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Tom's Time
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Tom’s Time: Big Crowd, Another Big-Game Miss, in Seattle

June 18, 2020

After Nebraska’s 48-7 victory against Middle Tennessee State, quarterback Mike Grant said the Huskers didn’t want a loss at Washington “lurking” behind them for the rest of the season.

To their frustration, however, that would be the case.

Once again, Nebraska lost a “big game.” 

And once again, that game was televised nationally—this time by ESPN.

The loss wasn’t an upset. Washington, the defending coaches’ national champion, had won 16 in a row, going back to the final two games of a 10-2 1990 season. And the 2-0 Huskies were ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press poll, behind defending AP national champion Miami.

Nebraska, which lost to both the previous season, was ranked No. 12, dropping one spot following the victory against Division I-AA Middle Tennessee State.

The Huskers lost to Washington 36-21 in Lincoln—televised by ABC—in 1991, allowing 27 points in the last 15:19 and giving up 618 yards, the third-most ever against them at the time. With that as context, Tom Osborne pointed out the week of the 1992 game that defense wins championships.

The final score (29-14) notwithstanding, the Blackshirts responded. 

Washington scored first by tackling Grant, on a dropback, for a safety, following a punt downed at the Nebraska 2-yard line and a pair of penalties. The first, of three, touchdowns was preceded by a sack and fumble by Grant, and the third, 47 seconds before halftime, followed an interception.

That touchdown, on a 29-yard pass from Billy Joe Hobert to Joe Kralik was disputed by the Huskers, with good reason. The ball bounced free as Kralik hit the ground and rolled out of the back of the end zone. First of all, did he possess it? And second, was he in-bounds if he did?

The Pac-10 officials didn’t hesitate in signaling touchdown.

Washington managed just a pair of field goals in the second half. And the Huskers drove 80 yards on 11 plays to its second touchdown on the first series after the intermission. Grant capped the drive from 1 yard out, and Byron Bennett added the extra-point kick. But that was it.

I-back Calvin Jones carried on the first play of the series, for no gain. Every play from scrimmage after that, as well as for the rest of the game, was either a run or a pass by Grant. Every play.

He completed 6-of-10 passes, with one interception, for 87 yards—59 of the yards on the game’s final series, which ended with the interception in the end zone.

Nebraska went into the game ranked first nationally in rushing offense, averaging 444.5 yards against Utah and Middle Tennessee State. No one expected that production against Washington. Even so, only 176 yards rushing? And 73 of those had come on a second-quarter Jones touchdown run.

Derek Brown led the Huskers in rushing with 84 yards on 16 carries.

The capacity crowd of 73,333—the largest-ever for a non-conference game at Husky Stadium—was a significant factor. The decibel level made calling audibles difficult, if not impossible.

Nebraska tried a fake punt, which failed, and lined up in a shotgun formation twice, what was reportedly the first time under Osborne, and even before, that the Huskers had done so.

Nothing worked.

Outside linebacker Travis Hill led the Blackshirts with 13 tackles. Weakside linebacker Ed Stewart was credited with 11 tackles and had one of Nebraska’s three sacks.

Stewart, a sophomore from Chicago, was reflective of changes in the Huskers’ defensive philosophy. He was recruited out of Mt. Carmel High School as a safety but moved to linebacker for his speed, a move that initially caused him to consider leaving Nebraska.

At 6-foot, 205 pounds, he was “small for a modern-day linebacker,” the 1992 Husker media guide noted. But he could run. And that was an emphasis as the defense moved toward a 4-3 base.

Grant played the entire game. Back-up Tommie Frazier suffered a pectoral injury during Thursday’s practice but was included on the travel roster. Nebraska used only 40 position players, one of whom, starting defensive tackle Jamie Liewer, suffered a broken fibula early in the first quarter.

Washington would eventually spend six weeks at No. 1 in the AP poll before losing three of its final four games and finishing out of the top 10. The loss to the Huskies “lurked,” but by season’s end, another loss would have a more significant effect on Nebraska.

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