SAN ANTONIO — Nebraska closed its season Saturday night with a performance designed to shut the mouths of Northwestern's players.
The Huskers pulverized the Nos. 18 and 19 Wildcats 66-17 in the Sylvania Alamo Bowl before 66,028 at the Alamodome. The 66 points were the most ever scored by a team in a postseason bowl game, and the scoring total was one of a number of records the eighth-and ninth-ranked Huskers set in finishing off a 10-2 season.
"They came in here like a team with something to prove," Northwestern Coach Randy Walker said.
Nebraska's mission, several Huskers said, was to show Northwestern that it should be careful for what it wishes. The Wildcats had talked in the days leading up to the game that they relished the thought of standing in the trenches and going toe-to-toe with a Nebraska team that led the nation in rushing.
Saturday's game showed they couldn't, Nebraska middle linebacker Carlos Polk said.
"They were cheap-shot artists," Polk said. "They have a good back, but he can't do it all. We came out here with something to prove. Coach told me earlier in the week to hush up a little bit, but I knew it was going to be like this."
Nebraska's degree of domination reached levels that set or tied countless national, school and Alamo Bowl records. The records don't compare, Husker center Dominic Raiola said, to putting the co-champions of the Big Ten Conference in their place.
"These guys were disrespecting us all week," Raiola said. "They showed us no respect, and we came out here tonight to show them that the Big 12 is a dominant conference. We wanted to shove it down their throats, and that's what we did.
"They tried to keep up with us, but they couldn't. I don't think they deserve to be Big Ten champions. I have no respect for them."
Raiola wasn't as vocal when discussing his future. The consensus All-American appears to be wavering after announcing that he intends to return for his senior season in 2001. He said after Saturday's game that he has not made up his mind, but he indicated he is seriously considering a jump to professional football.
"It's a nice option to have," Raiola said.
If Saturday's game was Raiola's last as a Husker, he'll go out having helped Nebraska put on one of the most dominant postseason performances. In addition to setting national, school and Alamo records for total points, the Huskers established school bowl and Alamo Bowl records for total yardage with 636.
Twelve Huskers contributed to Nebraska's Alamo Bowl-record 476 rushing yards. I-back Dan Alexander led the way by closing his career with a Nebraska bowl-record 240 yards on 20 rushes, two of which ended in touchdowns.
"That was a great football game," Nebraska Coach Frank Solich said. "I'm really pleased by how our seniors played. They made one big play after another."
Other notable performance were turned in by sophomore Josh Brown, who kicked an Alamo-Bowl record 51-yard field goal, and senior Bobby Newcombe. He set an Alamo record with a 33-yard punt return. That was part of a final-game performance for Newcombe that included catching a 58-yard touchdown pass from Eric Crouch and throwing a 69-yard scoring pass to Matt Davison.
Alexander's rushing total broke the school bowl record of 206 yards set by Ahman Green in the 1998 FedEx Orange Bowl. It also earned Alexander the Alamo Bowl's most valuable offensive player, while rush end Kyle Vanden Bosch left with the defensive award.
"You can't say enough about what Dan did out here tonight," Crouch said. "He broke a lot of tackles. He ran hard all night. He got the job done, and the offensive line played a big part in that. They did a great job."
Vanden Bosch led a Nebraska defensive effort that held Northwestern almost 100 yards below its season average of 475 yards per game, which ranked the Wildcats third nationally. The Wildcats finished with 383 total yards, averaging 4.7 yards per play to Nebraska's average of 6.6 yards per snap.
Northwestern, a 14½-point underdog, finished 8-4.
"You can't say Northwestern is not a good football team," Solich said. "They are a good football team. We were just better tonight."
The Wildcats found themselves trailing 38-17, then surrendered touchdowns on Nebraska's first three possessions of the second half. Nebraska took the second-half kickoff and moved 79 yards in seven plays, with Alexander racing 33 yards for the big play on the drive. Davison capped the march with a diving catch of Eric Crouch's 11-yard touchdown pass to make it 45-17 with 12:17 left in the third quarter.
"We wanted to make sure we came out in the second half and not have a letdown," Crouch said. "The first half was kind of back-and-forth, with both teams putting a lot of points on the board. We wanted to come out strong in the second half, and our first drive and that 95-yarder kind of broke their backs."
The Wildcats countered the Huskers' score by driving to the Nebraska 6-yard line before Damien Anderson was stopped for a 1-yard gain on a fourth-and-four play. Anderson, the nation's No. 2 rusher, had a 57-yard run to open the possession, part of a 149-yard night for him. He gained 126 of those yards on two runs against Nebraska's defense, being held to 23 yards on his 16 other carries.
