Football Magazine

NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: A Splash of Citrus Circa 1991

By Huskerlocker @huskerlocker

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By James Stevenson
This postseason, the Huskers travel to Orlando, Florida to face the South Carolina Gamecocks. It marks the appearance No. 20 in a Sunshine State bowl game for Nebraska, with the Huskers' record standing at nine wins and ten losses in such contests.
While the vast majority of the Floridian appearances were in Nebraska’s former perennial destination, the Orange Bowl, the Huskers began Bo Pelini’s official tenure as the Big Red’s head man with a trip to the Gator Bowl. A win over fellow new head coach Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers was the result.
While this is Nebraska’s first trip to the “Capital One Bowl,” the Huskers have played in this game before when it was simply known by the stadium name, the Florida Citrus Bowl (Capital One began its naming sponsorship in 2001). The No. 19 Cornhuskers took on No. 2 Georgia Tech on January 1, 1991.
The Huskers were 9-2, having lost to No. 1 Colorado, while the Yellow Jackets were 10-0-1. As the nation’s only unbeaten team, Georgia Tech was playing with a goal of coaxing pollsters into crowning them national champions. This was a remarkable climb for a team that had started the season unranked.
The 1991 Huskers entered the Citrus Bowl after having lost two of their previous three games, including losses to Colorado, the season’s Big Eight Champion, and rival Oklahoma. Despite this, Tom Osborne's Cornhuskers were named the favorite against the Yellow Jackets.
Osborne led the Huskers against an all-star coaching staff for Georgia Tech including head coach Bobby Ross, offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen (most recently Maryland's head coach of ten years) and defensive coordinator George O’Leary (head coach at Central Florida).
Nebraska’s role of the superior team didn’t last long. Yellow Jacket quarterback Shawn Jones slipped out of the backfield on a play-action pass, scrambled for 46 yards and set up an easy score on the game’s opening drive.
Even more impressive was Georgia Tech’s defense. George O’Leary brought pressure early and often, not allowing Nebraska quarterback Mike Grant any room to operate. The Huskers didn’t record a first down until late in the first quarter. Nebraska ended the quarter fortunate to be trailing only 7-0 after giving up two 40-plus yard plays.
The Big Red’s luck didn’t last into the second quarter. On Nebraska’s first play of the period, I-Back Scott Baldwin fumbled on the Huskers’ 22-yard line. Two plays later, Georgia Tech extended the lead to 14-0. David suddenly felt like he could beat Goliath, and on the Yellow Jackets’ next drive, they scored again taking a seemingly overwhelming 21-0 lead.
Unwilling to go down without a fight, Osborne put in backup quarterback Tom Haase, who completed a 30-yard touchdown pass to tight end Johnny Mitchell. A short time later, new I-back Derek Brown rushed for a 50-yard touchdown and closed the gap to 21-14. The Nebraska Blackshirts flexed their muscle and forced a punt, but the ball was muffed by multiple Husker players, allowing Tech to recover and close the opening half with a 37-yard field goal.
The Huskers went to the locker room down 24-14, but stormed back onto the field with a purpose. Fate was against the Huskers though, as an eventual field goal try was blocked. Georgia Tech mounted a drive that swung momentum in their favor, converting key third downs and finally scoring to put the Huskers in a 17-point hole.
Nebraska’s Haase didn’t concede the game, firing a 21-yard touchdown strike to his other tight end, William Washington, bringing the Huskers back within 10. Unfortunately, the Yellow Jackets dominated the fourth quarter, piling on two more touchdowns to defeat Nebraska 45-21.
The Cornhuskers were held to 127 yards rushing, over 200 yards below their season average. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech had a record-setting day on offense, scoring the most points of any Nebraska bowl opponent.
Yellow Jacket quarterback Shawn Jones finished 16 of 23 for 277 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for 41 yards and a touchdown. Running back William Bell finished with 126 yards (one yard shy of the Huskers’ entire output for the day) and three touchdowns.
Georgia Tech went on to split the national championship with Colorado, taking the Coaches Poll. They were the only undefeated team in college football’s 1991 season, finishing with an 11-0-1 record.
Follow James on Twitter: @jamesstevenson
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