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This item appeared in The Times & Free Press on Tuesday, January 4, 2000.

[Times & Free Press: Traditions: Huskers Win The Battle]

Traditions: Huskers Win The Battle

Executive Sports Editor

TEMPE, Ariz. -- In a sense, the Fiesta showdown between Nebraska and Tennessee Sunday night at Sun Devil Stadium came down to a "T."

But not a Tee.

It was tradition vs. tradition, and Nebraska has been playing outstanding option football for three decades.

Old-timers would say Marshall University's Cam Henderson invented the fastbreak and Western Kentucky's Ed Dibble taught him how to run it.

In this case, Darrell Royal, or a member of his Texas staff, invented the Wishbone, and Nebraska's Bob Devaney, Tom Osborne and now Frank Solich have taught people how to run it, or a variation thereof.

Option football has produced 31 straight bowl appearances for the Cornhuskers, won them nine or more games every season in that time period and earned them five national championships. Only Florida State won more games in the '90s, 108-107.

With apologies to defensive coordinator Charlie McBride, Nebraska tradition starts with offense, at least in the past 30 years. We remember Heisman winners Johnny Rodgers and Mike Rozier and such other stalwarts over the years as Jeff Kinney, I.M. Hipp, Roger Craig, Vince Ferragamo, Jerry Tagge, Tommie Frazier and Lawrence Phillips.

No school in the country has won more Outlands than Nebraska's eight. Dave Rimington won two.

Tennessee, by contrast, was Linebacker U. long before it was Wide Receiver U. A series of top-notch quarterbacks and running backs also have given the Vols more of an offensive identity since the early 1980s, but defense was the theme for the program going all the way back to the coaching tenure of Gen. Bob Neyland.

Remember Doug Atkins, Steve DeLong, Frank Emmanuel, Paul Naumoff, Steve Kiner, Jack Reynolds, Jamie Rotella, Bobby Majors, Eddie Brown, Jimmy Weatherford, Andy Spiva and Reggie White? In recent years, Keith DeLong, Dale Carter, Leonard Little, Al Wilson and Raynoch Thompson have been UT All-Americans on the defensive side of the ball.

While Tee Martin guided a superb offense this year, Tennessee's defense came into Sunday night's game seventh in the nation against the rush and scoring.

Midway of the third quarter, Tennessee had gotten a break early in the period to pull within three, and the Vols had Nebraska backed up to its own 4 following a David Leaverton punt.

John Chavis had to be salivating. In two Nebraska possessions in the second half, the Vols had forced a fumble that led to a touchdown and a punt that gave UT's offense great field position at its 42.

In fact, after Nebraska's early 14-point barrage, UT allowed the Cornhuskers only a second-period field goal.

It was strength against strength, but then the Vols began to bend, and quarterback Eric Crouch and running back Dan Alexander eventually made them break.

"You could see it in their eyes during that first march, and it was more apparent the second. We took it to them and they couldn't stop us. We pounded them," said the 245-pound hammer, Alexander.

The first drive was 96 yards, the second 99 yards. The score jumped to 31-14, and it was basically over. Alexander would become only the second back to rush for more than 100 yards against the Vols this season, and Crouch would be the offensive player of the game.

"If a team can take it 99 and 96 yards on you when you're close, 17-14, obviously they're something special," head coach Phillip Fulmer said.

The Vols can certainly identify with that, for they were something special last year. And, given a choice, losing in Tempe this year was certainly more palatable than it would have been a January ago.

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