TEMPE, Ariz.— Maybe Nebraska should have stuck with the original vote. Or at least have gone for two out of three.
The Cornhuskers, who originally spurned a Fiesta Bowl invitation, then reneged, provided Fiesta organizers, Arizona State and the Western Athletic Conference with their finest hour Friday afternoon.
The 17-14 Sun Devil victory over the two-touchdown favorite visitors sent the bulk of the record ASU Stadium crowd of 51,396 home in a state of sweet euphoria.
The CBS-TV people were tickled because it was a game that was wholly entertaining and was not decided until the final moments. Good for the ratings, you know.
The Huskers had been treated like royalty all week, then were subjected to the bum’s rush through most of the long, warm afternoon that was one of the finest the Arizona sun could conjure up. But hospitality ended at kickoff.
This was the showpiece game the Fiesta folks had been hoping for. But the dreamers who come up with such scenarios go off to the post-game celebrations, an the TV crew can wrap it up moments afterward.
They didn’t have to go into the Husker quarters afterward with the Husker coaches and survey the damage. They didn’t see Tony Davis, the all-time Husker rushing leader, bawling in the corner with Athletic Director Bob Devaney consoling him.
“Any time you lose, it hurts pretty bad,” Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne said after his team finished the season at 10-2. “The kids kinda wanted to make up for that Oklahoma game (35-10 loss ending the regular season).”
Although there wasn’t the slightest evidence that his players were complacent about taking on the 12-0 Sun Devils, Osborne said, “The whole season was building up to the Oklahoma game. They tried hard to get ready for this game, and I think they were ready. But I know the Oklahoma game had to take a lot out of us.”
But he insisted that was no excuse. The Sun Devils “got what they deserved,” he said. And he was weary of hearing about how hard the Sun Devils were trying to make the big time.
“I’ve always thought they were big time. People down here have an inferiority complex about that. I don’t know why people have to be convinced. They’ve got the players.”
The players most responsible for ASU’s dramatic upset were:
— Crafty sophomore quarterback Dennis Sproul, who has heard more boos than cheers in his home park but who drive Nebraska’s secondary bananas with his darts to a couple of streaks out on the flanks named John Jefferson and Larry Mucker. Sproul completed 14 of 35 passes for 163 yards.
— Split end Jefferson, whose last name once was Washington, and the recipient of eight passes for 113 yards and the lone Sun Devil touchdown. He seldom let the Huskers deep backs get close enough to ask why he changed his name. Jefferson was named the outstanding offensive player, ending Husker Davis’s domination of that award after two bowl games.
— Sub quarterback Fred Mortensen, a sometimes starter, once-time pride of a Mormon mission in Taiwan and most recently a Sun Devil hero as a relief pitcher. The hometown Tempe lad spelled Sproul early in the fourth quarter, when the starter injured a wrist, and passed nine yards for a touchdown to Jefferson to slice into a 14-6 Husker lead. Then he passed for the two-point conversion to Mucker to tie it.
— Dan Kush, junior son of ASU Coach Frank Kush, whose father said Danny’s mother has threatened him if he did not play her son. Dan gave the Devils a 3-0 lead with a 27-yard field goal in the first quarter, made it 7-6 with a 33-yarder as time ran out in the half, then won the game from 29 yards with 4:50 remaining.
— Linebacker Larry Gordon, who made six unassisted tackles, assisted on another half-dozen, had one tackle for a loss and intercepted the only pass that Husker starting quarterback Vince Ferragamo threw. He also had the ingenuity to induce Nebraska center Rik Boinness into a sideline scuffle in the final moments, and the Huskers had to try to put together a winning drive in the last minutes without their all-American center. Both were tossed out.
Osborne left himself open to the second guess by benching Ferragamo in favor of senior Terry Luck, the Sugar Bowl relief hero a year ago, after only three offensive plays—the third being Mucker’s interception. Many will be the same second-guessers who wondered why Luck didn’t relieve Ferragamo against Oklahoma.
But Osborne said he felt Luck had been more impressive in practices, and Ferragamo appeared tense before the game started. The interception confirmed he was not ready, he said.
