Nebraska would need to depend on its defense, “particularly in the early-going,” Tom Osborne said at the start of the 1990 season, Nebraska’s 100th and his 18th as head coach.
Only two offensive starters returned—left tackle Tom Punt and left guard Jim Wanek—while seven starters returned on defense, the most during Osborne’s time as coach.
Nebraska had led the Big Eight in rushing defense and total defense in 1989.
Among those who had to be replaced on an offense that had led the nation in rushing for the sixth time in the previous 10 seasons were two-time All-America center Jake Young and quarterback Gerry Gdowski, the coaches’ co-Big Eight Offensive Player of the Year, as well as I-back Ken Clark and right tackle Doug Glaser, both consensus All-Big Eight honorees.
Osborne was the winningest active Division I coach, with a 168-38-2 record (.813). Penn State’s Joe Paterno was second (220-57-3, .791). Osborne was fourth in victories among active coaches, behind Paterno, Florida State’s Bobby Bowden (195) and Iowa’s Hayden Fry (171).
Osborne’s victory total would increase by one in the 1990 opener against Baylor at Memorial Stadium, one of three regular-season television appearances by the Huskers. ESPN carried the opener, as well as the Colorado game. CBS would televise the Oklahoma game.
The NCAA still limited the number of television appearances by schools.
Some might have preferred to watch the game in the air-conditioned comfort of their homes. Temperature at the 6:37 p.m. kickoff was 92, with a heat index over 100 degrees.
That was symbolic of the heat the Blackshirts applied to Baylor’s offense. They would allow just 164 yards of offense and shut out the Bears, which probably had to happen.
Nebraska had a 6-0 lead at halftime, on a pair of Gregg Barrios field goals, from 20 and 37 yards. That score held into the fourth quarter, when, early on, Baylor had second-and-goal at the Husker 5-yard line, in position to take the lead. It was only the third time Baylor had been across the 50-yard line. Fullback Frankie Smith got the ball, which was knocked loose by Pat Tyrance and recovered Travis Hill at the 3. Tyrance, a senior linebacker, led Nebraska with career-high 12 tackles.
On third-and-7 from the Husker 6-yard line following the fumble, Mike Grant passed to Jon Bostick for 23 yards and a first down. Then I-back Scott Baldwin broke loose for 53 yards to the Baylor 18. Three plays later, including an 11-yard run by Baldwin, Nebraska was at the Baylor 2-yard line.
But the series ended with the Bears recovering a Grant fumble in the end zone.
Nebraska got the ball back at the Baylor 37-yard line with 4:12 remaining, following an 18-yard punt return by Tyrone Hughes. The Huskers drove the ball to the 2-yard line, killing the clock, and with 22 seconds remaining, Baldwin took the ball into the end zone. Barrios added the extra point.
Final score: 13-0.
Grant got the start at quarterback, emerging from competition with Mickey Joseph, Keithen McCant and walk-on David Haase, like Grant all juniors.
Leodis Flowers, also a junior, started at I-back, but Baldwin, a sophomore, was the leading rusher, thanks to the 53-yarder, finishing with 92 yards on 14 carries—Flowers carried 11 times for 40 yards.
Baldwin, from Roselle, New Jersey, had led the freshman-jayvee team in rushing in 1988 and then redshirted. The Baylor game was his first varsity action as a collegian. As a back-up to Clark in 1989, Flowers had rushed for 500 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 7.5 yards per carry.
Nebraska was No. 7 in the Associated Press poll going into the game. Curiously, the Huskers dropped to No. 10 following the victory, perhaps a reflection of skepticism carrying over from their 41-17 loss to Florida State in the 1990 Fiesta Bowl—a third consecutive bowl loss.
Mike is in his 40th year covering Husker athletics, after seven years of community-college teaching. He has written and edited a dozen books, all on Nebraska football except one, a brief history of Husker basketball. He previously wrote for the Lincoln Journal and Star and Huskers Illustrated. He enjoys music, from the Grateful Dead and Jack Johnson to Van Morrison, Bob Wills, Glenn Miller and pretty much anyone else.