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Cornhuskers: Tennessee's offense is the best they will face

By Doug Alden
Associated Press

Posted: Dec. 30, 1999

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The talk between Nebraska and Tennessee headed into the Fiesta Bowl is anything but trash.

The word coming out of the players' mouths most frequently seems to be respect, and not in the sense the teams aren't getting any.

"Off the field, football doesn't have an effect on either team," Nebraska linebacker Eric Johnson said Tuesday. "For the most part, they're cool and we're cool. We know that we're playing each other and we're just going to leave all that up to what happens on the field."

Tennessee, which lost to the Huskers 42-17 in the Orange Bowl two years ago to give the Huskers a share of the national title, isn't even talking much about revenge. Going undefeated last season and winning the national championship helped the No. 6 Volunteers (9-2) get over it.

"We've both been there before. We've both acquired a national title," Johnson said. "There's no trash talking. We both respect each other as teams."

Nebraska's defense was featured Wednesday in a week of news conferences headed into Sunday's game.

The No. 3 Cornhuskers (11-1) say with All-SEC Tee Martin at quarterback, a big and athletic offensive line and a running back tandem of Jamal Lewis and Travis Henry, the Vols are more stocked offensively than any team Nebraska has faced.

"They can run, they're strong. They're very, very physical," defensive coordinator Charlie McBride said of Tennessee's front five. "When you look at a team like Texas, you're looking at guys who are 340 -- one guy is 6-6 and 365 -- but they don't have the athletic ability that this Tennessee line has."

The Tennessee line protects Martin, who took over for Peyton Manning last season and led the Vols to their second national title. With close losses to Florida (23-21) and Arkansas (28-24), Tennessee wasn't far from getting a shot at a repeat.

"A few breaks didn't go their way. I know that to be in a national championship you've got to be lucky sometimes and we've been lucky in doing that," McBride said. "When you look at five or six points off of being in the big show, they have the definite ability to be there. There's no question."

Nebraska is worried about Martin, who saw a little bit of mop-up time two years ago in the Orange Bowl. Martin, replacing the senior Manning, was 4-for-4 for 25 yards and a touchdown in that game.

"He moved the ball on us late in the game," Nebraska defensive back Mike Brown said. "We talked about that after the game--maybe it would have been a different game if he was in the game."

Nebraska shut down All-Big 12 quarterback Major Applewhite in a 22-6 win over Texas in the Big 12 championship Dec. 4. The Huskers sacked Applewhite seven times and held him to fewer than 200 yards passing for the first time as a starter.

Applewhite is a drop-back passer. Martin can run.

"Tee's been the kind of guy that can come out of the pocket and beat you that way," McBride said. "He's come around the corner and if he doesn't see anything open, he's going to take off with it.

"With the blitz package and things, we've got to be careful," he said. "When you start putting pressure on people, you're liable to hit the wrong button and they're out of the gate."

Nebraska is anxious to get a shot at Martin, or anyone clad in something other than scarlet and cream, linebacker Carlos Polk said.

"We had some guys who were a little nicked up and it gave them time to heal," Polk said. "It's been good in that sense of it, but hitting each other every day--it gets kind of boring.

"We're ready for some fresh meat."

Copyright 1999 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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