TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- Too much speed, too much strength. Just too much Nebraska.
With lightning-quick Eric Crouch at the controls of a relentless option attack, the third-ranked Cornhuskers beat Tennessee 31-21 in the Fiesta Bowl on Sunday night.
After the Volunteers (No. 5 ESPN/USA Today, No. 6 AP) rallied from a 17-0 deficit to cut it to 17-14 early in the second half behind the passing of Tee Martin, the Huskers (12-1) finished Tennessee off with second-half touchdown drives of 96 and 99 yards.
"It was an excellent performance," Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. "There were moments when things got a little rough."
Cedric Wilson's 44-yard pass touchdown pass to Donte' Stallworth, his second TD catch of the game, came on a Tennessee trick play that reduced the lead to 31-21 with 7:25 to play.
But the Vols never got the ball again. Nebraska, which finished the game with 23 consecutive rushing plays for 156 yards, drove downfield and Tennessee (9-3) could do nothing to stop the clock from running out.
It was all-too-familiar for the Volunteers, who wore down in the second half two years ago in a 42-17 loss to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. The Huskers have won their last 11 bowl matchups against SEC teams.
"They talked about playing physical against us," said Nebraska's Bobby Newcombe, who had a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown, "but we were the physical team. We pretty much dominated the whole game."
Crouch's quickness was the problem the Volunteers' expected, but he did almost as much damage with his arm.
"We knew we had to mix it up a little bit. There were some play-action passes that we connected on that were very big plays for us tonight," Crouch said.
Crouch, the game's MVP, was 9 of 15 for 148 yards and a touchdown. Martin, who finished his career with a 22-3 record as a starter, was 19 of 34 for 223 yards and a touchdown. He was intercepted twice.
"They really didn't stop our offense," Martin said.
But the Vols couldn't stop Nebraska, either.
"We made enough mistakes on both sides of the ball to lose the football game," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said.
The Huskers rushed for 321 yards and had 469 yards overall. Dan Alexander gained 108 yards on 21 carries, Willie Miller added 87 yards on eight carries, and Crouch had 64 yards on 17 carries.
Tennessee managed just 44 yards rushing.
"We did a good job of stopping the run," Nebraska defensive back Ralph Brown said. "We made them one dimensional. When you are one dimensional, you can't win."
After Tennessee cut the lead to 17-14, Crouch threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to wide-open tight end Aaron Golliday to boost the lead to 24-14 with 4:44 left in the third quarter.
The pass, Nebraska's first for a touchdown in 19 quarters, capped a nine-play 96-yard drive that included a 17-yard pass from Crouch to another tight end, John Bowling, on third-and-13 from the Nebraska 23.
Golliday and Bowling saw extra duty because Tracey Wistrom, the Huskers' all-Big-12 tight end, was out with a knee injury.
Tennessee pinned the Huskers at their 1 on their next possession, but Nebraska went 99 yards in 10 plays, overpowering the tiring Vols defense. Correll Buckhalter ran 27 yards to the Vols 19, then scored on a 2-yard run to make it 31-14 with 12:01 left in the game.
The Cornhuskers, in their NCAA record 31st consecutive bowl game, needed just four plays to score on their first possession. Crouch went 30 yards on an option play on third-and-4 to set up Dan Alexander's 7-yard touchdown run on the next play.
Nebraska made it 14-0 after the Huskers' defense stopped the Volunteers deep in their own territory.
Newcombe, who started the year at quarterback but switched to wingback after two games, took the punt and shot through a hole on the right side of the field, then won a footrace to the end zone with 3:21 left in the first quarter.
Crouch's 46-yard pass to Matt Davison set up Josh Brown's 31-yard field goal that put the Huskers up 17-0 with 1:37 left in the first half. The kick hit the right upright and bounced through.
The Volunteers finally got their offense in gear just before halftime.
Martin completed 6 of 7 passes for 66 yards, with the only incompletion an intentional spike, as Tennessee scored on an 8-play, 65-yard drive that used up just 1 minute, 19 seconds.
Martin threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Stallworth to make it 17-7 with 18 seconds left in the half.
