Tempe, Ariz. - Boom. Eric Crouch runs for 30-yards to set up Nebraska's first score.
Boom. Bobby Newcombe returns a punt 60 yards for a touchdown.
Blast. Crouch hits Matt Davison for a 46-yard pass play, leading to a field goal and a 17-0 lead.
Not known for its big play capabilities, Nebraska put Tennessee in a quick hole with a few big plays Sunday en route to a 31-21 win in the Fiesta Bowl. Although, the Volunteers answered with two touchdown drives, Nebraska did a credible job of shellshocking the No. 5 and No. 6 team in the country. The early 17-point lead was the largest the Volunteers faced all year.
"I thought it was an excellent performance," Coach Frank Solich said after the game. "There were moments when things got a little rough. Certainly Tennessee has great heart and they are a good football team. I thought when Tennessee was down in the second half and came back showed great character."
After the Crouch run that set up a 7-yard touchdown run by Dan Alexander, the Newcombe return could very well have been the backbreaker.
Newcombe took the punt at the 40-yard line, broke a crease and returned the punt through the middle of the field for the score. It was the third time a Husker has returned a punt for a touchdown in a bowl game and the first since Dana Brinson's 52-yard return against Florida State in the 1988 Fiesta Bowl. (Johnny Rodgers had the first in the 1972 Orange Bowl) Newcombe, who finished second nationally with a 18.32 return average this season, had key blocks by Randy Stella and Ralph Brown en route to his second touchdown this season.
Back to Earth
Air Huskers eventually grounded in the second half, as Nebraska chewed up precious game clock to preserve its lead.
Nebraska's third and fourth touchdowns were of 98 and 96 yards, respectively. The 98-yard drive tied the mark for the longest in the season, set against Texas A&M on Nov. 6.
For the game, the Huskers rushed for 321 yards and out-gained the Volunteers 321-44 on the ground. NU is now 175-5 since 1973 when rushing for 300 or more yards. Nebraska's last 23 plays from scrimmage were all rushes as the Huskers did not attempt a pass in the fourth quarter. Crouch, named the offensive player of the game, also chipped in with 64 yards rushing.
"The running game was very good," Alexander said. "I expected us to do well and we did. We feel we can run on anyone in the country. They have a great defense, but we feel we are the best at running the ball in the nation."
Alexander turned in his fifth 100-yard day of the season, rushing for 108 yards on 21 carries. He also became the first back this season to rush for over 100 yards against a Tennessee defense which ranked seventh nationally and allowed less than 90 yards per game.
Unexpectedly, unheralded fullback Willie Miller turned in a strong performance, rushing for a career-high 87 yards on eight carries.
And chiming in with the "big-play" offense, Miller jaunted 47-yards to set up Nebraska's third touchdown of the game.