Each week, The Daily Nebraskan will look to fill the void of a delayed football season by examining a previous season in program history, looking at key moments, players or storylines. Previous editions recapped the 1890, 1940, 1962, 1970 and 1971 seasons. On the docket this week is the 1971 edition of NU football.
Tom Osborne couldn’t win the big one. At the start of the 1994 season, that was the sentiment in many football corners.
Sure, the Huskers had won many games since Osborne took the reins from Bob Devaney in 1973, but during his first 21 years at the helm of Nebraska football, Osborne never won fewer than nine games in a season.
When the postseason rolled around, however, the Huskers simply couldn’t close the deal. NU appeared in a bowl game each year from 1973-93, but it won just eight of them. Five of those bowl wins came between 1973 and 1981.
In particular, the Orange Bowl served as a thorn in Osborne’s side. During Osborne’s first 21 years as the Huskers’ head man, they played in the Orange Bowl eight times.
In those eight appearances, the Huskers went 1-7, with a 21-20 win over LSU to close the 1982 season as the only win.
One year later, the Huskers returned to the Orange Bowl again, where they lost 31-30 against Miami. Osborne elected to go for two points and the outright win after a late touchdown when the extra point and a tie likely would have been enough to give the Huskers the national championship.
Entering the 1994 season, the Huskers had yet to get over the postseason hump. NU had reached the Orange Bowl in each of the previous three seasons and lost all three times. In 1993, Osborne again came agonizingly close to a title, only for Florida State to escape with an 18-16 win after Nebraska missed a field goal in the final seconds.
NU ranked No. 4 in the preseason AP poll when it faced No. 24 West Virginia to begin the 1994 season. The Huskers scored 21 points in the second quarter and cruised to a 31-0 shutout.
Junior quarterback Tommie Frazier ran for 130 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries and added another score through the air to lead the offense. Sophomore running back Lawrence Phillips added 126 yards on 24 carries.
The following week, Nebraska steamrolled the Texas Tech defense for 524 rushing yards in a 42-16 romp. Phillips led the charge, running for 175 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. Frazier chipped in 84 yards and two touchdowns on the ground and added a touchdown through the air.
On Sept. 17, the Huskers welcomed No. 13 UCLA to Lincoln. The NU rushing attack exploded for 484 yards in a 49-21 rout. Phillips paced the offense with 178 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, one of five Huskers to find the end zone on the ground.
The following week, Nebraska rolled to a 70-21 win against Pacific, but Frazier left the game after just nine plays. Junior quarterback Brook Berringer filled in for the injured Frazier and threw for 120 yards and three touchdowns while completing eight of 15 passes. Phillips crossed the century mark for the fourth straight game, picking up 138 yards and a score on nine carries.
Nebraska trailed Wyoming 21-7 late in the second quarter the following week before outscoring the Cowboys 28-11 in the second half. Berringer played the second half with a partially collapsed lung, throwing for 131 yards and an interception. However, he ran 12 times for 74 yards and three scores in the 42-32 win. Phillips added 168 yards and three touchdowns of his own.
In the Big 8 Conference opener the following week against Oklahoma State, Berringer’s injury sidelined him for the second half, forcing third-string sophomore quarterback Matt Turman into action.
Despite the uncertainty under center, the Husker offense could thankfully still rely on Phillips -- and he turned in an electric performance. He ran 33 times for 221 yards and three touchdowns to spark the offense. Meanwhile, the Blackshirts stymied the Oklahoma State offense, holding the Cowboys to just 136 yards and forcing two turnovers in a 32-3 victory.
A week later, Turman became the third Husker to start a game at quarterback in Nebraska’s first seven games. He faced a daunting task — leading NU against No. 16 Kansas State on the road.
Phillips again carried the offense, rushing for 126 yards and a touchdown. The defense held Kansas State in check, holding the Wildcats to -7 rushing yards on 23 carries.
Leading 7-6 after three quarters, the Huskers got some desperately needed insurance early in the fourth quarter. With just over 11 minutes remaining, junior fullback Jeff Makovicka punched it in from 15 yards out to extend the lead in a 17-6 Nebraska win.
Berringer started the following week at Missouri, completing nine of 13 passes for 152 yards and touchdowns to three different receivers in a 42-7 shellacking. The Huskers held a 330-48 edge in rushing yards, highlighted by Phillips’ 110 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.
