Option power outage
Arizona corrals Nebraska's running game, wins Holiday Bowl 23-20
Posted: Saturday January 09, 1999 07:11 PM
SAN DIEGO (CNN/SI) -- On December 5, UCLA's shocking loss to Miami cost Arizona a shot at its first-ever Rose Bowl. The Wildcats seemed to be downtrodden and depressed that it couldn't play on New Year's Day.
However, unlike Kansas State, who also seemed disappointed in its bowl lot, these Wildcats were more than happy to be headed to the Holiday Bowl. They were going to face the defending national co-champs Nebraska. The Huskers may have not been its dominating self but they were still a formidable opponent as well as the favorite coming into the game.
It didn't really matter. Instead, Arizona played a very strong game and held off Nebraska 23-20 to score its best record in school history.
The Wildcats' victory was a new experience for the Huskers (9-4), who saw their four-game winning streak in bowl games terminated.
It also was the first four-loss season for Nebraska since 1968 and the defeat denied Frank Solich in his bid to become the school's first coach to win 10 games in his first season.
"It was a great game, and I congratulate Arizona," Solich said during a ceremony afterward. "They've got a great football team."
In a season of struggle, it came down to this: Nebraska's famed option lacked the efficiency of recent years and the Huskers couldn't match the dominance they demonstrated through much of the 1990s.
Nebraska's 87 rushing yards against the Wildcats (12-1) was the Huskers' second-lowest production on the ground this season.
It looked good for the Huskers with 10:55 to play when Eric Crouch found Tracey Wistrom on a 4-yard TD pass that gave Nebraska a 20-16 lead.
Wistrom, who caught only two passes all season, also had a 33-yard catch and run on the drive.
But the Wildcats, who set a school record for victories, answered with a nine-play, 68-yard drive that was capped on Kelvin Eafon's 1-yard TD plunge with 6:08 left.
Arizona moved with relative ease against a Nebraska defense that had kept the Huskers in the game by allowing only 107 rushing yards.
An interception by Arizona's All-American cornerback Chris McAlister as Crouch tried to throw deep to Shevin Wiggins, appeared to seal the Huskers' fate with 3:10 to play.
Nebraska got a final chance, taking possession at the Arizona 27 with 34 seconds left. Crouch threw a deep incompletion, then completed an 8-yard pass to Billy Haafke.
Crouch spiked the ball to stop the clock. With four seconds left, he overthrew Matt Davison on a deep route.
The Cornhuskers, who won two outright national titles and shared another in the past five seasons, went into the Holiday Bowl against Arizona seeking to show they were still a top-level team.
But it was the Wildcats who danced at midfield afterward. Arizona became the fourth team this season, after Texas A&M, Texas and Kansas State, to beat the Huskers.
Nebraska struggled from the start, but the Huskers salvaged the first half by striking for 13 points in the final five minutes.
Kris Brown's 25-yard field goal, plus a 44-yard TD pass from Crouch to Shevin Wiggins and another Brown kick, this one from 23 yards at the halftime gun, gave Nebraska a 13-9 lead.Wiggins had fumbled away Nebraska's first possession, mishandling a punt that the Wildcats recovered and converted into a field goal by McDonald. And reserve quarterback Monte Christo fumbled an attempted pitch, leading to another McDonald field goal.
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