Alexander fumbled on the first play of the second half and Tennessee's Dominique Stevenson recovered at the Nebraska 25. Four plays later, Travis Henry scored on a 4-yard run to cut the lead to 17-14.
It was the only turnover of the game for the Cornhuskers, who led NCAA Division I with 25 fumbles lost.
Nebraska's All-America defensive back Mike Brown, playing on the same field where he won the Arizona state high school championship, intercepted a pass and was selected the game's top defensive player.
Brown said defensive coordinator Charlie McBride called his players into a huddle after the game to tell them that he was retiring. McBride has coached at Nebraska for 23 years, 18 as defensive coordinator.
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl Notes
The No. 3/3 (AP/Coaches) Nebraska Cornhuskers improves to 12-1 on the season with a 31-21 win over Tennessee in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. The win marks Nebraska?s seventh 12-win season in school history (also 1971, 1982, 1983, 1994, 1995 and 1997) and gives Nebraska 108 wins in the 1990s. If Virginia Tech defeats Florida State in the Sugar Bowl, Nebraska and Florida State will each end the decade with 108 wins. The victory was NU?s fifth in the past six bowls and evens the Huskers? all-time record to 19-19. NU has now won two straight Fiesta Bowls, improving to 2-4 in six appearances. The win also marks NU?s 11th straight bowl victory over a Southeastern Conference opponent, dating mark to 1967. NU is now 12-2 against the SEC in bowl games.
The Huskers jumped out to a 17-0 first-half lead as I-back Dan Alexander scored on a 7-yard run and Bobby Newcombe returned a Tennessee punt 60 yards for a touchdown. NU increased the lead to 17-0 on a Josh Brown 31-yard field goal before the Vols cut the NU lead to 17-7 at halftime on a 9-yard TD pass from Tee Martin to Donte? Stallworth. Tennessee closed to within 17-14 on a Travis Henry 4-yard TD, before the Huskers used two long touchdown drives, marching 96 (Crouch to Aaron Golliday 13 yd TD) and a season-high 99 yards (Correll Buckhalter 2-yard TD run) to build a 31-14 lead. UT scored an a 44-yard touchdown pass (wide receiver Cedrick Wilson to Stallworth) to close within 31-21, but the Huskers ran out the clock in picking up its second victory over Tennessee in three seasons.
* Quarterback Eric Crouch - The Big 12 Co-Offensive Player of the Year, Eric Crouch earned Offensive MVP honors, finishing with 64 yards rushing on 17 carries and completing 9-of-15 passes for 148 yards and a touchdown. In the second half, Crouch, who recorded his sixth 100-yard passing game this season, was 4-of-6 for 49 yards, including a 13-yard pass to Aaron Golliday to give the Huskers a 24-14 lead late in the third quarter. Crouch set up the Huskers? first score with a 30-yard run to the UT 7-yard line, setting up Alexander?s TD one play later. Crouch was 5-of-9 for 99 yards in the first half and rushed for 38 yards on nine carries. After Tennessee cut the Husker lead to 17-14, Crouch guided the Huskers on a nine-play, 96 yard drive, capped by the touchdown to Golliday with 4:44 left in the third quarter. The touchdown pass ended a streak of 19 consecutive quarters without a touchdown pass, dating back to Oct. 30.
* Willie Miller -- Fullback Willie Miller turned in a career day against Tennessee, rushing for a career-high 87 yards on eight carries. Miller?s career-best 47 yard run set up Crouch?s TD pass to Golliday to give Nebraska a 24-14 lead late in the third quarter. Miller?s jaunt was a career long, topping his previous long run of 19 yards against Oklahoma State earlier this season. In fact, Miller?s previous career high for yardage was 48 yards (on a career-best nine carries) against Washington in 1998.
* Dan Alexander -- I-back Dan Alexander turned his fifth 100-yard day of the season, rushing for a 108 yards on 21 carries. Alexander tied his season high with 21 carries (also vs. Texas) in his first game since suffering a hand injury in the Big 12 Championship game. Brown became only the second back this season to rush for over 100 yards against a Tennessee defense which ranked seventh nationally and allowed less than 90 yards per game. Alexander scored his first career bowl touchdown with a 7-yard TD run just 3:26 into the game, giving the Huskers a 7-0 lead.
