(Lincoln, Nebraska - November 23, 1996) - There an old saying in football that defense wins championships. For the Nebraska Cornhuskers defense certainly won them a Big 12 North Division Championship.
Time and time again the Husker Black Shirt defense was faced with a critical situation, and time and time again they delivered.
The number four ranked Huskers welcomed the fifth ranked Colorado Buffaloes to rainy, chilly Lincoln, Nebraska for the decisive conference game. Both teams brought in perfect 7-0 conference records and 9-1 overall marks. It was the ninth straight time the two teams faced off as ranked opponents.
Colorado drew fist blood on the game's opening drive. Quarterback Koy Detmer drove the Buffs 52 yards in 10 plays before settling for a 45 yard Jeremy Aldrich field goal and a 3-0 lead. It was a scenario that Colorado would have to get used to.
Nebraska sputtered on their first offensive attempt. Husker I-Back Ahman Green fumbled on their third play and Colorado jumped on the ball at the Husker 36. Green saw limited action in the game due to a foot injury suffered earlier in the week. His future status is unclear.
Colorado was on the move again, but netted only 13 yards in 7 plays. Aldrich booted another field goal, this one from 40 yards out, to put Colorado up 6-0 midway through the first period.
Nebraska soon found a way to score on Colorado, but it didn't come courtesy of the Husker offense.
Nebraska's next offensive drive stalled after three plays and two offensive line penalties. Husker punter Jesse Kosch sent the ball down to the 19 while the Husker punt coverage pushed the return back to the Colorado 16. On the next play Detmer threw to his left only to have Jason Peter bat the ball away. Husker back Jay Foreman circled under the ball and hauled it in. A 21 yard touchdown return put the Huskers in business 7-6 with 6 and a half minutes left in the period.
Colorado's offense found things difficult moving the ball all day against the Blackshirt defense. On their next drive the Buffs netted negative six yards thanks in part to a quarterback sack by rush end Grant Wistrom. A Buffalo punt set the Huskers up with good field position at their own 44. The wet field made footing difficult as the Huskers pushed down to the Buffalo twenty yard line and facing a fourth and two.
Husker coach Tom Osborne went to his bag of tricks on the field goal attempt. Husker holder Jon Vedral took the snap, then darted around the right side on an option play that netted ten yards and a Husker first down. The Husker offense could not get the ball in the end zone, though, and NU had to settle for a 30 yard Kris Brown field goal and a 10-6 lead just over two minutes into the second period.
The Husker defense tightened up again and forced CU into a punting situation on their next drive.
The Husker offense then went to work, trying to produce some highlights of their own. Frost came through with an 18 yard gain on an option keeper, only to be upstaged by DeAngelo Evans on a 39 yard option play of his own taking the ball down to the Colorado nine yard line. Two plays later Evans broke into the end zone for the touchdown and a 17-6 lead with 6:47 left in the half.
It would be all the points the Husker could produce. It turned out to be enough.
The two teams traded non-productive drives to open the second half. Colorado was finally able to get within field goal distance midway through the third period. Aldrich connected from 38 yards out to pull the Buffs within 8 points. The remainder of the third period was unspectacular for both teams.
Colorado was finally able to put a drive together in the fourth period. Twice in the drive Colorado was facing a third down and long situation, only to connect on a big pass play. One play was a 51 yard completion on third and nine, while the other was a 33 yard strike on a third and 22. The Black Shirts halted the uprising at the 10 yard line and forced the Buffaloes to settle for Aldrich's fourth field goal of the day.
The nail biting continued for Husker fans, though.
On the second play following the ensuing kickoff, Frost was blind sided and fumbled setting Colorado up with a first down at the NU 27 yard line. Nebraska's defense responded again when Michael Booker tipped a Detmer pass and Jamel Williams grabbed it for the turnover.
The offense struggled again as they were forced to punt back to Colorado. The Huskers looked to the defense one more time, and again they delivered. Colorado started at their own 44 yard line. On the first play of the drive, Wistrom broke in and sacked Detmer for a nine yard loss. CU made things interesting when they completed a 36 yard pass to move the ball down to the Husker 29 yard line. The Black Shirts ended things there as Colorado lost the ball on downs.
The Huskers ran out the clock and captured the Big 12 North Championship.
It was clearly an afternoon for the Black Shirts. Grant Wistrom stood out with 13 tackles, including two for losses. Linebacker Jon Hesse added nine more while Jamel Williams recorded 8 tackles and an interception. True freshman Ralph Brown broke up seven pass attempts.
The Husker offense sputtered for most of the afternoon, fumbling the ball five times and losing it four times. DeAngelo Evans filled in admirably for Green as he rushed for 123 yards on 25 carries. The Husker team compiled 238 yards on the ground. Scott Frost completed 6 of 14 passes for 56 yards.