TEMPE, Ariz. — Let the double-ring ceremony begin.
Top-ranked Nebraska claimed its second straight college football national championship Tuesday night by exploding for 43 points in the middle two quarters of a 62-24 thrashing of second-ranked Florida before a record crowd of 79,864 at the 25th annual Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Husker Defensive Coordinator Charlie McBride looked at the scoreboard at game's end, winked and said:
"Now you know why Lee Corso doesn't coach anymore."
Corso and fellow ESPN analyst Craig James had picked Florida to win. So did Sports Illustrated. And USA Today. And the Sporting News.
But no Huskers could be found who doubted victory.
"This isn't a surprise, " All-America center Aaron Graham said. "After watching film, we knew we could move the ball on them. And our defense had a great plan."
Even NU Coach Tom Osborne gave a hint of his confidence.
"I thought it was possible to win by a couple of touchdowns if we played great football," he said. "I counted on our defense.
"I felt we had a better defense than Florida had faced. And I thought our running game was better than they had seen."
Graham said another element — Nebraska's superior conditioning — took effect early.
"We thought it would be a four-quarter game," he said. "But Florida started to wear down physically in the first half. It got to the point where we had plays that we thought were automatic touchdowns."
Speaking of automatic, enter Nebraska's Tommie Frazier.
The senior quarterback was named the Huskers' most valuable player for the third straight bowl game after rushing 16 times for a career-high 199 yards and two touchdowns. On one of his TDs — a 75-yard keeper — Frazier was touched by seven tacklers but never went down.
Frazier also completed 6 of 14 passes for 105 yards and one touchdown. His 304 total yards were 8 short of his career high.
"People should take their Heisman Trophy votes back and do it over," NU defensive tackle Jason Peter said. "Without a doubt, Tommie Frazier is the best player in college football."
Frazier, who finished second to Ohio State tailback Eddie George in the Heisman voting, said he wasn't trying to prove anything Tuesday night. But he did anyway, leading Nebraska to 629 total yards — the most Florida has ever allowed. The former mark was 592 by Georgia in 1942.
Why is Frazier, 11-2 as a starter against rated opponents, such a big-time player?
"I don't know, " he said. "It's something that just happens. I don't go out there and try to do anything I can't do. I just take the plays as they come."
I-back Lawrence Phillips was Frazier's main competition for MVP. In his first start since being suspended for six games in early September for assaulting an ex-girlfriend, the junior from West Covina, Calif., ran 25 times for 165 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught Frazier's TD toss.
Phillips has said he would turn professional next season if assured of being a first-round National Football League draft choice.
Peter waved Phillips goodbye after the game.
"I hate to see him go," Peter said. "But he's gone. After tonight, a team would be dumb not to draft him in the first round."
While the offense sparkled, the Nebraska defense did the dirty work of grinding Florida's "Fun 'n' Gun" into the grass at Sun Devil Stadium.
The Gators were held to minus 28 yards rushing — the fourth-best effort in NU history — and 269 total yards. Florida entered the game averaging double that figure in total yards.
The Huskers sacked UF quarterback Danny Wuerffel seven times and picked off three passes. Wuerffel had thrown only 10 interceptions in 11 previous games.
"I give credit to our defensive coaches for coming up with a great scheme, " Osborne said. "We were able to mix some blitzing and still have zone coverage underneath.
"So we showed some things that we hadn't used before."
A matchup that drew the biggest national sports media buildup for a college game since a Penn State-Miami Fiesta Bowl nine years ago turned into a routine romp after 15 minutes.
Nebraska (12-0) bounced back from a 10-6 deficit late in the first quarter with one of its most dominant quarters of play ever.
In the second quarter, the Huskers outyarded Florida 183-0, got two offensive touchdowns, two field goals from Kris Brown, a 42-yard interception return for a touchdown from cornerback Michael Booker and a safety from strongside linebacker Jamel Williams.
That outburst created a 35-10 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, Frazier broke a quarterback draw play 35 yards for a touchdown. Then after Florida (12-1) scored for the first time in seven possessions, Frazier broke a Fiesta Bowl record.
On a keeper right, Frazier was touched by seven defenders in a 10-yard stretch, yet kept his feet and raced down the sidelines to complete a 75-yard touchdown. The longest previous run in Fiesta Bowl history was 72 yards by UCLA's Gaston Green in 1985.
Nebraska rolled on to score its most points ever in a bowl (the former mark was 45 against Georgia in the Sun Bowl of the 1969 season), and could have had more. On the game's final play from the Florida 1-yard line, No. 3 quarterback Matt Turman knelt down.
The Huskers also broke school bowl records for rushing yards (524) and total yards.
With the victory, Nebraska:
>> Became the first school since Oklahoma in 1955 and 1956 to win consensus back-to-back titles, and just the eighth school ever to repeat.
>> Joined Oklahoma and Alabama as the only schools since World War II to win back-to-back titles twice. OU did it in 1955-56 and 1974-75. UA did it in 1964-65 and 1978-79. NU did it in 1970-71 and 1994-95.
