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Tom’s Time: Huskers Need an Escape Act at UCLA in 1993

October 01, 2020

Kevin Ramaekers figured the defense was trying too hard.

“We’ll be all right,” the senior defensive tackle and co-captain said following Nebraska’s 14-13 victory against UCLA in the Rose Bowl stadium in September of 1993.

Husker defensive coordinator Charlie McBride agreed. The Blackshirts were trying to be too aggressive, he said, particularly to start the game.

UCLA had over 200 yards of offense and 14 first downs during the first half.

When all was said and done, though, defense saved the day for a Husker offense that turned over the ball four times and managed only two touchdowns.

Nebraska went to Pasadena less than healthy. I-back Calvin Jones didn’t make the trip because of injury, and also for the second week in a row, outside linebacker Donta Jones didn’t start because he was less than full-speed. Bruce Moore, a converted defensive tackle, again started in his place.

Quarterback Tommie Frazier was still bothered by an ankle sprain, which noticeably affected his movement, and nose tackle Terry Connealy had a touch of the flu, though he didn’t tell anyone until after the game and played through it.

The Huskers’ controlled aggression was reflected positively. They sacked UCLA quarterback Wayne Cook six times, including two by outside linebacker Trev Alberts, increasing his season’s total to seven. Alberts finished with 12 tackles and was named ABC’s Player of the Game.

The game was televised regionally.

Rover Toby Wright led the Blackshirts with 13 tackles. Connealy and Moore each had one-and-a-half sacks. The defense had sacked opposing quarterbacks 20 times in three games.

Without Calvin Jones, Damon Benning started for the second week in a row. But the redshirt freshman fumbled twice, on Nebraska’s first two series, losing one, recovering the other. True freshman Lawrence Phillips, who was set to play at some point, replaced him and responded by rushing for 137 yards on 28 carries and scoring the Huskers’ first touchdown late in the first half.

UCLA led at the intermission 10-7.

Tight end Gerald Armstrong scored Nebraska’s second touchdown on an 11-yard pass from Frazier midway through the third quarter.

The reception was Armstrong’s second of the game and fourth of the season. One other had gone for a touchdown, giving the senior nine touchdowns in 12 career receptions.

The touchdown pass capped a 14-play, 80-yard drive. The Huskers converted on three third downs during the drive, one helped by a 15-yard penalty against UCLA for grabbing Phillips’ facemask. Nebraska had driven 80 yards on nine plays for its first touchdown.

UCLA cut the deficit to one on Bjorn Merten’s 27-yard field goal with 12:22 remaining. Merten kicked a 39-yard field goal to open the scoring—and missed two, from 53 and 44 yards.

Byron Bennett missed a 44-yarder, after having gone three-for-three against Texas Tech.

After Merten’s field goal, each team went three-and-out, then the Huskers drove from their own 40 to a first-and-goal at the UCLA 9-yard line.

On first down, Frazier was sacked for minus-7.

On second down, Phillips gained 4.

On third down, Frazier passed to split end Corey Dixon on a slant route. The ball was knocked loose, and the Bruins recovered at their 14 yard-line with 4:34 remaining. They converted on a third-and-12 but that was it. They punted on fourth-and-10 from their own 26 and never got the ball back.

Nebraska picked up one first down. UCLA used all of its timeouts. And the clock ran out.

“It’s a shame that damn thing got away,” said Bruins Coach Terry Donahue, whose team had lost its only other game to California, also in Pasadena, 27-25.

“I definitely think we escaped today,” Tom Osborne said.

Not all the teams in the Associated Press Top 10 could say the same. No. 5 Tennessee lost to Florida. No. 6 Syracuse was tied by Texas. And No. 7 Colorado lost to Stanford. As a result, Nebraska moved from No. 8 to No. 6—Florida, which had been No. 9, replaced Tennessee at No. 5.

Regardless, as Al Davis said when he became the Oakland Raiders’ head coach in 1963: “Just win baby.”

That’s what the Huskers had done, with some halftime adjustments in their still-new 4-3 base defense at the end. UCLA managed only 40 yards and two first downs in the fourth quarter.

“People always talk about how defense wins championships,” said junior linebacker Ed Stewart.

Championships? No one was talking about that just yet.

That would come later.

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