Willie Miller was hoping to have a "breakout" game this season. And he did, though it went down to the wire, as Miller rushed for a career-high 87 yards on just eight careers. --Huskers updates from The Grand Island Independent">
 
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Published Monday, January 3, 2000

Husker Game Notes


Last modified at 1:34 a.m. on Monday, January 3, 2000
 

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photo: HuskersHQ
Associated Press Photo
Willie Miller breaks loose for 47 yards in the third quarter of the Fiesta Bowl.
By Bob Schaller
For The Independent

TEMPE, Ariz. - Willie Miller was hoping to have a "breakout" game this season. And he did, though it went down to the wire, as Miller rushed for a career-high 87 yards on just eight careers.

Miller's 47-yard run late in the third quarter set up Eric Crouch's touchdown pass to freshman tight end Aaron Golliday.

"I'm not Tommie Frazier or anyone else - just Willie Miller," said

Miller, who wears the familiar No. 15. "I've had some big shoes to fill this year. I certainly wanted to live up to that."

Coach Dave Gillespie told Miller before the season that he expected some big things.

"Coach said one of my attributes was that I had more speed than some of the fullbacks that played before me," Miler said. "Hopefully tonight I demonstrated that."

Part of the problem for Miller this year were constant injuries.

"I'm healthy, and it feels great," Miller said.

On the ground

As a whole, Nebraska's ground attack seemed to be very much back on track. The turning point of the game came on two long drives in the third quarter, a nine-play drive that covered 96 yards and then a 99-yard drive on the ensuing possession that lasted 10 plays.

"I think definitely that was a turning point in the game," Crouch said.

"It was definitely motivating for our offense. That first drive -- it showed a lot of stamina, a lot of heart of the linemen and running backs - pretty much everybody on the field."

The 99-yarder was as much a product of the first drive and the momentum that came from the long march.

"I think it had a lot to do with the sideline emotions, too," Crouch said. "Everybody was into it, helping one another out. After we scored that (96-yard drive) touchdown, we just told ourselves, 'Hey, we're going to have to do it again. This time it's going to have to be 99 yards.' We told ourselves we could do it - really, we did it already. We just went down and scored a touchdown. It was a great feeling knowing that we could do that. You don't see that a lot."

Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer agreed.

"Not that I can remember, no - I'm sure somebody has taken it 99 yards, but maybe not like that," Fulmer said. "Very impressive drive, both of them were."

NU split end Matt Davison said that was the end of the game, right there.

"That's where the tide changed," Davison said. "Up until then - especially right after they scored - it looked they had it going. But those two drives killed it, and the tide came our way."

I-back Dan Alexander had another fumble, with this one setting up a touchdown that drew Tennessee within three, 17-14. But Alexander was a workhorse in the fourth quarter, and his 108 yards on 21 carries more than atoned for the miscue.

"We really opened up the running game," Alexander said. "We were really clicking on all cylinders tonight. This is something we can take in to next year."

Offensive guard Russ Hochstein said he and his linemates were proud of the 321-yard rushing performance.

"We take a lot of pride in that," Hochstein said. "We wanted to run it all night. It seemed like every time we ran it, we got five yards (actually averaged 6.6 per rush). So it was like, 'OK, let's do it again."

Center Dominic Raiola said Tennessee was starting to wear down in the second half.

"We wanted to do that, especially in the last game of the year so it would answer some questions about the line," Raiola said.

The line loses senior tackle Adam Julch and guard James Sherman. They will likely be replaced by John Rutherford and Toniu Fonoti, respectively.

"We'll be fine next year," Hochstein said with a smile. "Trust me."

Bulletin Boards

Matt Davison had enough of Tennessee's pre-game talk.

"They kept saying they were ready for us two years ago," Davison said.

"Everything I read or saw on TV had one of their guys saying, 'We learned a lesson. This time it will be different.' Well, it wasn't that different."

Davison had to do all he could to keep his pre-game comments in check.

"This is a team that doesn't talk so much as it does do the talking on the field," Davison said. "And if Tennessee didn't respect us before the game, they should now. They talked all week."

Davison had two catches for a team-high 68 yards.

While the winner of the Sugar Bowl will be the unanimous national champion, Davison said his vote is for his own team.

"Ask any coach in the nation, 'Who would you rather play right now?' And none of them will say Nebraska," Davison said. "Ask them if they want Nebraska, Tennessee, Florida State or Virginia Tech. No one will say they want Nebraska. We feel like we have a great package; defensively, we're as good as it gets and offensively we have some playmakers."

Blackshirts pass final

photo: HuskersHQ
Associated Press Photo
Arizona native Mike Brown points into the crowd as he celebrates Nebraska's 31-21 victory over Tennesse in the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.
Mike Brown made his last game a good one - as did the entire Blackshirt unit. The Huskers intercepted a pair of passes, making the fifth time this season Nebraska has had at least two picks in a game.

Brown had seven tackles, a pass break up and one of those interceptions to earn defensive Most Valuable Player honors. A perfectionist to the very end, Brown was not pleased with the defense surrendering 21 points

"We just made way too many mental mistakes," Brown said. "It wasn't that we weren't giving great effort. We were playing lights out for four quarters. We made too many mental errors that cost us. We didn't play the type of football that we're capable of playing."

The Tennessee offense was only briefly on track - before the Husker offense took control and the Blackshirts followed suit.

"First of all, we took the running game away and made them one dimensional," Brown said. "They began passing the ball a lot. They had a good scheme. They were able to complete some passes and make some players. But like I said, we could have stopped some of it. We went into halftime and made some adjustments."

Still, the memories will last a lifetime.

"I know in my heart that we're still the best defense in the nation, no matter who we play," Brown said. "We're going to compete and be a tough defense to move the ball on. Like I said, I'm very proud of this Blackshirt group. It's going to be a group I'm going to remember the rest of my life."

Likewise, Brown won't forget his days in Lincoln.

"It's a great place to go to school," he said. "What makes this program is the people we have in our support staff care about you as a person and want you to have success in life. They want you to graduate. Most of our players do graduate on time. I think this is a special university in the fact that everyone cares about you as a person, not just as a football player."

Player-by-player

--Ralph Brown broke the school record for consecutive starts Sunday night with his 52nd start in a row, breaking placekicker Kris Brown's record of 51. Ralph Brown had eight tackles, including seven solo and a pass breakup.

In a flashback to the 1997 Orange Bowl, Brown again put Tennessee running back Jamal Lewis hard into the turf. Lewis had said earlier in the week that he remembered the hit Brown delivered, and that the smallish Brown "probably won't" have that chance again.

Brown did.

"I was making a little bit of a statement with that one," Ralph said. "I wanted to let him know that I can still hit real hard. I'm known as a cover kind of cornerback. But I can play physical, too."

--If Bobby Newcombe is really as unhappy as rumored to be in Lincoln, Sunday night's 60-yard punt return that put Nebraska ahead 14-0 with 3:21 left in the first quarter put a smile on his face, at least temporarily.

"Well, the one thing I remember about that is just our guys doing an excellent job of blocking," Newcombe said. "I saw a little crease and tried to accelerate through that. The next thing I know, Ralph Brown is making an excellent job on the punter, so I had to try to run around him. I ran into the end zone, was knocked down, and everybody was one top of me."

Newcombe's return was the third time a Husker returned a punt for a touchdown in a bowl game and the first since Dana Brison's 52-yarder against Florida State in the 1988 Fiesta Bowl. Johnny Rogers has the other, which came against Alabama in the 1972 Orange Bowl.

Newcombe finished the season second in the nation with an 18.32-yard punt return average.



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