Osborne’s reasoning appeared sound for the most part. The Huskers played muscle ball with a dinky pass her and there and managed touchdown drives of 73 yards in eight plays for a 7-3 lead in the second quarter and 91 yards on 16 plays, consuming 7:11 to make it 14-6 in the third.
Monte Anthony, whose 34-yard burst up the middle led to the first Nebraska touchdown, finished with 94 yards on 22 carries, followed by Davis’s 60 on 17 attempts.
ASU’s Fast Freddy Williams, however, won rushing honors with 18 zips for 111 yards, mostly on quick traps up the middle and draw plays. Osborne and his staff had been expecting those plays. He had personally seen Williams do the same thing in the WAC championship victory over Arizona. He also knew that Sproul would be passing like crazy to Jefferson and Mucker, and the scrambling ASU defense would be pressuring with stunts and blitzes.
“We worked on the draws, and a couple of times they popped the trap on us. We’d worked very hard on that. And Jefferson and Mucker are the best pair of receivers we’ve played against. They’re awfully good.
"They played much like we thought they’d play, but they’ve got a good enough offense that they’ll score more. We had bad field position a lot, and turnovers were certainly a factor.”
The initial turnover on Gordon’s interception led to Kush’s opening field goal. The next came in the second quarter after putner Mortensen was stopped short of a first down at the Husker 41 when Ray Phillips and Bob Martin smacked him down on a fake punt sweep.
Nebraska was holding a 7-3 lead at the time, and things were looking up for the Huskers. Davis had just picked up a first down with a four-yard drive to the Sun Devil 35 and moved to the top line in the Husker record book under the category of career rushing leader. His 2,445 surpassed Jeff Kinney’s mark by 25 yards.
But two plays later, the new rushing king left the football behind, and Chris Lorenzen recovered for ASU.
Nebraska was still in control. Anthony’s power running had done most of the damage in the 73-yard drive that ended with his one-yard dive on fourth down, and he topped off the 91-yarder from four yards.
Kush said later, “I was concerned in the third quarter because Nebraska was outmuscling us. It looked like they might blow us out.”
But the Devils had the knack of scoring in a hurry, as evidenced by squeezing 10 plays out of the last 1:27 in the half before Kush sent the teams to the lockers at 7-6, Nebraska.
In the third quarter, safety Jimmy Burrow staved off the inevitable with an interception at the N.U. two-yard line.
A punt with a person foul, and ASU set up again at the Husker 36. Sproul directed his team to the 11, where he was hurt on a quarterback sneak. Then Mortensen came in to call the same play twice—splitting the touchdown and double PAT honors between his two aces.
Down the stretch, Nebraska punter Randy Lessman lowered his day’s average to 39.4 by shanking one 11 yard and rolling another 39.
And Dave Butterfield intercepted another pass a yard from the N.U. goal.
After Kush regained the lead at 17-14 with 4:50 left, the Huskers launched their final shot for Oklahoma redemption, Big Eight superiority, personal pride and all that.
The goal was 73 yards away after the kickoff. After 10 plays and three critical successes on third down, the Huskers had punched to within 31 yards of their own brand of winning drama.
But twice Luck launched passes just high enough that Bobby Thomas could only touch them. On third down, he rifled one over the middle to the money man—Davis. It, too, was a tad high.
But Davis went up to catch it and caught John Harris’ helmet smack in the middle of his shoulder blades. Rocky Mataalii, a reserve middle guard, covered the fumble, finishing off the Huskers and ending Nebraska’s winning way in bowl games after six straight.
So Nebraska remains tied with Georgia Tech for the national record of consecutive bowl victories, and Arizona State is closing in with five in a row.
Osborne said the Sun Devils had a “great football team. We thought so before the game, and I think they’re better than we thought.” The Sun Devils out-yarded the Huskers, 335-298.
Trying to scrounge a positive note in a dismal locker room scene, Osborne said, “I suspect you always learn more when you lose than when you win. We just have to go back and start getting ready for next season.”
|Yards per carry||4.4||3.5|
Nebraska is 6-2 all-time against Arizona State.
|Miami (FL)||Oct. 4|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 18|
|Kansas State||Nov. 8|
|Iowa State||Nov. 15|
|Arizona State||Dec. 26|
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