Midway through the second quarter of the Nebraska-Colorado game in 1988, the Buffaloes lined up third-and-3 at the Nebraska 43-yard line.
They had moved from their own 24 on four carries by tailback J.J. Flannigan and one by fullback George Hemingway. Both were listed as back-ups.
The official play-by-play for the third down showed this: “Flannigan up middle, fumbles in the open, gain of 24 (Flannigan rec.) (Wells First Down 6:40”
There were no close-parenthesis after 6:40, the time remaining in the quarter, or comma after “Wells,” the tackler.
Flannigan had lost control of the ball on what would have been a touchdown run. He recovered but was brought down at the 19 by Nebraska defensive tackle Kent Wells. Never give up on a play. Never, even when the guy you’re chasing is 5-foot-11, 190 pounds and you’re 6-5, 280.
Flannigan gained 5 yards on first down, then a holding penalty and a 19-yard loss on a reverse forced Colorado to punt. Trouble averted. But it wasn’t over just yet.
Four plays and a penalty later, Husker fullback Bryan Carpenter lost a fumble at the Nebraska 39. A personal foul penalty moved the ball to the 24. Then Eric Bieniemy, the Buffs’ starting tailback, fumbled and Nebraska safety Tim Jackson recovered at his own 12-yard line.
One run and two incomplete passes preceded a John Kroeker punt. Colorado’s Ken Culbertson ended the scoreless half with a 47-yard field goal attempt that went wide to the left.
Nebraska, ranked No. 7, went into the game leading the nation in scoring, averaging 46 points. The Huskers managed seven. I-back Ken Clark, who carried 28 times for a game-high 165 yards, finished a nine-play, 59-yard drive from 2 yards out with 4:35 remaining in the third quarter.
Gregg Barrios added the extra-point kick.
Colorado went into the game averaging 27.7 points and 398.7 yards. The No. 19 Buffaloes didn’t score and managed only 236 total yards—60 fewer than Nebraska.
Defense dominated the day. And Husker outside linebacker Broderick Thomas made good on the promise he had made as a sophomore after Colorado ended an 18-game losing streak against Nebraska at Boulder in 1986. “I promise as long as I play at Nebraska, Colorado will never, ever beat us again,” Thomas had said. “I raise my right hand and promise you . . .”
The Buffaloes, who lost to Nebraska 24-7 at Boulder in 1987, had used his words as motivation in 1988. They had worn t-shirts that said: “WAR in Lincoln, 11-12-88, Black vs Red.”
The Huskers had played back-to-back games at Boulder in 1986 and 1987, just as Oklahoma had played back-to-back games in Lincoln those two seasons as the Big Eight tried to restructure the conference schedules of its perennially top teams.
Quarterbacks Steve Taylor and Sal Aunese struggled to pass on the overcast, 50-degree afternoon with wind gusting to 31 miles-an-hour. Taylor completed 2-of-9, Aunese 1-of-11.
Both were sacked once. Neither was intercepted.
Kroeker averaged 44.4 yards on eight punts. Colorado’s Keith English averaged 41 yards on seven.
The time of possession was almost even.
Weakside linebacker Chris Caliendo and safety Mark Blazek each had 10 tackles to lead the Blackshirts. Thomas and middle guard Lawrence Pete had eight tackles each. And each forced a fumble, accounting for two of Colorado’s six—one of which was not caused.
Flannigan rushed for 133 yards. He should’ve had 19 more and a touchdown.
But Clark’s third-quarter touchdown would be enough.
Seven points were the fewest a Tom Osborne-coached team had scored and won since a 6-0 victory at Missouri in 1981. Not counting games against perennial-nemesis Oklahoma, they were the fewest points Nebraska had scored in a game, win or lose, since 1981 in Columbia.
Include Oklahoma, however, and the Huskers had been held to seven points in three of the previous four meetings between the teams, all four losses.
And the No. 9 Sooners were next up, at Norman.
Tom's Time is a regular feature that takes a closer look at the life of Tom Osborne. Nebraska has a storied history in football that dates back to the earliest years of the game, but the tradition to which Husker fans hold Nebraska is mostly a reference to Osborne's 25 years as head coach. And that will always be worth exploring in greater detail. Click here for all of the entries in the series.
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.