engelbert agreed.
“As far as respect goes, we haven’t beaten a top-ranked team,” he said. “Maybe if we’re lucky, we’ll only drop out of one poll and stay about 20th in the other.”
Osborne said he doesn’t know how the polls will shake out, and said little about whether the Huskers deserve to be ranked after losses to the nation’s top two teams entering New Year’s Day and a third to Oklahoma, once ranked as high as fifth.
“I really don’t know,” he said. “What I think doesn’t make any difference.”
Osborne praised his team, which rallied from deficits of 21-0 and 31-14 to make the nearly 30,000 Georgia Tech followers squirm a little before ripping down both goal posts at game’s end.
“We played hard and practiced hard,” Osborne said. “When you get down 21-0, that makes it pretty tough to come back.
“I thought our guys showed quite a bit of heart and tried to come back. At half, we felt we were still in the game.”
But every time the Huskers knocked on the door to get back in the game, Georgia Tech quarterback Shawn Jones answered.
The redshirt sophomore completed 16 of 23 passes for a career-high 277 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 41 yards and a touchdown to earn most valuable player honors.
Nebraska, with season-long No. 3 quarterback Tom Haase in the game, rallied from a 21-0 deficit in the second quarter to get within 24-14 at halftime.
On the first drive of the third quarter, Haase took the Huskers to the Tech 18 with the help of two penalties. But when Gregg Barrios tried a 34-yard field goal, cornerback Keith Holmes blocked it.
On the next play, Jones fired a 30-yard pass to tailback William Bell, then saved the drive on third and 18 from the NU 43 with a 23-yard strike to flanker Jerry Gilchrist. Jones capped it with a 1-yard touchdown run for a 31-14 Tech lead.
“That blocked field goal really hurt,” Osborne said. “It wasn’t necessarily the game, but it made it very hard to come back.”
Haase helped cut the gap to 10 points again.
The junior from Aurora, Neb., who hit 14 of 21 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns, threw a 21-yard scoring pass to tight end William Washington, the sophomore’s first career catch. That got Nebraska back to 31-21 with 30 seconds left in the third quarter.
But after an exchange of punts, Jones completed a 39-yard pass to flanker Greg Lester to help set up Bell’s 6-yard scoring run with 9:43 left in the game and a 38-21 lead.
Haase’s 32-yard pass to tight end Johnny Mitchell on the next possession helped Nebraska penetrate to the Tech 15. But on fourth and 13, Yellow Jacket strong safety Thomas Balkcom sacked Haase for a 10-yard loss, ending any comeback hopes.
Bell added a 57-yard touchdown run three plays later to make the final 45-21 and keep 11-0-1 Tech as the nation’s only unbeaten Division I team.
For the Nebraska defense, which allowed six touchdowns in its first seven games, that was the 11th touchdown given up in the past two games.
“I keep looking at the scoreboard,” defensive tackle Joe Sims said, "and I still don’t understand what is happening.
“There are a lot of great athletes on our defense — a lot you will see next year on TV on Sundays. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Georgia Tech gained 467 total yards, the most since NU allowed 494 to Florida State in last year’s Fiesta Bowl thrashing.
Senior strong safety Reggie Cooper said communication problems in the NU secondary caused many of Tuesday’s breakdowns.
When asked why communication was a problem 12 games into a season at the four most experienced positions on the team, Cooper shrugged his shoulders and said, "I don’t know.”
Another miscommunication cost Nebraska a precious first-half possession.
After cutting Georgia Tech’s lead to 21-14, Nebraska stuffed the Yellow Jackets on three plays, bringing the estimated 5,000 Husker fans to their feet.
On the punt, outside linebacker Mike Croel roughed the kicker, which would have given Tech the ball back.
But while trying to catch the punt, wingbacks Nate Turner and Tyrone Hughes bobbled it and Yellow Jacket safety Jay Martin slashed between them to recover at the NU 22.
Nebraska held, but Scott Sisson made a 37-yard field goal with 1:50 left to make it 24-14 at half.
“I was waiting for a call from Tyrone,” Turner said. “He was saying something, but I couldn’t hear if he was saying, ‘Me’ or ‘You.’
