For NU offense, actions speak louder
BY STEVEN M. SIPPLE Lincoln Journal Star
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Nebraska players heard a few Tennessee players questioning the potency of the Huskers' power game in the days leading to Sunday night's Fiesta Bowl.
Volunteers linebacker Raynoch Thompson was the loudest of the doubters, saying it was "a myth" that Nebraska played smashmouth football. He said the Huskers benefited mostly from "cut" blocks, or blocks below the waist.
Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch says the Huskers prefer to let their play do the talking.
"We're not going to talk about being physical," he said. "We're going to come out and show it on the field."
Third-ranked Nebraska flexed its muscles in the second half Sunday, putting away No. 6 Tennessee with back-to-back drives of 96 and 99 yards in a 31-21 triumph before 71,526 spectators at Sun Devil Stadium.
"We heard a lot of talk about our blocking, and it probably wasn't appropriate," said Crouch, who rushed for 64 yards and passed for 148 more and a touchdown.
Nebraska's offensive line might have been at the top of its game during the telling monster drives.
The first one -- using nine plays and consuming 4 minutes, 8 seconds -- gave Nebraska a 24-14 lead with 4:08 left in the third quarter. The drive was highlighted by Crouch's 17-yard completion to freshman tight end Jon Bowling on a third-and-13 play from NU's 23-yard line.
Bowling, a Lincoln Southeast graduate, was pressed into duty because of Tracey Wistrom's knee injury, suffered before the Colorado game in late November. Bowling beat Vols safety Fred White on a crossing pattern.
"That was a big, big play," said Nebraska Coach Frank Solich, beaming after his team improved to 12-1.
On the next play, Husker fullback Willie Miller exploded up the middle for a 47-yard gain, setting up Crouch's 13-yard touchdown pass to another freshman tight end, Aaron Golliday of York.
Nebraska's 99-yard drive required 10 plays -- all runs -- and lasted 4:15. Miller got the Huskers out of the shadow of their end zone with a 13-yard burst up the middle. Crouch followed with another 13-yard carry on an option. I-back Dan Alexander tacked on 15 more yards.
After two more Alexander carries netted 11 yards, Correll Buckhalter relieved Alexander and rambled 27 yards on a sweep to the left. Then it was straight power football. Miller roared up the middle for 6 yards before Buckhalter went at the heart of the Vols' defense for gains of 11 and 2, the last carry resulting in a TD.
"We want to be multiple offensively," Solich said. "But we want to run the ball. And to control the ball tonight was vitally important."
Several Nebraska defenders lauded the Husker offense, particularly the will it showed on the two big drives.
"It motivated us and gave us energy," defensive back Keyuo Craver said. "It almost felt like we had to try to outdo them."
Added Alexander, "We wanted to show we had a great power game, and we did tonight."
And Nebraska did it against a Tennessee defense that ranked seventh nationally against the run and 11th overall. The Huskers finished with 469 yards of offense, including 321 on the ground.
"What led to this performance was several great weeks of practice," Alexander said.