The (Nashville) Tennessean
How time flies in this 'what have you done for me lately' world of college football.
Seems like it was in another millennium when Tennessee players and fans pranced and danced out of Sun Devil Stadium, hoisting a Fiesta Bowl trophy and waving a national championship banner. The Vols beat Florida State last year to cap a perfect 13-0 season and clinch the national title.
The setting was the same this year, but that's where reverse time travel ended and reality set it. A pair of regular-season stumbles against Florida and Arkansas had put a fly in Tennessee's holiday punch, and even normally rabid Big Orange fans seemed to have trouble putting on their game faces for the subdues sequel.
The Huskers, meanwhile, made their own luck in the form of back-to-back 96- and 99-yard game-busting TD drives. David Climer
The (Nashville) Tennessean
Two reasons Nebraska beat Tennessee last night:
A 96-yard touchdown drive.
A 99-yard touchdown drive.
You can take all the other data - turnovers, punt returns, dropped passes, trick plays, yadda yadda yadda - and file them away for future reference. But where this particular Fiesta Bowl was concerned, those two second-half surges by Nebraska told the story and sent the Vols packing.
The Vols, vanquished by Nebraska 42-17 two years ago in the Orange Bowl, had spent the past few days talking about a "statement game." Well, when push came to shove, it was Nebraska - not Tennessee - that stated its case. Jimmy Hyams
Tempe, Ariz. - Tennessee safety Mikki Allen liked his team's third-quarter position.
The Vols had the momentum, they had confidence and they had Nebraska backed up on its own 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 win over the Vols two years ago in the Orange Bowl. "They started being productive and everything fell apart for us.
"It's hard to spot a very fine football team points and win," UT Coach Phillip Fulmer said. "I'm very proud of our kids. I don't think we quit. It just wasn't to be." Blair Kerkhoff
Kansas City Star
It felt like old times for Nebraska. Glory-year times.
The Cornhuskers pounded Tennessee 31-21 in the Fiesta Bowl the way they dominated opponents on the way to winning three national championships in four years during the mid-1990s.
A rugged defense, overpowering offensive line, second-half dominance - the ingredients that pushed Nebraska to the top of college football for much of the decade - helped get them a resounding victory Sunday night.
Unlike two years ago, when a decisive triumph over Tennessee in the Orange Bowl lifted the Cornhuskers to a share of the championship, there will be no title this time. The Bowl Championship Series has taken care of that.
But this ranks near the top of the feel-good victories in Coach Frank Solich's two seasons. In its final five games, Nebraska, 12-1, defeated four ranked opponents and will finish no worse than its current No. 3 in the polls.
"As far as I'm concerned we are No. 1," said Nebraska Defensive Coordinator Charlie McBride, who announced his retirement after the game. "Anyone who wants to step up against us, we can win."
Sunday night's game mostly will be remembered for two drives. After Tennessee had tacked on a touchdown and cut the Cornhuskers' lead to 17-14 early in the third quarter, the Vols seemed to keep the momentum when a punt put Nebraska at the 4.
Until then, the Huskers had gotten to the end zone quickly, on a short touchdown drive and Bobby Newcombe's dazzling 60-yard punt return in the first quarter. This time, Nebraska went back to the basics - vintage, smash-mouth, clock-killing football.
The Huskers went 96 yards in nine plays. Quarterback Eric Crouch kept it alive by firing a 17-yard strike to Jon Bowling on a third and 13. And the touchdown came on a 13-yard floater to Aaron Golliday.
Perhaps just to prove they could do it all on the ground, Nebraska marched 99 spirit-dousing yards in 10 rushes on its next possession with Correll Buckhalter smashing in from the 2. Somewhere, former coach and architect of the three titles Tom Osborne was smiling. John P. Lopez
Dear Mack: Thanks for last Oct. 23. Thank you very much. Thank you very, very much.
Regards, Bobby and Frank.
A national champion will be crowned in the Sugar Bowl on Tuesday night. Well, sure, the Sears Trophy should belong to the winner of Florida State-Virginia Tech, at least under the contrived system that gives college football fans lots of bowls and hype of crowning a "true" champion but in reality offers even more raised eyebrows.
Either the Seminoles or the Hokies will finish the season undefeated and claim the title the only way it can be claimed under the Bowl Championship Series. But calling a single-game national championship game a "series" is like calling Madonna a one-fella lady.
Play one more at least. Give 12-0 Marshall a chance in a playoff, for gosh sakes. It earned such a chance as much as Nebraska or any team that can dust off a midseason loss and turn itself into a powerful force.
The BCS only leads to a multitude of questions, not the least of which was hammered into the collective face of the Tennessee Volunteers on Sunday night at the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Any time, anyplace.
If another game could be played between the winner of Tuesday's Sugar Bowl and Nebraska, I take the men of corn.
It is Solich's creative play-calling offensively that won Sunday night's affair and surely would give the Seminoles or Hokies a bruising lesson in balance and unpredictability.
Solich's team tamed the Vols with an assortment of speed and passing early, then pounded the ball upfield 23 consecutive times in the second half, slapping the normally tough Vols run defense with scoring drives of 96 and 99 yards that seemed almost unfair.
The Vols entered the game having given up more than 100 yards rushing only five times in 11 games. They talked of shutting down the powerful Nebraska offensive line, even calling the burly lads "wimps" for all their chop blocking.
But when it counted most, the Cornhuskers monsters up front pounded out the kind of yardage counterfeiters would love - in 10s and 20s.
Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin wanted to pass more, the running backs wanted to run more and the linemen wanted a few more shots at the Nebraska defense.
No one felt beat - but the scoreboard suggested otherwise.
The Vols' offense never was quite sure what to make of Sunday night's 31-21 Fiesta Bowl loss.
"I wish we could have realized earlier that the passing game would win this game," said Martin, who was 19 of 34 in passing for 223 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. "But we knew we had to try and stay on the field and not have any three-and-outs."
Indeed, UT was conscientious of the need to balance its offense after the 42-17 whipping Nebraska put on Peyton Manning and the then-pass happy Vols two years ago.
But when the Cornhuskers jumped out to a 14-0 first quarter lead, Tennessee was forced to alter its game plan. Plan B was no more effective. The Vols had just 44 yards rushing, were 3 of 12 on third-down conversions and had the ball just 26:05.