“The ball bounced straight up and hit somebody. When I turned to grab it, it got loose.”
In the first half, the two scores Georgia Tech got from Nebraska turnovers created the Yellow Jackets’ 10-point lead.
Tech took the opening kickoff and raced 70 yards in nine plays for a touchdown against a Husker team dressed in all white for the first time since the Orange Bowl after the 1965 season.
Jones turned a potential 5-yard loss into a 46-yard gain on the fourth play by slipping NU middle guard Pat Engelbert’s tackle and sprinting up the middle to the Husker 13. It was Jones’ longest run of the season.
“That was a big key to the game for us,” Engelbert said. “If I sack him, it’s a big momentum shift for us.”
Jones added a 9-yard quarterback draw on third and nine from the 12 to keep the drive alive. Fullback Stefen Scotton plowed the last 2 yards, Sisson kicked the point and Tech led 7-0 just 3:15 into the game.
Nebraska went three downs and out on its first three possessions with quarterback Mike Grant. The junior missed all four of his passes and ran three times for minus 2 yards.
NU finally got a first down with 1:55 left in the first quarter, but stalled after that.
Jones moved Tech into scoring territory with a 45-yard bomb to flanker Bobby Rodriguez on the last play of the first quarter. But Sisson flared a 37-yard field goal wide right four plays later to keep the score 7-0.
Haase replaced Grant, and on the first play, I-back Scott Baldwin fumbled after a 3-yard gain. Tech tackle Coleman Rudolph recovered at the NU 22.
Two plays later, Jones drilled a 22-yard touchdown pass to split end Emmett Merchant for a 14-0 lead with 12:33 left in the half.
Nebraska had to punt again. Baldwin’s late hit after a fair catch signal got Tech a 15-yard head start to the NU 37.
After two holding penalties against Tech — one accepted and one declined — Jones hit split end Brent Goolsby for 27 yards on third and 20 from the 47.
A swing pass of 18 yards from Jones to Bell set up Jones’ 2-yard touchdown lob to Bell over a Nebraska blitz. That put the Yellow Jackets up 21-0 with 7:50 to go.
“I don’t think we were flat,” Osborne said. “We just weren’t making plays. We never got any momentum going.
“Guys were ready to play, but we didn’t execute early on.”
On its seventh possession, the Husker offense began to show some life.
Tight end Mitchell, on the first play directed at him, grabbed a 32-yard pass from Haase to the Tech 42 — NU’s first move into Yellow Jacket territory.
Turner gained 12 on the next play, then Haase rolled left and beat the rush with a 30-yard touchdown strike to Mitchell. Barrios’ conversion kick got Nebraska back within 21-7 with 6:21 to go in the half.
Two plays later, Georgia Tech gave the ball back.
Jones hit Gilchrist for 17 yards, but reserve safeties Robert Hicks and Curtis Cotton stripped the ball and cornerback Bruce Pickens recovered at the 50.
A first-down bomb from Haase to split end Jon Bostick fell just incomplete. But I-back Derek Brown, on his first carry, cut left on a draw play and outran everyone for a 50-yard touchdown that closed the gap to 21-14 with 5:07 remaining.
The NU defense stopped Tech on three plays, then came the fumbled punt that got the Yellow Jackets a field goal before halftime.
“That really took the steam out of us,” NU’s Washington said. “If we don’t make the mistakes on that play, we have a chance to tie it at halftime.”
Osborne said he was happy his players didn’t quit.
“The effort was good,” he said. “Georgia Tech deserves a lot of credit. They made the big plays when it counted.
“This is a game of momentum. We lost ours after the Colorado game. And today, we caught a very good team on a roll.”
|Yards per carry||4.3||3.2|
Nebraska is 0-1 all-time against Georgia Tech.
|Northern Illinois||Sept. 8|
|Oregon State||Sept. 29|
|Kansas State||Oct. 6|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 20|
|Iowa State||Oct. 27|
|Georgia Tech||Jan. 1|
Nebraska has played 27 games on Jan. 1. See them all »
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