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   This story appeared in The Times on Tuesday, December 23, 1997.
   

Option offense dirty words to Vol fans

By Larry W. Fleming
The Chattanooga Times

Two words strike fear into a Tennessee football team -- option offense.

Think back to the 1990 season opener, the Pigskin Classic in Anaheim, Calif. Tennessee was playing Big 8 power Colorado, which utilized the pesky option attack.

Darian Hagan was the Buffaloes' quarterback, the trigger. Colorado also had senior wingback Mike Pritchard.

Colorado's option amassed 368 yards rushing. Pritchard rushed 20 times for 217 yards with touchdown runs of 78 and 55 yards. He averaged 10.85 yards per carry. When Hagan didn't pitch to Pritchard, he gained 77 yards.

Fast forward to Jan. 2, 1998.

Third-ranked Tennessee (11-1) will play second-ranked Nebraska (12-0) in the Orange Bowl. Nebraska is the first pure option opponent to play the Vols since Colorado.

Nobody's option is as potent. The Cornhuskers average an NCAA-best 392.6 yards per game on the ground and have had 27 rushing plays for 25 or more yards and 21 passing plays of at least 25 yards.

The Cornhuskers are first nationally with 513.7 yards of offense per game. They score 47.1 points a game, also No. 1 in Division I-A.

"Playing Nebraska is a great challenge for our team," coach Phillip Fulmer said. "This Nebraska team is as good as any I've seen them have, and I've followed Nebraska for a long time."

Tailback Ahman Green gained 1,877 yards this season and ranks second nationally. Nobody can match Green's 6.96-yard per-carry average. He rushed for 100 yards in all but one game had 99 in that one.

Quarterback Scott Frost rushed for 1,095 yards and passed for 1,237 more. The 'Huskers' No. 3 rusher is fullback Joel Makovicka with 685 yards.

Only one team held Nebraska to less than 350 yards rushing in 1997, and that was Texas A&M in the Big 12 Championship Game when the 'Huskers got 335.

"They're good because they have outstanding personnel," Tennessee defensive coordinator Johnny Chavis said. "They've got threats everywhere."

Basically, Nebraska's vaunted running game has three options -- Frost, Makovicka and Green.

"You better try to take something away," Chavis said. "It all centers around the quarterback and fullback. You have to play those two phases well or it'll never get to the pitch. You have to play inside out, then you don't have to worry about the pitch. If you don't, just tackle the fullback 30 yards down field."

What makes the Cornhuskers unique is Frost, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior born to operate the option.

"He's a great big ol' tailback playing quarterback," Chavis said. "I don't want that misunderstood. He's a great quarterback, but he's got tailback speed. He could play linebacker, safety, tight end. He could be a tailback for most teams in the country. He's an outstanding athlete."

Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne acknowledges Frost's impact on the season.

"He's played about as well as any quarterback we've had," Osborne said.

Tennessee defensive end Jonathan Brown, recruited by Nebraska out of Tulsa, Okla., hopes to be seeing a lot of Frost. Face to face, not from the rear.

"In our scheme, I have to make Scott Frost pitch the football," Brown said. "Scott doesn't like to pitch it, he likes to run it. That's why he rushed for 1,000 yards. We have to combat that."

That's the beauty of an option attack. Tennessee forced Hagan to pitch frequently in the Pigskin Classic eight years ago and Pritchard had a field day.

Arkansas gained 622 yards this season on the ground. Using just a smidgeon of option, the Razorbacks rushed for 93 against Tennessee.

That's not very encouraging.

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