NEW ORLEANS — Nebraska finally found something sweet about its trip to the 53rd Sugar Bowl.
After 10 days of off-the-field distractions in New Orleans involving the police and the press, the Huskers unloaded on the field Thursday against Louisiana State for a 30-15 victory that will extend NU’s streak of consecutive Top 10 finishes to 17 seasons.
Nebraska, 10-2 and ranked Nos. 5 and 6 in the national polls going into the game, used back-to-back touchdown drives late in the second quarter and early in the third to turn a 7-3 deficit into a 17-7 lead.
Quarterback Steve Taylor, a landslide choice as the game’s most valuable player, came back after sitting out one series to lead both marches. The sophomore from San Diego finished with 110 yards passing and one touchdown and 63 yards rushing with another touchdown.
Sophomore I-back Tyreese Knox, making just his second varsity start, added 84 yards rushing in 16 carries and two 1-yard touchdown runs.
After the offense got rolling, the defense twice stuffed 9-3 LSU deep in Nebraska territory late in the third quarter and early in the fourth after a blocked field goal and a 16-yard punt to preserve the victory before a sellout crowd of 76,234 at the Superdome.
“This is an awful nice win to have,” NU Coach Tom Osborne said.
“It’s been such a rocky year and tough for the players.”
Osborne said he wondered how his team would bounce back after ending the regular season with a last-minute loss to Oklahoma.
“We weren’t playing for the national championship,” he said.
“And the Big Eight title was out the window. The only thing left was the Sugar Bowl.
“They could have gone either way. But I think they went the right way. I was really pleased with the effort we gave.”
That effort ended LSU Coach Bill Arnsparger’s 36-year coaching career with a loss. Arnsparger resigned in November to accept the athletic director’s job at Florida.
“Tom Osborne said a few weeks ago that Oklahoma had the best personnel in the country, but that Nebraska wasn’t far behind,” he said. “I think they proved that today.”
Nebraska’s defense badgered LSU quarterback Tom Hodson, who had been sacked only eight times all season, with three sacks and enough pressure to produce three holding penalties.
The Huskers limited the Tigers to 32 yards rushing and 191 total yards, almost 220 yards below average. LSU’s initial first down of the second half came on a penalty with 2:59 left in the game.
Middle guard Danny Noonan, tackles Neil Smith and Chris Spachman and defensive end Broderick Thomas led the rush while cornerback Brian Davis caused and recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass.
“I thought our defense was exceptional,” Osborne said. “They really held us in there.
“We got some bad field position with the blocked field goal and had a couple of times where we had the ball in our end of the field and didn’t have very good punts. But the defense did a tremendous job.”
Osborne said the offense also made a key contribution with a 9-play, 78-yard touchdown drive to start the second half.
“When we went up 17-7, I started feeling better,” Osborne said.
“When we went the length of the field to turn it from 10-7 to 17-7, that was a big factor.”
Another big factor was 10 first-half penalties against LSU that cost the Tigers 100 yards. For the game, LSU had 12 penalties for a Sugar Bowl-record 130 yards and Nebraska 9 for 78.
But that ratio isn’t far out of line with LSU penalty figures for the season. In 1986, the Tigers had 36 more penalties than their opponents (91 to 55) and 311 more yards in penalties (780 to 469).
Many observers expected a rough game for two reasons.
One was that Nebraska wanted to vent some steam after having nine players and two graduate assistants arrested in the French Quarter for allegedly disturbing the peace. The charges eventually were dropped.
Another was that LSU might want to retaliate for comments some Huskers made in the papers about the Tigers.
Osborne said he didn’t know if the pregame sniping led to LSU’s penalty problems.
“You’d have to ask them,” he said. “I do know there was more talking than I like to see. Normally, we do very little talking. I was really kind of disappointed in that.”
Arnsparger said the tough talk had little impact on the game.
“The penalties we committed were physical mistakes,” he said.
“We were not able to get in front of rushing linemen.”
LSU had no trouble doing what it wanted in the first three minutes.
Harvey Williams ran the opening kickoff back 32 yards, and on the first play from scrimmage, Hodson hit split end Wendell Davis with a 43-yard bomb.
Hodson then scrambled for 17 yards, Noonan drew a flag for asking the umpire if he had his glasses on and the Huskers had to call time out when they got caught with 13 men on the field.
“We were legitimately confused in the first part of the game,” NU defensive coordinator Charlie McBride said. “It took a little bit to settle down.”
Noonan wasn’t the only complainer. Thomas, linebacker Marc Munford and safety Bryan Siebler all stopped officials on that first drive to talk.
“Our players really felt they were getting held a lot,” Osborne said. “It looked like it from the side, and apparently the officials agreed because they called a lot of penalties.”
Williams eventually capped that drive with a 1-yard touchdown, but that was it for LSU until the final two minutes as six holding and personal foul penalties helped kill four first-half possessions.
