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Huskers send Osborne out in style
Posted: Sat January 3, 1998 at 2:23 AM ET
MIAMI (AP) -- When Tom Osborne's final game ended, he trotted off the field and checked the scoreboard one last time without expression. However, when presented with the Orange Bowl trophy minutes later, he broke into the grin of a winner.
That's how Osborne will be remembered, regardless of what the final polls may say.
Osborne's Nebraska Cornhuskers, needing a lopsided victory to have any hope of overtaking Michigan in the rankings, gave their retiring coach an emphatic sendoff Friday night by beating Tennessee 42-17.
"If all the pollsters honestly think after watching the Rose Bowl and watching the Orange Bowl that Michigan could beat Nebraska, go ahead and vote for Michigan by all means," Cornhuskers quarterback Scott Frost said.
"I don't think there's anybody out there with a clear conscience who can say that Nebraska and that great man Tom Osborne doesn't deserve a national championship for this -- at least a share."
Ahman Green rushed for an Orange Bowl-record 206 yards and two touchdowns to lead the second-ranked Cornhuskers, who limited Peyton Manning -- also in his last college game -- to 134 yards passing. Frost was 9-for-12 for 125 yards and scored on runs of 1, 11 and 9 yards.
Third-ranked Tennessee finished 11-2, while the Cornhuskers capped a 13-0 season. No. 1 Michigan (12-0) beat Washington State 21-16 Thursday in the Rose Bowl, and every top-ranked team that won its bowl game has been crowned the national champion.
When the polls are released Saturday, Nebraska could become the first undefeated team denied the national title since Penn State in 1994, when the Huskers finished No. 1.
"We can't do any more than win 13," said Osborne, his shirt soaked from an ice-bucket bath courtesy of his players. "We'll just let the chips fall where they may as far as the rest of it goes.
"It's a great way to end 25 enjoyable years. It's been a lot of fun."
The Big Red's red-haired coach, who announced his retirement December 10, finished a 25-year career with a record of 255-49-3, including 60-3 in the past five years. Nebraska won the national championship in 1994, capping a perfect season with an Orange Bowl victory, and again in 1995.
Unassuming to the end, Osborne spoke briefly at a postgame news conference before directing questions to his team.
"I don't mean to butt in ahead of the players," he said. "They're the guys who did it. I just stood there."
But Osborne's play-calling clicked with surprising success through the air in the first half, when Frost was 7 for 10 for 109 yards, before Nebraska's vaunted running game buried the Volunteers in the second half.
The Cornhuskers' pass rush, meanwhile, forced Manning to hurry his throws. The All-American completed 21 of 31 passes, but with a long gain of just 20 yards, and he was replaced by Tee Martin with four minutes remaining.
"As a senior, it's disappointing to go out on this note," Manning said. "But it can't overshadow the great things we've done this year."
Nebraska led 28-3 before the Vols scored their first touchdown on a 5-yard pass from Manning to Peerless Price. Tennessee committed three turnovers during a 10-minute span in the first half, which helped Nebraska jump ahead 14-0.
"You can't turn over the ball against a great team like Nebraska and expect to win," Manning said. "We just hurt ourselves. If you give them anything easy, their offense is going to make you pay."
After Jamal Lewis' fumble ended an early scoring threat by the Vols, Frost hit passes of 25, 16 and 22 yards to set up Green's 1-yard touchdown run. Nebraska took over at the Tennessee 15-yard line when Terry Fair muffed a punt, setting up Shevin Wiggins' 10-yard touchdown run.
Jeff Hall kicked a 44-yard field goal for the Volunteers, but in the second half, the powerful Huskers stayed on the ground and wore down a tiring Tennessee defense.
Nebraska rushed for 227 yards in the third quarter alone, throwing just one pass. Three long drives were capped by touchdown runs of 1 and 11 yards by Frost and 22 yards by Green, making the score 35-9.
Green, who rushed for 1,925 yards and 22 touchdowns this season, was held to 38 yards in the first half but gained 159 yards on 13 carries in the third quarter.
"They handed us our butts in the third quarter," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "Physically we got mismatched and whipped."
Green, named Nebraska's most valuable player, finished with 29 carries and broke the Orange Bowl record of 205 yards set by Roland Sales of Arkansas against Oklahoma in 1978.
"We wanted to make a statement by the way we played, and I think we did that," Green said. "That's what's exciting -- that we came through this season undefeated for coach Osborne."
Martin threw a 3-yard TD pass to Andy McCullough in the final minute. Lewis, who rushed for 90 yards on 14 carries, was named Tennessee's MVP.
The victory gave the Huskers their third undefeated season in the past four years.
"Nebraska's the best team I've seen," Fulmer said. "They have my vote."
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