Huskers Remain Undefeated in Kickoff Classic
Story by Shane G. Gilster
Some thought West Virginia and Nebraska should have played in the Orange Bowl for the national championship. Both were undefeated at 11-0, but a one-loss Florida State trumped the Mountaineers and went on to beat the Cornhuskers for the 1993 national championship.
A West Virginia/Nebraska matchup had to wait until the 1994 Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Mountaineers were ranked Nos. 23/24, while the Cornhuskers were again highly ranked, at Nos. 3/4.
Before 58,233 fans and in temperatures close to 100 degrees by kickoff, Nebraska turned the game into a rout, leading 24-0 at halftime. Husker quarterback Tommie Frazier ran and passed for more than 100 yards and totaled four touchdowns in the 31-0 win.
The Nebraska defense, which had lost five of its 1993 starters to the NFL, pitched its first shutout in 20 games. It was preserved in the closing minutes by a Sedric Collins interception in the end zone.
“You’re always concerned when you lose people like we did on our side of the ball,” NU defensive coordinator Charlie McBride said. “We had a few breakdowns, but we didn’t have any defensive lapses where we just let people take the ball and ram it down our throats. That’s the thing that pleased me most.”
The Husker defense gave its offense numerous opportunities to put points on the board. The Cornhuskers had the ball for 18 of the game’s first 30 minutes and ran 48 plays.
Frazier, the game’s ABC Chevrolet MVP and the William J. Flynn MVP, had scoring runs of 25, 27 and 42 yards along with a 12-yard touchdown pass.
“They had a great defense,” Frazier said. “I guess they got fatigued or tired. Once their defense got tired, there was no way they were going to keep up with our offense. We mixed it up, we ran, we stayed with our game plan. Offensively, I can’t say how much better we are (than last year). We’ll have to wait four or five games down the road.”
NU coach Tom Osborne knew his quarterback could be the difference in the game.
“The big difference today was the quarterbacks. I’m proud of Tommie’s performance. He made some great plays and some not-so-great plays, but for the most part he played well,” Osborne said.
Meanwhile, West Virginia’s quarterback play was abysmal. The Mountaineers had to replace their top two quarterbacks from the previous year. The new QBs, Chad Johnston and Eric Boykin, couldn’t handle Nebraska’s attacking defense, which got eight sacks.
“They didn’t have much of a chance,” West Virginia coach Don Nehlen said of his quarterbacks, who were a combined 6-of-19 passing for 81 yards and two interceptions.
Osborne concurred with Nehlen’s assessment. “We felt we showed them lots of pictures. Sometimes we blitzed, sometimes we showed blitz and other times we stayed back. I’m not saying their quarterbacks were bad, they just didn’t have much of a chance.”
The only bright spot for West Virginia was its punter, Todd Sauerbrun. He helped keep the game from becoming even more of a blowout by averaging 60 yards on nine kicks, including a 90-yarder in the first quarter.
“We got a lot of work to do on defense. We got a lot of work to do on offense. We got a lot of work to do everywhere,” Nehlen said.
The Mountaineers’ strength was its running game, with Robert Walker returning from a 1,000-yard season. But Nebraska’s Blackshirt defense held Walker to 46 yards and gave up only eight net yards rushing overall in the game.
Meanwhile, Nebraska’s Lawrence Phillips made his first career start at I-back and had 126 yards on 24 carries. He reached the 100-yard mark on the first play of the second half. Phillip’s success was due to the way Frazier ran the offense.
“I guess Tommie could see they weren’t playing the option too well and every time we’d get to the end to turn upfield, there’d be nobody there. The corners were so wide open, the corners and the safeties were making all the tackles, and Tommie knew that,” Phillips said.
Husker linebacker Doug Colman, a native of Ventnor, New Jersey, had a great game playing in front of 106 friends and family. He made eight tackles and forced and recovered a fumble by Boykin that set up a score in the second quarter.
“We pretty much showed the nation Nebraska’s got a pretty good defense,” Colman said. “We have enough guys up front to blitz and enough guys in the secondary to cover the pass well. Everyone thinks of Nebraska as only having an option-type offense with big numbers. We not only can throw; we also have a defense.”
Defensive linemen Christian Peter and Grant Wistrom combined for four of Nebraska’s eight sacks. Those two along with Terry Connealy and rush ends Dwayne Harris and Donta Jones, gave the Huskers a formidable front line.
“To have a great football team, you need a great defense. The interior line of our defense should be better than it was last year,” Osborne said. “But it’s only one game, and you don’t want to be overly optimistic.”
The Husker defense set four Kickoff Classic records. Fewest total offensive yards by a team (89), fewest first downs by a team (nine), fewest rushing first downs by a team (three) and most punts by a team (nine).
The way the Blackshirt defense played to start the season boded well for a squad that started slow the previous year.
“I don’t think we started last season real well, but as the season went on, we started smoking,” said NU defensive coordinator McBride. “In the Orange Bowl, we played about as good as we can play. It’s just continuing now.”
“No one is talking big, but we think we have a good team, and we want to get back and play for the title,” said Zach Wiegert, NU’s 6-foot-5, 300-pound offensive tackle. “We just want to be ranked high enough where, if we win all our games, we’ll have the opportunity to play for the title.”
Some of the Mountaineer players had nothing but praise for a Nebraska team that showed the nation that it is national championship caliber.
“They could be the No. 1 team in the country,” Johnston said of Nebraska. “We sure made them look like it today.”
“We lost to a team that’s capable of winning the national championship,” said West Virginia offensive lineman Tom Robsock. “They were a great team. I have to compliment coach Osborne for how well-prepared they were. I think man-for-man we could hang with them, but as far as taking care of the schemes, they were a little bit ahead of us at this point in the season.”
Nebraska, which took home a $500,000 payoff for playing, ran its Kickoff Classic record to 3-0, and is the only team with three appearances and three victories in the game. The Huskers beat Penn State in 1983 and Texas A&M in 1988. NU piled up a 98-20 scoring advantage in those three games.
The Huskers’ quarterback also won the MVP in each of those three games. In addition to Frazier, Steve Taylor won it in the 1988 game and Turner Gill earned it in 1983.