Nebraska got a 42-yard field goal with 10:01 left in the second quarter from senior Dale Klein, who had earlier missed from 51.
Sophomore Dante Wiley set up the field goal by dumping LSU punter Matt DeFrank after a low snap and forcing a fumble that was pushed out of bounds at the LSU 25.
LSU punted on its next possession, then drove Nebraska back to its 1 when backup quarterback Clete Blakeman was called for intentional grounding. LSU’s Norman Jefferson returned Kroeker’s 37-yard punt to the NU 28 and fumbled, but teammate Verge Ausberry recovered.
A holding penalty set LSU back to the 34, then two plays later NU’s Brian Washington swiped a Hodson pass at the 20 and ran it back to the NU 28.
With 1:42 left in the half, the Huskers figured it was time to get something started.
“Coach Osborne got us on the sideline and got a little red in the face and said we had to get a score,” offensive tackle Tom Welter said. “We knew we didn’t want to be behind at halftime like last time.”
Last time was two years ago in the Sugar Bowl when LSU led 10-7 at half before Nebraska rallied for a 28-10 win.
With Taylor back at quarterback, the Huskers bolted 72 yards in 9 plays for a touchdown.
Passes of 16 yards to split end Rod Smith, 18 to tight end Tom Banderas and 7 to fullback Ken Kaelin moved NU to the LSU 31. Taylor later scrambled 8 yards for a first down at the 12, then LSU cornerback Kevin Guidry interfered with split end Robb Schnitzler at the 2.
On the next play, Taylor rolled left and scored behind Kaelin’s block with 39 seconds left in the half. Klein kicked the point and Nebraska took its first lead 10-7.
Osborne said replacing Taylor in the first half was part of his plan. “We talked about keeping people fresh,” he said. “I just told Steve I was going to put Clete in for a series. If we had moved the ball and had a 12-play drive or something, Blakeman would have stayed in.
“But I had planned to put Steve back in before the quarter was over. There was no thought of replacing Steve because he had played badly.”
After the third-quarter kickoff, Taylor took Nebraska 78 yards in 9 plays for a touchdown.
Knox rumbled 8 yards, then Taylor hit tight end Todd Millikan with a 20-yard pass to the LSU 39. Two plays later, Knox raced left, cut between two defenders and gained 34 yards to the 1, dragging LSU safety Greg Jackson the final 5 yards.
Knox finished the drive on the next play with a 1-yard TD run.
Klein kicked the extra point to put NU up 17-7 with 10:35 left in the quarter.
About nine minutes later, LSU middle guard Henry Thomas broke through the middle and blocked Klein’s 52-yard field goal attempt. By the time it squirted out of bounds, LSU had the ball at the Nebraska 27.
But the Husker defense came flying at Hodson. NU’s Thomas sacked him for a 15-yard loss on first down. Then Noonan and Neil Smith combined for a 9-yard sack on second down, creating a third-and-34 at the NU 41. LSU then had to punt.
“I told them if LSU got in the end zone, I would kill them all,” McBride said, laughing. “No, I just told them I wanted them to treat every play like a pass. We had to get pressure on the quarterback.”
Nebraska earned one first down, then had to punt. Kroeker’s kick only went 16 yards giving LSU the ball at the NU 39.
After a 9-yard gain, Hodson hit Williams with a flare pass. NU’s Davis drilled him, caused a fumble and recovered it at the NU 28 with 10:33 to play.
The Husker offense then marched 72 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown. Taylor capped the drive with a 3-yard TD toss to Millikan.
Klein’s PAT made it 24-7 with 6:02 to play.
On LSU’s next possession, Davis intercepted Hodson and returned it to the LSU 12.
The Huskers punched it in from there with Knox scoring from the 1. Klein missed the conversion, making it NU 30-7.
LSU scored a touchdown with 2:01 to play against the No. 2 NU defense when Hodson hit Tony Moss with a 24-yard touchdown pass.
Hodson’s two-point conversion pass to Alvin Lee made the final 30-15.
Osborne said NU’s pass rush helped swing the game.
“We looked at 11 films and we were impressed by the lack of pressure on Hodson,” he said. “It’s a real credit to our people up front to put as much pressure on as we did.”
Much of that pressure came from three-and four-man rushes, Osborne said. And the three-deep zone coverage that came with it limited LSU’s Davis, an All-American, to 2 catches for 20 yards after the game’s first play.
“They ran so many four- and five-man patterns that we had to drop eight people,” Osborne said. “We got a lot of help from our ends and linebackers in covering them. It was a great team defensive effort.”
|Yards per carry||1.1||4.0|
Nebraska is 5-0 all-time against LSU.
|Florida State||Sept. 6|
|South Carolina||Oct. 4|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 11|
|Kansas State||Nov. 1|
|Iowa State||Nov. 8|
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