HUSKERS: Big Red leaves Purple dazed on Rout 66
BY STEVEN M. SIPPLE Lincoln Journal Star
SAN ANTONIO - Although Nebraska wasn't exactly thrilled to be playing in the Alamo Bowl, the Cornhuskers made the most of their appearance, bombing Northwestern 66-17 Saturday night at the Alamodome.
Senior I-back Dan Alexander rushed 20 times for an Alamo Bowl-record 240 yards, and junior quarterback Eric Crouch ran for two touchdowns and passed for two others as ninth-ranked Nebraska topped the record for most points scored in a bowl game.
Texas A&M held the previous mark with a 65-21 win against BYU in the 1990 Holiday Bowl.
"We practiced well all the way up to this game," Nebraska Coach Frank Solich said. "We felt we'd play well, and we did."
Did they ever.
Nebraska (10-2) rolled up 636 yards of total offense, a record team total for a bowl game. The Huskers rushed for 476 yards.
In addition to Alexander's big night, Crouch added 90 yards on the ground on 15 carries, and senior Bobby Newcombe contributed 170 total yards, including a 69-yard wingback pass to split end Matt Davison for a third-quarter touchdown.
Nebraska scored 31 points in the second quarter and added three third-quarter touchdowns to take control. The Huskers played as if they had something to prove after seeing their national championship hopes vanish with late-season losses at Oklahoma and Kansas State.
"Everybody was looking down on us, thinking we wouldn't have our heads in the game," said Nebraska cornerback DeJuan Groce. "We just wanted to finish in the top five."
Added Husker middle linebacker Carlos Polk: "We came out with a purpose. We knew they couldn't hang with us, that they shouldn't have been on the same field with us."
Northwestern (8-4), the co-Big Ten champion, was victimized by a defense that struggled all season. The Wildcats entered the game ranked 48th among 50 bowl teams in total defense, having allowed 408.1 yards per game.
Northwestern, though, finished the season with much more success than many had anticipated. Most preseason publications picked the Wildcats to finish last in the Big Ten.
"I won't let this night diminish what we accomplished," Northwestern Coach Randy Walker said.
Much of the announced crowd of 60,028 began filing toward the exits late in the third period, and Solich began emptying his bench with 9:10 left in the game.
Northwestern fans booed Alexander's final few carries early in the fourth quarter, obviously annoyed he was still in the game.
Northwestern prides itself on being a strong comeback team. But it was clear there would be no fourth-quarter miracles on this night. Although the Wildcats' offense was its typical productive self, their defense seemed helpless most of the night, particularly in the second and third quarters.
After a relatively sleepy opening 15 minutes, after which NU led 7-3, the anticipated scoring barrage materialized in the second period, with the teams combining for 45 points.
Nebraska's blitz of 31 points topped its previous bowl scoring record for a quarter. The Huskers put up 29 points in the second quarter of their 62-24 win against Florida in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.
Crouch started the outburst with a 50-yard option sprint to give Nebraska a 14-10 lead. Then Alexander continued to pound away at Northwestern's porous run defense, which ranked 82nd nationally entering the game.
The 6-foot, 245-pound senior had runs of 34 and 13 yards before taking it in from the 2 to complete his personal 49-yard scoring drive.
Alexander was named the Alamo Bowl offensive MVP.
"I don't know if it was my best game ever as much as our offensive line's best game," Alexander said.
Newcombe, who endured an up-and-down career, set up Nebraska's next score with a 33-yard punt return to the Northwestern 8-yard line. Three plays later, I-back Correll Buckhalter leaped in from the 2.
Sophomore Josh Brown's Alamo Bowl-record 51-yard field goal extended the lead to 31-10.
Anderson, who chose Northwestern over Nebraska to remain close to home, broke loose on the next play from scrimmage for a 69-yard TD run. But the Wildcats' celebration was short-lived because their defense let them down again.
Newcombe, after grabbing a screen pass, pivoted toward the sideline, then cut back and sprinted for a 58-yard TD, getting a key block from split end Wilson Thomas.
Newcombe capped his big night with 74 seconds left in Nebraska's 21-point third quarter. He hauled in a lateral pass from Crouch, then tossed a strike to senior split end Matt Davison, who had snuck behind the defense. The play covered 69 yards and gave Nebraska a 59-17 lead.
Davison's 11-yard TD catch began Nebraska's third-quarter scoring spree. The Huskers followed with a 14-play, 95-yard march capped by Crouch's 2-yard TD.
Nebraska, using backups, finished its scoring with a six-play, 44-yard drive that No. 3 I-back Dahrran Diedrick capped with a 9-yard burst with 5 1/2 minutes left.
Nebraska has now won six of its last seven bowl games to improve its all-time bowl mark to 20-19.
In addition, the Huskers now have won at least 10 games in seven of the last eight years.
Northwestern, meanwhile, hasn't won a bowl game since 1949 and now stands 1-3 in bowls.