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Published Monday, January 3, 2000

Fiesta Siesta
NU puts Vols' hopes to sleep

Last modified at 1:35 a.m. on Monday, January 3, 2000

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photo: HuskersHQ
Associated Press Photo
Bobby Newcombe carries a punt return in for a touchdown in the first quarter of the Fiesta Bowl.
By Mike Babcock
For The Independent

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Nebraska won a bowl game but lost a defensive coordinator.

Charlie McBride hesitantly admitted he was stepping aside as defensive coordinator following the Cornhuskers' 31-21 victory against Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl game Sunday night.

"I didn't want to take anything away from this football team," McBride said.

His voice cracked with emotion as he acknowledged his retirement.

McBride's announcement didn't take anything away from the victory, against a Tennessee team that had won the 1998 national championship in the same stadium a year ago.

"I sure don't feel as good as I did last year sitting here," said Tennessee Coach Phillip Fulmer. "If a team can take it 99 and 96 yards against you, obviously they're something special."

That's what Nebraska did against the No. 5- and No. 6-ranked Volunteers in the second half, driving 96 yards on nine plays for a touchdown after Tennessee had cut the lead to 17-14 early in the third quarter, then driving 99 yards on 10 plays to put the finishing touches on a 12th victory.

Those drives characterized the game.

"We hadn't done that all year," offensive tackle Adam Julch said of the run-oriented drives. "I think we wore them down a lot."

The first drive included three Eric Crouch passes, the last a 13-yarder to tight end Aaron Golliday for the touchdown. The second drive was all running plays as Tennessee's defense wore down.

"We ran into a good team," said Fulmer.

More accurately, a good team ran into the Volunteers.

Nebraska finished with 321 rushing yards against a defense that had ranked seventh nationally against the run. I-back Dan Alexander led the way with 108 yards on 21 carries.

Fullback Willie Miller finished with 87 yards on only eight carries.

And Crouch ran for 64 yards and passed for 148 yards. He was chosen as the game's outstanding offensive player, while rover Mike Brown was chosen as the outstanding defensive player.

The victory provided a sense of symmetry to Brown's playing career. He is from nearby Scottsdale, Ariz., and played his final game in high school at Sun Devil Stadium.

Brown was credited with seven tackles and intercepted a pass.

Even so, he said he was "frustrated" with Nebraska's defensive effort.

"We just made way too many mental mistakes," he said. Tennessee managed 311 total yards, including 267 passing.

But after the Volunteers cut the led to 17-14 early in the third quarter, Nebraska took control. The Cornhuskers are in position to finish second in the polls, with a 12-1 record.

photo: HuskersHQ
Associated Press Photo
Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch races past Tennessee's John Herderson, left, during the second quarter.
However, "as far as I'm concerned, they're No. 1," McBride said.

Nebraska's running game was slow starting on a cool desert night beforewhat was announced as a sellout crowd of 71,526, the 10th-largest in Fiesta Bowl history.

"There were moments when things got a little rough," said Solich. "The plan was to try to get them off-balance a little bit early in the game and hopefully be able to come up with some formations that we'd be able to do a few things out of.

"We wanted to be as multiple as we could offensively."

To that end, Crouch threw nine of his 15 passes in the first half.

The game looked as if it would turn into a replay of the 1998 Orange Bowl game during the first half, as Nebraska took a 17-0 lead on a 31-yard field goal by Josh Brown with 1:37 remaining before the intermission. The kick hit the right goalpost and glanced through.

Things appeared to be going right for the Cornhuskers at that point.

Tennessee responded with an eight-play, 65-yard touchdown drive to cut the lead to 17-7, however.

Tee Martin completed six-of-seven passes on the drive, with the only incompletion coming when he spiked the ball on a second down at the Nebraska 44-yard line to stop the clock.

Martin was sacked by the Cornhuskers' Aaron Wills on the other play in the series.

Martin capped the drive with a 9-yard scoring pass to Donte' Stallworth.

Nebraska wasted little time in getting on the scoreboard.

The Cornhuskers needed only four plays to score a touchdown, after Bobby Newcombe's 10-yard punt return gave them field position at the Tennessee 43-yard line. The key play in the sequence was a 30-yard run by Crouch on third-and-4. Crouch carried to the Volunteers' 7-yard line.

Alexander scored on the next play, and Josh Brown added the extra-point kick.

Three minutes and 26 seconds into the game, Nebraska led 7-0.

Just over eight minutes later, the Cornhuskers doubled the lead when Newcombe fielded a David Leaverton punt and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown.

The last player to return a punt for a touchdown in the Fiesta Bowl was Nebraska's Dana Brinson, in the Cornhuskers' 31-28 loss against Florida State in the 1988 game.

Nebraska ran only 11 offensive plays in the first quarter and gained 77 yards, with 58 of those yards coming on two plays: Crouch's 30-yard run and a 28-yard pass to tight end Jon Bowling.

The Cornhuskers were more productive in the second quarter, primarily because of Crouch's four-of-six passing, for 71 yards -- 46 if them on a pass to Matt Davison to set up the field goal.

But they were unable to establish a running threat, averaging just 3.6 yards per carry during the first half. The Volunteers had allowed an average of only 89.6 yards per game on the ground, and though Nebraska rushed for 83 yards in the first half, it had to work hard for that total.

photo: HuskersHQ
Associated Press Photo
Mike Brown pulls in a pass intended for Tennessee's Donte' Stallworth during the second quarter.
Tennessee controlled the ball for just over 10 minutes of the first quarter but couldn't score, despite threatening on its second possession. A 49-yard pass play from Tee Martin to David Martin gave the Volunteers the ball at the Nebraska 17-yard line, first-and-10.

But three plays and a penalty later, they were forced to attempt a 45-yard field goal, on fourth-and-21 from the Cornhusker 28-yard line. Alex Walls' kick sailed wide to the left.

Nebraska would have had a third touchdown in the first half if not for an illegal block that nullified a 53-yard pass play from Crouch to I-back Correll Buckhalter.

Buckhalter was well past the point of the illegal block.

The series ended with a punt, one of five by Dan Hadenfeldt in the first half.

Tennessee rushed for a net of 25 yards in the first half and finished with only 44 for the game.

"First of all, we took the running game away from them and made them one-dimensional," Mike Brown said. "Then they began passing the ball a lot.

They had a good scheme."

But Nebraska's defensive scheme was better, according to Brown.

And the reason for that was McBride, a veteran of 24 seasons at Nebraska, the last 18 as defensive coordinator. "Some of us knew before the game," Brown said of McBride's decision.

"I talked to the guys before the game because I was probably really one of only like maybe five people that really knew what was going to happen."

McBride tried to low-key the situation. "Coach McBride is the type of guy, it's not his style to tell people that he's retiring so they play for him," said Brown.

"That's the type of person he is. He just went about it quietly."

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