Bobby Bowden had predicted it the season before. “They’ll kill us,” he said following Florida State’s 18-14 upset of Nebraska at Memorial Stadium in 1980.
The Seminole coach was referring to his team’s return visit in 1981.
He wasn’t necessarily serious, of course. Rather, the comment underscored the significance of the 1980 victory in the first meeting between the programs. Nebraska had established a national presence with back-to-back national titles a decade before, while Florida State was still on the rise.
The Seminoles wouldn’t claim their first of two national championships under Bowden, which came at Nebraska’s expense in the Orange Bowl, until the 1993 season.
Nevertheless, Bowden’s prediction had been accurate. The Cornhuskers won 1981’s rematch 34-14, though the score didn’t really get out-of-hand until midway through the third quarter when Nebraska increased a 3-point halftime lead to 24-7 in just 6 seconds.
A pair of second-stringers, sophomore wingback Irving Fryar and junior defensive end Tony Felici, were immediately responsible for the third-quarter scoring explosion. Fryar returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown, and on the kickoff that followed, Felici caught a fumble, forced by Mike Knox, and returned it 13 yards for a touchdown. Kevin Seibel added the extra-point kicks.
Felici, who walked on from Omaha Central, had played only on special teams in the opener at Iowa. He was named the Big Eight Defensive Player of the Week for his play against Florida State.
Roger Craig, Nebraska’s junior I-back, was the national back of the week after rushing for 234 yards on 20 carries, including 94 on a fourth-quarter touchdown run to seal the deal. The 94-yard touchdown run tied the school record set by Craig Johnson against Kansas in 1979.
Felici and the defense stifled the Seminoles, allowing only 227 yards of offense, forcing three turnovers and sacking quarterback Rick Stockstill seven times for 45 yards in losses. Florida State didn’t convert a third down in 13 attempts and managed a net of only 1 return yard.
The score might’ve been more lopsided had the Huskers not lost four fumbles, been penalized nine times and passed better. Starting quarterback Nate Mason completed only 2-of-7 passes for 16 yards, with one interception. Back-up Turner Gill was 1-of-1 for 16 yards.
All three completions were to tight end Jamie Williams.
Mason, a junior, had seen action off the bench against Iowa. Gill, a sophomore, had not. He made what was, for all intents and purposes, a much-anticipated Nebraska debut with 9:07 remaining in the second quarter. Less than 6 minutes later, he lost a fumble at his own 23-yard line to set up Florida State’s first touchdown. The fumble came on an option play.
Afterward, Bowden was quoted about Gill and Mason: “They looked like some of those Oklahoma quarterbacks not Nebraska quarterbacks.”
Though that was partly the idea, Coach Tom Osborne wanted quarterbacks who also could pass, and the day’s numbers hadn’t looked good on that count.
Mason rushed for 71 yards on 14 carries. Sophomore Mike Rozier was second to Craig with 72 yards on 11 carries. Fullback Phil Bates carried only seven times but gained 58 yards.
Senior Mark Mauer, who had started at quarterback against Iowa but saw only mop-duty late against Florida State, said the Huskers hadn’t had to pass that afternoon. He also said he didn’t think Osborne had given up on him. He was right, as the season would show.
Tom's Time is a regular feature that will take 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.