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FORUMS | CHAT | PRINT THIS STORY

Punters might hold key to Fiesta Bowl victory

By Mike Strange, News-Sentinel sportswriter
January 2, 2000

TEMPE, Ariz. - Nebraska coach Frank Solich made a prediction that viewers ought to keep in mind during tonight's Fiesta Bowl game.

"It looks like two evenly matched teams," Solich said Saturday, "and when that's the case, special teams play a major, major role."

Two players who almost certainly will influence field position are the punters.

Tennessee's David Leaverton's 42.6-yard average this season was the best by a UT punter since Jimmy Colquitt in 1982. Nebraska's Dan Hadenfeldt ranked No. 5 nationally at 44.98 yards.

Both are also excellent kickoff men.

"It's always fun to go against a guy who's ranked pretty high," Hadenfeldt said.

"It's kind of dangerous to get into a one-on-one way of thinking, but it's kind of hard not to. Being a kicker, it feels like you're the only one out there."

Hadenfeldt had to make one tackle this season, saving a TD on a punt return against Oklahoma State. Leaverton still marvels at the tackle he made in last season's Fiesta Bowl to prevent Florida State's Peter Warrick from scoring on a punt return.

"I'm still very confused about how I even touched him," Leaverton said.

Leaverton hopes he doesn't have to try to touch Nebraska's Bobby Newcombe, whose 18.4-yard average is second in the nation among punt returners.

"It seems like every team we play has some superstar track All-American going against us," Leaverton said. "Playing in the SEC, we're used to it."

INJURY REPORT: UT will be without Tad Golden, a reserve defensive back and special-teams player. Offensive linemen Fred Weary and Spencer Riley will be close to 100 percent, UT coach Phillip Fulmer said Saturday.

Nebraska's All-Big 12 Conference tight end, Tracey Wistrom (knee), won't dress, Solich said Saturday.

LITTLE BIG MAN: At 6-1 and 195 pounds, Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch bears no resemblance to linebacker-sized Scott Frost, the Cornhuskers' quarterback in the 42-17 Orange Bowl victory over UT two years ago.

"Crouch is really good running their offense," UT defensive tackle Darwin Walker said. "Frost, man, he would actually lay the wood to you. I'd rather tackle Ahman Green (Nebraska's '97 I-back) than Frost."

ANOTHER SELLOUT: The Fiesta Bowl on Saturday announced a sellout of 73,471, the only bowl to do so through three years of the Bowl Alliance and two of the Bowl Championship Series.

Nebraska sold its 15,000 ticket allotment in five days. Tennessee sold 7,800 and returned 7,200, some of which were redistributed to Nebraska fans.

WATCH THE CUT BLOCKS: Nebraska's offense has a reputation for being physical, but the Huskers also use finesse in the form of cut blocks.

Cut blocks are legal and are aimed to take a defender's feet out from under him.

"They cut block 60 to 70 percent of the time," said UT's Walker, referring to the '97 Orange Bowl. "We've seen cut blocking before, but not that much.

"They must realize our defense is built around penetration and speed and they combated it with cut blocks. I really don't like it. I'd rather play a guy who's going to come out and try to block you."

The strategy is effective, but not invincible.

"It makes you hesitate," Walker said, "but if you get your hands on them and keep them out of your legs, you'll be fine."

EXTRA POINTS: UT claims 100 victories in the decade of the 1990s, but the NCAA doesn't count the Cotton Bowl victory over Arkansas on Jan. 1, 1990, attaching it to the 1989 season. ... This will be only the second meeting between Nebraska and Tennessee. ... UT's 40th bowl appearance ranks No. 2 nationally behind Alabama's 50. Tonight is the Vols' third Fiesta Bowl. Prior to winning last year, they lost 42-17 to Penn State on Jan. 1, 1992.

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