Nebraska Defeats Tennessee In Fiesta Bowl
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