Washington was on Nebraska’s mind, there was no denying, even though Middle Tennessee State was the Huskers’ second opponent of the 1992 season.
Outside linebacker Trev Alberts, who had two-of-six Nebraska sacks on the day, was among the Huskers who acknowledged as much to reporters during post-game interviews.
I-back Derek Brown, who rushed for 154 yards and two touchdowns, was another.
Washington, which defeated Wisconsin 27-10 in Seattle that day, was second, behind Miami in the Associated Press poll. And the Huskies were next-up on Nebraska’s schedule, also in Seattle.
Beyond that, Middle Tennessee State was NCAA Division I-AA, the Huskers’ first non-Division I-A opponent since South Dakota in 1964. Nebraska had scheduled the Blue Raiders out of necessity, the need for nonconference home-game revenue in a season with four Big Eight games on the road, the fourth against Kansas State in Tokyo, Japan—originally scheduled as a Kansas State home game.
Nebraska always scheduled at least six home games—and eventually seven—whatever that required, for financial reasons. That often precluded home-and-home non-conference series against prominent opponents. Originally, Temple, Division I-A, had been slated for that date, but the Owls had bought out the contract in order to play Penn State for a bigger payday, closer to home.
Though some might have criticized the Huskers for playing Middle Tennessee State, which could offer 25 fewer scholarships in I-AA, Nebraska’s 1992 schedule was the 18th toughest nationally according to the NCAA’s ranking system—which did not include non-Division I-A schools in its calculations.
Middle Tennessee State was fifth-ranked in Division I-AA after opening with a 35-31 victory against Tennessee State. The Blue Raiders were coming off a 9-4 season in which they reached the quarterfinals of the Division I-AA playoffs for a third-consecutive season.
Regardless, fans weren’t particularly interested. Middle Tennessee State sold only 300 of its 1,500-ticket allotment, returning the rest, the Sunday Journal and Star reported. And “before the game even began, ticket prices were spiraling downward from their $20 face value to free.”
Even so, the game was officially a sellout, 76,184.
That the Huskers might have been looking ahead to Washington was reflected in the Huskers’ lackluster first-half performance. They led only 14-7 at the intermission.
Quarterback Mike Grant and I-back Calvin Jones had run for Nebraska’s touchdowns. Middle Tennessee State quarterback Kelly Holcomb had thrown a 61-yard touchdown pass.
Tom Osborne used “laughingstock” during his halftime speech, according to the Omaha World-Herald, though the coaches didn’t make major adjustments.
Whatever the changes, the second half went as had been expected of the first half. Tyrone Hughes returned the second-half kickoff 35 yards. Jones ran 23 yards. Fullback Lance Lewis ran 42 yards for a touchdown. Three Holcomb passes were incomplete, and the Blue Raiders punted. Corey Dixon returned the punt 26 yards. Brown gained nine, then ran 44 yards for a touchdown.
Just 1:47 into the second half, Nebraska’s lead was 27-7.
The rout was on. The Huskers had 374 yards of offense in the second half, while holding Middle Tennessee State to 56. The final score was 48-7.
Nebraska used 108 players, including five quarterbacks. Grant was followed by Joel Cornwell, Tommie Frazier, Brook Berringer, and Jon McMillen.
Of the back-ups, Frazier took the most snaps, completing 2-of-5 passes for 23 yards, carrying six times for 16 yards, and scoring the final touchdown on a 3-yard run.
There was a reason Washington had been on the minds of the Huskers, Grant was quoted by the Sunday Journal and Star: “We don’t want to be looking back and saying, ‘Washington, that’s the reason we aren’t undefeated.’ We don’t want that lurking behind us all season.”
His comment would be ironic.
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.