Posted: Monday January 03, 2000 01:27 AM
TEMPE, Arizona (Ticker) -- Nebraska played the Fiesta Bowl like it was still the early part of the 20th century.
The third-ranked Cornhuskers dominated the game on the ground, driving 96 and 99 yards for second-half touchdowns, and defeated No. 5 Tennessee, 31-21, in a battle of the past two national champions.
Nebraska (12-1) ran the ball on its final 23 offensive plays, including Correll Buckhalter's two-yard scoring burst up the middle that made it 31-14 with just over 12 minutes left. The Cornhuskers had 321 rushing yards and 469 total yards to 311 for the Volunteers.
"I think if you talk to anybody on our football team, they will tell you that is what Nebraska is known for," Cornhuskers coach Frank Solich said. "But we wanted to be able to run the football and get something done when we do it. And certainly to control the ball like that was great."
"I can't say enough, they executed well," Tennessee defensive end Will Overstreet said. "They beat us. We didn't do our job well. It (ticks) you off, you don't want anybody to do that to you. They got a lot of yardage and we couldn't do anything to stop them."
Dan Alexander carried 21 times for 108 yards and a seven-yard touchdown and back-up quarterback Bobby Newcombe returned a punt 60 yards for a score as Nebraska won for the fifth time in six bowl games.
"First of all we took the running game away from them and made them one dimensional," Nebraska rover Mike Brown said. "They began passing the ball a lot. They had a good scheme, they were able to complete some passes and make some big plays, but we could have stopped some of it."
The Cornhuskers recorded a 12th victory for the third time in five seasons. They went 12-0 in 1995 and 13-0 in 1997, winning the national championship after both seasons.
Tennessee received two TD receptions from freshman Donte' Stallworth, but its banged-up defense was unable to stop the Cornhuskers.
"We made enough mistakes tonight on both sides of the ball to lose two football games," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said.
"Even at that, if a team can take you 99 and 96 yards, obviously there is something special."
Nebraska ran the final 7:25 off the clock with 12 rushes after wide receiver Cedrick Wilson hit Stallworth for a 44-yard touchdown to bring the Volunteers (9-3) within 10 points.
"Cedrick played quarterback in high school," Stalllworth said.
"All the coaches knew that. They knew he could throw the ball well. Cedrick made a great throw. I just ran under it and made a catch."
Nebraska dominated the first half but found itself leading only 17-14 after Travis Henry's four-yard touchdown run 1:57 into the third quarter for Tennessee. Alexander's fumble on the first play from scrimmage after the intermission set up the score.
"The plan was to try and get them off-balance a bit early and hopefully be able to come up with some formations that we would be able to do a few things out of. We did enough running," Solich added.
The Volunteers still had the momentum midway through the quarter after David Leaverton's punt pinned the Cornhuskers on their own 3-yard line. But Alexander carried four straight times for 23 yards and Eric Crouch capped the 13-play march by hitting tight end Aaron Golliday in the right corner of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown.
It was Nebraska's first touchdown pass since October 30 against Kansas. Crouch completed 9-of-15 passes for 148 yards and was not intercepted.
"I think that's the way we play football," Crouch said. "We're not going to talk about how physical we are. We had to be the most physical team and I think it showed. They were a little bit injured. They were laying on the ground for maybe five or 10 minutes because they weren't in good shape. I think we went out there and proved we were the most physical team."
Tennessee was forced to punt after eight plays on its next possession and this time Leaverton's kick was downed on the 1.
But Nebraska kept the ball on the ground for the next 10 plays, including a 27-yard scamper by Buckhalter to the Volunteers 19.
"Once we started on the four and the other one on the one," Solich said. "When you are caught in that kind of situation, you are running an offense that really limits you. But we were able to bust a couple of those plays."
The Volunteers had allowed only three rushing touchdowns all season entering the game but Buckhalter ran over them shortly thereafter to all but seal the outcome.
"Somebody might have taken it 99 yards (on us), but maybe not quite like that," Fulmer added. "It was a very impressive drive, both of them."
He totaled 59 yards on eight carries, Willie Miller ran eight times for 87 yards and Crouch added 64 yards on 17 attempts for Nebraska, which held Tennessee to 44 yards on the ground.
The Cornhuskers jumped to a 17-0 lead on Alexander's seven-yard TD run 3:26 into the contest, Newcombe's punt return a little over eight minutes later and Josh Brown's 31-yard field goal with 1:37 left in the first half.
The punt return for a score was the first in the Fiesta Bowl since 1988 and the first ever allowed by Tennessee in a bowl game.
"The one thing I remember is our guys doing an excellent job of blocking," Newcombe said. "I saw a little crease and I tried to excellerate through it. The next thing I know Ralph Brown is making an excellent block. I had to try to run around him. I ran into the end zone, I get knocked down and everybody is on top of me."
Following Brown's field goal, Tee Martin engineered an eight-play drive that ended with his four-yard touchdown pass to Stallworth, who caught eight passes for 108 yards. The score came with just 18 seconds to play before halftime and gave Tennessee life.
Martin went 19-of-34 for 223 yards and was picked off twice. He finished 22-3 as a starter, including leading the Volunteers to a 23-16 victory over Florida State and the national title in this contest last year.
"I knew it was big in their game plan to keep me in the pocket and not allow me to get outside the pocket," Martin said. "It was good on their part for a game plan. I was about to scramble and get out of the pocket, but I got tripped a couple of times and grabbed a couple of more times."
"It's a bad feeling to lose the last football game," Martin added. "I felt like we played our best two games at the end of our season and we came into this game with a good attitude."
The game was a rematch of the 1998 Orange Bowl, won by Nebraska, 42-17.
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