Mickey Joseph had started at quarterback against Northern Illinois and Minnesota in 1990, but only because Mike Grant was injured. So the Missouri game was the first earned start for Joseph, you might say, on the way to what could well have been a stellar Husker career.
Joseph “might have been all-conference,” Tom Osborne said looking back years later.
If not in 1990 then 1991, as a senior, had it not been for what happened in the final regular-season game at Oklahoma his junior year . . . but that’s for later.
Joseph was probably the most publicized quarterback Nebraska had ever recruited to that point, Osborne said around letter-of-intent-signing day in 1987. Joseph earned Parade Magazine and USA Today prep All-America recognition at Archbishop Shaw High in suburban New Orleans, and was almost certainly the best high school Wishbone quarterback that year.
That’s why Oklahoma was the Huskers’ main competition for his signature.
Joseph was the Louisiana high school Offensive Player of the Year. Slidell’s Reggie Cooper was the Defensive Player of the Year—and also a member of Nebraska’s 1987 recruiting class.
Husker appearances in the Sugar Bowl following the 1984 and 1986 seasons had influenced recruiting efforts in Louisiana. They would get three more high school recruits from the state in the next three years: Tyrone Hughes, David White and Sedric Collins.
After the ’85 Sugar Bowl, Nebraska had recruited LeRoy Etienne from New Iberia, Louisiana. He joined Neil Smith, from New Orleans, on the roster. The previous year, the Huskers had shown late recruiting interest in Smith when no other major schools had.
In any case, with Steve Taylor starting for a second season, Joseph redshirted his first year. He played behind Taylor and Gerry Gdowski as a redshirt freshman then backed up Gdowski as a sophomore. He had led in competition with Grant, who would also be a junior, for the starting job through much of the spring that year, but Grant edged past him based on spring-game performance.
The post-spring depth chart had Grant listed first followed by “OR” Joseph, with Keithen McCant and Tom Haase, a walk-on, following in that order. As mentioned previously, all would be juniors.
Joseph, who was listed at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, was the fastest Husker, having run the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds. He was third on the team at 10 yards, having run it in 1.54 seconds.
Missouri’s defense had difficulty dealing with that. Joseph carried just nine times but gained 95 yards and scored four touchdowns against the Tigers. He also threw a touchdown pass to split end Jon Bostick in the 69-21 victory, though his passing numbers weren’t special, 4-of-8 completions with two interceptions. I-back Leodis Flowers rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown.
In all, 12 Huskers had carries, rushing for 500 of Nebraska’s 622 yards of offense. The Huskers had 33 first downs. Nebraska used 96 players, including 47 on defense, 35 of whom made at least one tackle. The Huskers’ leading tacklers were Le Andre Anderson and Mike Croel, with four each.
Nebraska had opened Big Eight play with a 45-8 victory at Kansas State. The Huskers, ranked No. 8 going into that game, had climbed one place to No. 7 the week of the Missouri game. With the victory against the Tigers, Nebraska moved up to No. 4 in the Associated Press poll.
Two weeks later, following a 45-13 victory at Iowa State, the Huskers would be No. 3, behind undefeated Virginia and once-beaten Notre Dame.
Joseph carried eight times for 123 yards in the Iowa State victory. He threw only four passes, all complete, two of them to freshman tight end Johnny Mitchell for touchdowns—Joseph had also tossed a touchdown pass to Mitchell the previous week. Flowers rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns against the Cyclones. Nebraska finished with 557 yards rushing.
The Huskers were rolling with Joseph in charge.
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.