On Oct. 29, the No. 3 Huskers welcomed the No. 2 Colorado Buffaloes to Lincoln. The undefeated Buffaloes had already beaten five ranked opponents behind a potent offensive attack spearheaded by quarterback Kordell Stewart and running back Rashaan Salaam, who would win the Heisman Trophy at the end of the season.
The Blackshirts sacked Stewart four times and held the Colorado offense scoreless until the final minutes of the game. Meanwhile, Berringer threw for 142 yards with a touchdown and an interception and Phillips eclipsed 100 yards for the ninth straight game. Senior fullback Cory Schlesinger ran eight times for 65 yards and a touchdown as the Huskers won 24-7.
Nebraska obliterated Kansas the first weekend in November, taking a 38-10 lead into halftime and cruising from there in a 45-17 thrashing. Berringer completed 13 of 18 passes for 267 yards with two touchdowns, while Phillips ran for 153 yards and two scores on 21 carries. Schlesinger and Makovicka each added a rushing touchdown.
The Huskers outgained Iowa State 478-213 the following week, but turnovers kept the Cyclones in the game. Leading just 14-12 after three quarters, the Huskers needed two fourth-quarter touchdowns to find some breathing room in a 28-12 win.
Berringer threw for 193 yards with a touchdown and an interception, while Phillips carried the ball 36 times for 183 yards and two touchdowns.
The Huskers closed the regular season against Oklahoma in Norman. In a defensive showdown, Phillips failed to reach 100 yards for the first time all season. Berringer threw for 166 yards with no scores and an interception, but his fourth-quarter touchdown run gave the Huskers a two-score lead in a 13-3 win.
After an undefeated regular season, Nebraska reached the Orange Bowl for a fourth consecutive season, where it faced the No. 3 Miami Hurricanes. Miami, which played its home games in the Orange Bowl, had won 62 of its previous 63 home games. The Hurricane defense was led by star defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who won both the Nagurski Trophy and Lombardi Award in 1994.
Frazier, who had missed most of the regular season, got the starting nod at quarterback. However, Osborne said both quarterbacks would play.
Miami raced out to a 10-0 lead after the first quarter, and it looked like Osborne and Nebraska would once again come up short in the postseason. In the second quarter, however, Berringer found junior tight end Mark Gilman for a 19-yard touchdown that cut the deficit to 10-7.
Early in the third quarter, Miami quarterback Frank Costa threw a 44-yard touchdown to extend Miami’s lead to 17-7. A few minutes later, however, senior outside linebacker Dwayne Harris sacked Costa in the end zone for a safety and reduced Miami’s lead to eight points.
The Hurricanes took a 17-9 lead into the fourth quarter, but the Husker offense finally began to wear down Sapp and the Miami defense. Frazier, who had not played since the opening quarter, conducted a drive that ended on Schlesinger’s 15-yard touchdown run with just over seven-and-a-half minutes remaining. Frazier connected with senior tight end Eric Alford on the ensuing two-point conversion attempt, and just like that, Miami and Nebraska were deadlocked at 17.
The Blackshirts, which held Miami to -35 total yards in the fourth quarter, forced a quick three-and-out. With just under 6:30 left in the game, the NU offense took over at its own 42, 58 yards away from Osborne’s first national championship.
On a third-and-four from their own 48-yard line, Frazier ran for 25 yards to the Hurricanes’ 27-yard line. Three plays later, Schlesinger rumbled for a 14-yard touchdown to put the Huskers on top 24-17.
Miami took over at its own 18 with just under three minutes left, but after a short gain and two sacks, senior defensive back Kareem Moss intercepted Costa’s fourth-down pass. The Husker offense ran out the clock from there, and Osborne had finally exorcised his postseason demons.
The 24-17 win gave Nebraska its first national championship during Osborne’s tenure and was the program’s first bowl win since the 1987 Sugar Bowl. Phillips ran for 96 yards on 19 carries, while Schlesinger ran six times for 48 yards and the two critical fourth-quarter touchdowns. Berringer completed eight of 15 passes for 81 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Berringer filled in well for Frazier, as he threw for 1,295 yards with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions in 1994. He added 279 yards and six scores on the ground. Phillips averaged six yards per carry for the season, rushing for 1,722 yards and 16 touchdowns. Frazier ran for 248 yards and six touchdowns despite missing most of the season.
All three returned to Lincoln for the 1995 season, where sky-high expectations surrounded the program.