Wednesday December 29, 1999
Tennessee vs. Nebraska
By Mike Diegnan
ABC Sports Online
Position: Defensive End
Ht/Wt: 6-4, 275
Born:June 24, 1977
All-SEC defensive lineman Shaun Ellis will have his hands full on his return to Tempe. Instead of rushing the passer like last season when the Volunteers won the national championship at the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Ellis will have to keep quarterback Eric Crouch and Nebraska I-backs Dan Alexander and Correll Buckhalter in check in this year's battle in Arizona (ABC, Jan. 2, 8 p.m. ET).
Over the final four games of the season, Nebraska's running attack looked like the Big Red Machine of old. Against four teams that are playing in bowl games this season -- Texas A&M, Kansas State, Colorado and Texas -- Nebraska rushed for 335, 309, 356 and 234 yards. The Huskers also posted four rushing scores in each of the first three matchups and another two against the Longhorns.
To say the option is in full gear in Lincoln would be a major understatement.
Last year, Ellis made a remarkable comeback after a serious car accident left his football career in doubt. He started all 13 games, and ranked third on the team with 12 quarterback pressures.
Playing on both ends this season, Ellis closed out his Tennessee career by leading the Vols in sacks, tackles-for-loss and quarterback pressures (14) in '99.
Along with right end Will Overstreet, Ellis will be expected to keep Nebraska's big plays to a minimum. The Volunteers allowed just three rushing touchdowns all season -- two in one game by Notre Dame -- and no player has gained more than 36 yards on any carry all season. The Huskers have big-play potential in Crouch, Alexander and Buckhalter; the ends will need to limit that.
Two years ago, a similar Nebraska offense rushed for 409 yards against Tennessee in the Orange Bowl, including 206 by Ahman Green. The Vols have stated that they are looking for revenge for the 42-17 defeat.
Ellis, who has forced two fumbles this season, could gain some by forcing a loose exchange when he can. Nebraska leads the nation with its 49 fumbles this year.
Ht/Wt: 5-10, 190
Born: Aug. 22, 1980
Tennessee has been successful at mixing the run and pass all season. In the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, the Volunteers are going to have to be successful in the air to have a chance to put up points against a stingy Husker defense.
Nebraska ranked sixth in the nation against the run, fourth in total defense, and third in scoring defense this season. With linebacker Carlos Polk and nose tackle Steve Warren likely to create headaches for Tennessee running backs Jamal Lewis and Travis Henry, the game could be put on the shoulders of Tee Martin to find one of his receivers to break open the game.
Last year in Tempe, the Vols had trouble running the ball against Florida State. With Lewis out with an injury, Henry was the featured back and gained just 28 yards on 19 carries. As a team, the Vols picked up a paltry 114 yards on 45 carries -- a 2.5-yard average. Martin picked up the slack, completing 11 of 18 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns. Peerless Price burned the Seminole secondary for four catches and 199 yards in the 23-16 victory over Florida State.
This January, the Vols might have to find a similar breakout game from one of their receivers. With All-American Ralph Brown likely hooking up with Tennessee's Cedrick Wilson (827 receiving yards, 4 TDs) most of the night, the Vols other wideouts, Eric Parker and Donte' Stallworth, will challenge Keyuo Craver all evening.
Craver has enjoyed the challenge of being the Husker's starting left corner. He finished second with 12 pass breakups and his three interceptions and 34 unassisted tackles tied for second on the team. He made his biggest impact in the Huskers' early season 20-13 victory over Southern Miss. when he picked off two passes.
The true sophomore hails from Harleton, Texas, where he was an all-state running back and four-time state champion in the triple jump. He canceled visits to Texas and Texas A&M before choosing to play for the Huskers.
As a freshman in 1998, Craver saw action in all 12 games for the Huskers with his playing time increasing all season long. His breakout performance for the Blackshirts came against No. 2 Kansas State when he had six tackles, broke up two passes and intercepted a pass.
Nebraska's rush defense is likely too strong for Tennessee to put up huge numbers. Instead, Martin and Co. are going to have to mix it up. With Brown among the best in the country on the right side, Craver will be tested early and often.