Nebraska made it 52-17 by grinding out a 14-play, 95-yard drive that Crouch ended with a 2-yard scoring run. On the Huskers' next possession, Nebraska burned the Wildcats with some trickery as Crouch pitched the ball to Newcombe. The wingback took a couple of steps, stopped and then threw to Davison, who was 15 yards beyond the nearest Northwestern defender. Davison scored untouched.
"Bobby did a lot for us today," Crouch said. "I'm glad for him. He was walking around the sidelines with a big smile on his face. This game will help send him out right."
Davison cruised into the end zone with the touchdown that made him Nebraska's all-time leading receiver in bowl games. In his four bowl games, Davison has 233 yards in receiving yardage, including 85 on three catches against the Wildcats. His career total is 33 yards more than Johnny Rodgers recorded in three postseason appearances.
Davison's touchdown pulled Nebraska within three points of their bowl-record scoring total of 62 points, set against Florida in the 1996 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. The Huskers broke the record with 5:22 to play when Dahrran Diedrick scored on a 9-yard run to cap a six-play, 44-yard drive.
Diedrick's touchdown was Nebraska's ninth, which tied the NCAA record for touchdowns in a bowl game. The Huskers' 66 points were one more than the 65 Texas A&M scored against Brigham Young in the 1990 Holiday Bowl.
"Against a team like Northwestern," Solich said, "even when the score was mounting, we never really felt comfortable."
Field position played a big factor in helping Nebraska build its 38-10 halftime lead. The Huskers scored touchdowns on drives of 54, 50, 49, 8 and 64 yards, never taking possession outside their 36-yard line in the first 30 minutes.
The 31-point second-quarter blitz marked the most points the Huskers had ever scored in a quarter of a bowl game, exceeding the 29-point production Nebraska threw at Florida in the second period of the 1996 game. Crouch started the surge with a 50-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage after Northwestern had taken a 10-7 lead.
Crouch broke off an option run, cutting inside a block by tight end Aaron Golliday, for the score with 13:56 left in the second period. Nebraska covered 49 yards in three plays on its next possession to make it 21-10, with Alexander rumbling 36 and 13 yards to set up his score from 2 yards out.
Newcombe set up Nebraska's next score with a 33-yard punt return that broke the Alamo Bowl record set in 1998 by Kansas State's David Allen. Newcombe caught the punt at the Northwestern 41, then raced crossfield on the return to the Wildcats' 8-yard line.
Buckhalter scored three plays later, diving over from the 2-yard line with 7:13 remaining. Nebraska squandered a chance to add to its lead after a shanked punt that gave the Huskers' possession at the Wildcats' 26-yard line. Alexander gained 15 yards and Willie Miller 2 before Alexander dropped a pitch from Crouch, ending the possession at the Northwestern 15-yard line.
The Huskers made it 31-10 on their next possession when Brown connected on his record kick. Brown, whose longest field goal in two seasons as the Huskers' kicker was a 42-yarder, had lined up for a 46-yard attempt before Nebraska called time out. The Huskers were called for delay of game before getting the play off, forcing Brown to try the 51-yarder.
He did, and unleashed a record-setting boot that cleared the uprights with distance to spare.
Brown's kick put Nebraska ahead 31-10 with 1:28 left in the half. Northwestern then broke a string of five straight three-and-out possessions against the Nebraska defense when Anderson ripped off a 69-yard touchdown run on the Wildcats' first play from scrimmage.
The Huskers put the finishing touches on their record-setting quarter with a two-play drive that featured Newcombe taking a screen pass from Crouch and racing through the Northwestern defense for 58 yards for the touchdown to hike the Nebraska lead to 38-17 at the half.
Alexander had opened the scoring with a 15-yard run with 12:49 left in the first quarter to cap a 54-yard first-possession drive. He had the big play on the march, a 20-yard run on Huskers' second play of scrimmage that set the tone.
Northwestern countered with an eight-play, 53-yard drive that ended with Tim Long's 44-yard field goal with 9:51 left in the period. The Wildcats, riding runs of 28 and 30 yards by Zak Kustok, moved to a first-and-goal at the Nebraska 9-yard line.
But Kustok fumbled the center snap for a 9-yard loss on first down, threw incomplete on second down and was dropped for a 9-yard loss by Jason Lohr. That left the Wildcats to settle for Long's field goal, which trimmed Nebraska's lead to four points.
Northwestern took its only lead 44 seconds into the second quarter when Teddy Johnson caught a 10-yard pass from Kustok. The 67-yard drive was kept alive when Nebraska cornerback Keyuo Craver was called for pass interference when Northwestern faked a punt from the Huskers' 36-yard line.
That gave Northwestern a first down at the Nebraska 15.
|Yards per carry||6.1||6.9|
Nebraska is 7-4 all-time against Northwestern.
|San Jose State||Sept. 2|
|Notre Dame||Sept. 9|
|Iowa State||Oct. 7|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 14|
|Kansas State||Nov. 11|
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