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This item appeared in The Times & Free Press on Monday, January 3, 2000.
   

[Times & Free Press: Nebraska Rolls Past Tennessee]

Nebraska Rolls Past Tennessee

By WARD GOSSETT
Assistant Sports Editor

TEMPE, Ariz. -- It wasn't the way Tennessee football wanted to enter the new millennium.

There was this thing about revenge, the idea the Vols needed to prove to themselves as well as the nation that they belonged among the college football's bully boys.

If the jury is still out, the only reason would be a plea of insanity, a touch of benevolence or throwing themselves on the mercy of the court. The Vols' athleticism in their offensive line was never a factor, and neither was their speed superiority on the defensive side of the ball.

Third-ranked Nebraska, meanwhile, stated its case Sunday for a solid claim to No. 2 behind the winner of tomorrow night's Sugar Bowl with a convincing 31-21 victory that came in front of a predominantly Cornhusker-favoring crowd of 71,526.

Just as they did two years ago in the Orange Bowl, the Huskers stumbled to an early lead, gathered themselves in the third quarter and raced home in the fourth for yet another win over the Volunteers, who finish their season at 9-3.

It was the Volunteers' first three-loss campaign under head coach Phillip Fulmer since the debacle of 1994 when they went through two quarterbacks in the first four games and stumbled to 1-3 before turning the quarterback reins over to true freshman Peyton Manning.

The setback puts an exclamation point on the second-worst season performance in Fulmer's seven-year UT reign and marks only the second time the Vols have failed to win 10 or more games in a season under the ex-Vol guard.

Tennessee closed to within a field goal (17-14) on an early third-quarter 4-yard run by Travis Henry and appeared ready to make a game of it after falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter. Henry's score was set up on a fumble forced by Will Overstreet and recovered by Dominique Stevenson on the Vols' kickoff to open the second half.

However, Nebraska, which averaged more than 300 rushing yards in its final four games of '99, put together demoralizing, back-to-back, clock-eating scoring drives -- of 97 and 99 yards -- to plod right back out to a 17-point spread early in the fourth quarter. Surprisingly, one of the Huskers TDs -- a 13-yard pass to reserve tight end Aaron Golliday -- came on a pass, the first scoring toss for Nebraska in 19 quarters of play.

From there it was a mighty Tennessee effort, but it was way too little, way too late. The Vols cut the lead to 10 on a razzle-dazzle pass from wide receiver Cedrick Wilson, a quarterback in his high school days at Memphis Melrose, to Stallworth for 44 yards.

The Vols went with an onside kickoff -- with 7:25 still to play -- and it failed, being touched by Nebraska and rolling out of bounds at the Huskers 35. Nebraska then ate up the final seven minutes of the game.

Other than a catch-and-go from quarterback Tee Martin to David Martin, it was Nebraska and all Nebraska in the first quarter.

The Cornhuskers ran well, the Cornhuskers passed well and the Cornhuskers returned well, putting 14 first-period points on the board. Crouch set up the first score with a 30-yard option keeper, Dan Alexander scoring on the next play from 7 yards out.

Then Bobby Newcombe, the man beaten out by Crouch for the Huskers' starting quarterback role, gathered in a David Leaverton punt and raced 60 untouched yards to put Nebraska up 14-0 with just over 11 minutes gone from the game. The pair of Nebraska scores were sandwiched around the Martin-to-Martin pass and a subsequent misfire by Alex Walls on a 45-yard field goal try.

The Vols squandered other opportunities when Martin was intercepted twice, once at the Nebraska 2-yard line (by All-American Mike Brown) on a pass intended for Donte Stallworth.

Their ground game netting very little, the Vols finally went to a two-minute offense -- Martin hitting on six of seven passes for all 65 yards on the drive -- and broke their scoring ice on a 9-yard pass to Stallworth.

The Cornhuskers stepped way out of character in the first half, throwing for 99 yards while rushing for just 83. They adjusted in the second half, cutting off UT's backside pursuit and rediscovered their ball-control ground game. Tennessee, on the other hand, had 140 passing yards with only 25 rushing (including Martin getting sacked twice).

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