TEMPE, Ariz. - Tennessee safety Mikki Allen liked his team's third-quarter position.
The Vols had momentum, they had confidence and they had Nebraska backed up on its 4-yard line, nursing a precarious three-point lead.
But they didn't have an answer for Nebraska's powerful running game. The Cornhuskers ripped off touchdown-scoring drives of 96 and 99 yards en route to a 31-21 Fiesta Bowl victory over Tennessee on Sunday night.
"Those took the wind out of our sails," said Allen, who admitted to having flashbacks of Nebraska's 25-point victory over UT two years ago in the Orange Bowl. "They started being productive and everything fell apart for us.
"I think we have more talent, but they're well-coached and when you make a mistake, they capitalize on it. I was telling our guys, it was like playing robots out there."
The robots got out of their game plan during the second quarter, going to the air quite often for a run-oriented team. But after a fumble on the opening possession of the second half, Nebraska went back to basics.
"We knew they'd run the power offense in between the tackles," Allen said after the Cornhuskers rushed for 321 yards, 238 in the second half. "But they blocked it well. It looked like there were three or four guys coming at me."
Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch, who rushed for 64 yards on 17 carries, took a shot at the Vols' defense.
"It seemed like every five plays, they were laying on the ground," Crouch said. "They were either injured or weren't in shape, I don't know."
Defensive tackle Darwin Walker, nursing a sore knee, said UT was hurting, citing tackle John Henderson (concussion) and Shaun Ellis (neck).
"We had a lot of guys banged up," Walker said. "I don't think they won the physical battle at all."
Vols senior cornerback Dwayne Goodrich pointed to one play as a huge key in the game.
After Tennessee cut Nebraska's 17-0 lead to 17-14 midway through the third period, the Cornhuskers faced third-and-13 from their own 16. Crouch threw a perfect strike to tight end Jon Bowling for 17 yards and a crucial first down.
Two plays later, Nebraska was ahead 24-14, having seized the momentum from UT.
"That definitely was a play that hurt us," Goodrich said.
And in the second half, Tennessee couldn't stop Nebraska's power plays, either, as I-back Dan Alexander rushed for 108 yards and fullback Willie Miller added 87 more.
But the Vols felt better after losing to Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl as compared to the Orange.
"You don't feel good about a loss," Goodrich said. "But our guys gave 100 percent, and that's all you can ask for."