* Wingback/Kick Returner Bobby Newcombe -- Wingback Bobby Newcombe gave Nebraska a 14-0 lead with a 60-yard touchdown return for a touchdown with 3:21 remaining in the first quarter. It was the third time a Husker has returned a punt for a touchdown in a bowl game and the first since Dana Brinson?s 52-yard touchdown against Florida State in the 1988 Fiesta Bowl (also Johnny Rodgers vs. Alabama in the 1972 Orange Bowl). Newcombe, who finished second nationally with a 18.32 average this season, had key blocks by Randy Stella and Ralph Brown en route to his second punt return for a touchdown this season (also vs. Kansas).
Its a rush -- On the day, the Huskers rushed for 321 yards and out-gained the Volunteers 321-44 on the ground. NU is now 175-5 when rushing for 300 or more yards (since 1973) and has won 97 straight when rushing for 300-plus yards since a loss to Michigan in the 1986 Fiesta Bowl. Nebraska?s last 23 plays from scrimmage were all rushes as the Huskers did not attempt a pass in the fourth quarter.
* Mike Brown - In his return to his home state, All-America rover Mike Brown finished with seven tackles, a pass break-up and recorded an interception en route to earning Defensive MVP honors. In the second quarter, Brown picked off Tee Martin at the Nebraska 2-yard line. Brown, who played high school football at Scottdale Saguaro, also finished his high school career with a state title in Sun Devil Stadium as a senior.
* Ralph Brown -- Starting his school record 52nd consecutive game, All-America cornerback Ralph Brown broke Nebaska?s school record for most consecutive starts, passing place-kicker Kris Brown, who started 51 straight games from 1995 to 1998. Brown finished the game with eight tackles (seven solo), including a tackle for loss (1-3), and a pass breakup.
* Matt Davison -- Split end Matt Davison tied for the team lead with two catches for a team-high 68 yards. Davison set up Josh Brown?s 31-yard field goal with a 46-yard reception to the UT 20 yard line late in the first half. Davison, who has three receptions of 40 or more yards this season, also had a 22-yard reception in the half.
* Interceptions - Nebraska?s two interceptions marked the fifth time this season the Husker defense had two or more interceptions in a game. In the second quarter, Rover Joe Walker recorded his first interception of the season, intercepting a Martin pass (tipped by Keyuo Craver) in Nebraska territory. On UT?s next offensive play, All-American rover Mike Brown intercepted Martin at the NU 2-yard line. The Huskers did not convert on either turnover. NU had one turnover, which Tennessee converted into a touchdown.
* Tight ends producing -- Even without All-Big 12 tight end Tracy Wistrom (knee injury, did not dress), the Husker tight ends were a vital part of the Husker offense, especially redshirt freshmen Jon Bowling and Aaron Golliday. Bowling tied a career high with two catches for a career high 45 yards. Bowling caught a career-high 28-yard reception in the first quarter (previous high was 22 vs. Texas in the Big 12 Championship) and added a key 17-yard reception on third-and-13 play on the Huskers? 96-yard TD drive in the third quarter which was finished off by Aaron Golliday 13-yard TD reception. The TD reception was Golliday?s first of his career.
* Steve Warren - Senior nose tackle Steve Warren posted his seventh game this season with two or more tackles for loss, as the senior finished with three tackles, including two for loss. He single-handedly stopped Tennessee?s first quarter scoring drive with two tackles for loss after the Vols drove to the NU 17. On first down, Warren stopped UT quarterback Tee Martin for a 2-yard loss and recorded a 3-yard loss on third down before UT kicker Alex Walls subsequently missed a 45-yard field goal (wide left)
*Josh Brown - Redshirt freshman place-kicker Josh Brown connected on a 31-yard field goal with 1:37 remaining in the half to give Nebraska a 17-0 lead. Brown has made nine of his last field goals, dating back to the Texas A&M game.
* Wingback Troy Hassebroek earned his first career start as Nebraska opened in a two tight end set.