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Tom's Time
Photo Credit: John Peterson

Tom’s Time: Borrowed Shoes Provided Final Foothold for Huskers’ Win in Ames in ’94

December 09, 2021

Tom Osborne never looked past an opponent, a fact reflected in his record. During his 25 seasons as head coach, Nebraska lost only once to a team that finished with a losing record.

The team was Iowa State in 1992. Coach Jim Walden’s Cyclones went into the game in Ames with a 3-6 record. The No. 7-ranked Huskers had won five in a row and were 7-1. A third-string quarterback directed Iowa State to the 19-10 victory.

Two years later, when Nebraska went to Ames, it was 10-0 and ranked No. 1 in both major polls, after moving past Penn State in the USA Today/CNN coaches’ poll—it was already atop the Associated Press rankings—following its 45-17 victory against Kansas. The Nittany Lions were pushed by Indiana before winning 35-29 that day.

Osborne said he was “somewhat surprised” by the flip.

In any case, the Huskers’ focus was on Iowa State, which was 0-8-1, the tie with Oklahoma State. The game would be Walden’s last as Iowa State’s coach. He had resigned, effective at season’s end—there was one game left after Nebraska—but Big Eight Commissioner Prentice Gautt had suspended him for criticizing officials following the Cyclones’ loss to Kansas State the previous week.

Walden also criticized officials during the 1993 season. In the Big Eight, two strikes and you were out, suspended, the same rule applying to players. Plus, Iowa State was fined $5,000.

Osborne disagreed with the suspension, given Walden had already submitted his resignation.

Walden had been a Husker assistant under Bob Devaney (1969-72), and he maintained his connection with Nebraska—the state. Iowa State’s roster in 1994 included 18 Nebraskans. Prominent among them were linebacker Matt Ritchie and kicker Ty Stewart. Richie, from Lincoln Southeast, led the Cyclone defense with a game-high 18 tackles against the Huskers; Stewart, from Omaha Westside, kicked 35- and 37-yard field goals in the first half.

So much for context. Remember, 10-0 Nebraska was dealing with the 0-8-1 Cyclones in a contest one Reno betting line had made the Huskers a 34½-point favorite.

Iowa State was ranked third in the Universal Press Syndicate’s weekly “Bottom Ten.” Akron and Ohio shared the top spot, both with 0-9 records.

The five-touchdown point spread looked as if it might be accurate when Nebraska took the opening kickoff and drove 80 yards on 15 plays to a touchdown. The drive consumed half the quarter. But it also reflected Iowa State’s defensive game plan: load up against the run.

Lawrence Phillips, who scored the touchdown from 1 yard out, carried eight times on the drive for 18 yards, while Brook Berringer completed three passes for 52 yards before an incompletion. Two of the passes went to Phillips for 43 yards. Berringer also carried once, for 20 yards.

Osborne said afterward he thought about turning Berringer loose passing because Iowa State was so stacked against the run. Phillips had 63 yards on 27 carries through three quarters.

Flash forward to the fourth quarter. With just under 10 minutes remaining and the Huskers leading 21-12, on a third-and-13 from the Nebraska 32-yard line, Iowa State quarterback Todd Doxzon passed to halfback Geoff Turner for a touchdown—except the Cyclones were flagged for holding.

On the next play, from the NU 47, Ed Stewart sacked Doxzon, forcing a punt.

Two plays later, on second-and-4, Phillips ran up the middle, broke free and wasn’t tackled until he had reached the Iowa State 6-yard line, 61 yards. He fumbled into the end zone, however, and the Cyclones recovered. Disaster averted, what likely would’ve been a game-clinching touchdown.

That would come just over two minutes later, after Iowa State was forced to punt. The Huskers drove 60  yards on 10 plays, the last a 21-yard Phillips run for his second touchdown. Only 1:25 remained.

Final score: Nebraska 28, Iowa State 12. The Huskers were 11-0, with one regular-season game remaining at Oklahoma. The 11-win season was the seventh in Nebraska history. Iowa State would finish 0-10-1, following a 41-20 loss at Colorado the next week.

Stewart and tackle Terry Connealy led the Blackshirts with 13 tackles each. Stewart had a second sack and Connealy had a sack. Tackle Christian Peter also had a sack and 11 tackles.

The Huskers sacked Doxzon six times total for 33 yards in losses, leaving Iowa State with a rushing net of 62 yards and 213 yards of total offense.

Phillips carried nine times for 120 yards in the fourth quarter to finish with 187 yards, giving him 1,672 for the season, third-most in Husker history, behind Mike Rozier in 1983 (2,148) and 1982 (1,689). The touchdowns were numbers 15 and 16 for Phillips on the season.

Senior guard Bryan Pruitt deserved an assist on Phillips’ fourth-quarter performance. Shoes rather than Iowa State’s defense might’ve been the reason for Phillips’ lack of success in the first three quarters. Pruitt, who didn’t play, loaned Phillips his shoes for the fourth quarter. Seriously.

Phillips seemed to have better traction with them.

Osborne-coached teams were like that: never overlook opponents and pay attention to details, such as shoes.

Next: Big Eight coaching carousel & Tommie travels to Oklahoma

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