>> Broke the 91-year-old school record for consecutive wins with 25. The former mark of 24 was set from 1901 through 1904.
>> Set a modern-day NCAA record with 36 victories in three seasons. The other schools with 35 were Toledo (35-0 from 1969 through 1971) and Brigham Young (35-4 from 1983 through 1985).
>> Earned Osborne a second straight $50,000 bonus for finishing No. 1.
Osborne said a second straight national title didn't generate the same emotion as last year's, which broke a 23-year drought.
"I think the players expected they were going to win,'' he said. "It wasn't ho-hum, certainly. But it was more matter of fact."
As the game began, things weren't ho-hum for Nebraska.
Florida opened the game by doing something no other opponent had done this season — scoring before Nebraska touched the ball.
The Gators got a 38-yard return of the opening kickoff from wide receiver Jacquez Green to the UF 40. Passes of 9, 20, 11 and 16 yards moved Florida to the NU 5. The Huskers stopped the next three plays, forcing Bart Edmiston to kick a 23-yard field goal that put Florida ahead 3-0 with 11:06 left in the first quarter.
Nebraska took just six plays to regain the lead after I-back Clinton Childs' 23-yard kickoff return and a 15-yard personal foul penalty on Florida.
Phillips' 23-yard gallop got NU into UF territory at the 28. Frazier kept the drive alive with a 4-yard run through three defenders. On the next play, Frazier rolled past the right hashmark and threw far back to the left to Phillips. who followed three blockers 16 yards for a touchdown. Brown's extra-point kick was blocked, keeping Nebraska's lead 6-3 with 8:10 to play in the first quarter.
Florida regained the lead with the help of a Nebraska turnover. Frazier, rolling out to avoid a rush, threw directly to Florida safety Teako Brown at the Gator 46.
On the ensuing drive, Wuerffel completed passes of 14 and 26 yards in third-and-10 situations to help set up his own 1-yard sneak. Edmiston's PAT put Florida up 10-6 with 1:17 to go in the first quarter.
Again, Nebraska responded quickly, scoring in five plays. Frazier and Phillips had 8-yard runs, then Phillips took a delayed handoff up the middle, cut right and eluded five tacklers on his way to a 42-yard touchdown. Brown's kick put Nebraska up 13-10 with 14:28 left in the second quarter.
The Husker defense contributed the next two points.
After holding and false-start penalties pushed Florida back to its 8, weakside linebacker Terrell Farley sacked Wuerffel at the 1, creating second-and-31. On the next play, with UF using five wide receivers, the Huskers' Williams buried Wuerrfel on a blitz for a safety and 15-10 NU lead with 12:42 to go in the second quarter.
After the free kick, Nebraska scored in seven plays with the help of a highlight-reel run from Frazier.
On third-and-7 at the UF 48, Frazier called a quarterback draw. After bumping into guard Aaron Taylor and bouncing off two other tacklers, he squirted 32 yards to the Florida 16.
Four plays later, I-back Ahman Green scored from the 1 to put Nebraska up 22-10 with 9:13 left in the second quarter.
"We had total confidence by then," NU guard Steve Ott said. "We had our ball-control offense going, and Florida's offense was just standing on the sideline."
After Florida went three downs and out, the Huskers got the ball at the Gator 41 after a 31-yard punt and Octavious McFarlin's 7-yard return.
Frazier scrambled for 2 yards on fourth-and-1 at the 32. Five plays later, the drive stalled so Brown kicked a 26-yard field goal for a 25-10 lead with 3:46 to go in the half.
On its next possession, Florida gained its lone first down of the second quarter — on an offside penalty. But on the next play, NU's Booker swiped a Wuerffel pass and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown — the Blackshirts' sixth interception runback for a TD this season. That put the Huskers ahead 32-10 with 2:40 to go in the half.
NU's fourth and fifth sacks of Wuerffel in the half set up the Huskers' fifth score in six offensive possessions.
Nebraska drove 60 yards in 70 seconds to set up Brown's 24-yard field goal with eight seconds left, creating a 35-10 Husker lead.
Frazier's theatrics in the third quarter boosted NU's lead to 49-18. A 15-yard touchdown run by Phillips and backup quarterback Brook Berringer's 1-yard sneak in the fourth quarter capped the Huskers' scoring.
"We physically outmuscled them," NU's Jason Peter said. "We beat them down. We beat everybody down. We're the best-conditioned team in the country."
Frazier said the significance of winning back-to-back national titles hasn't hit him yet.
"But five or 10 years from now, we can look back and talk about what a great run we had," he said.
And the two rings with No. 1s on them.
"I'm not sure how I'll wear them," he said, smiling. "Maybe I'll alternate hands every other day."
|Yards per carry||-1.3||7.7|
Nebraska is 2-0 all-time against Florida.
|Oklahoma State||Aug. 31|
|Michigan State||Sept. 9|
|Arizona State||Sept. 16|
|Washington State||Sept. 30|
|Kansas State||Oct. 21|
|Iowa State||Nov. 4|
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