Nebraska lined up fourth-and-1 at its own 16-yard line. Punter Mike Stigge was on the sideline.
Dire late-game, situation, right?
Actually, less than four minutes remained in the first half of the 1992 season-opener against Utah at Memorial Stadium—76,234, consecutive sellout 183, looked on.
Nebraska led 35-0.
Was Tom Osborne trying to run up the score, further embarrass the Utes?
Not at all. “I wanted some excitement,” he said. “I knew the fans would be mad. The students aren’t buying tickets . . . I wanted some excitement.”
Going into his 20th season, Osborne was the winningest active coach in Division I-A of the NCAA, with a record of 186-43-3 (.808). He held the Big Eight records for victories and games coached (overall) and ranked second to Oklahoma’s Bennie Owen in conference coaching tenure.*
Each of Osborne’s teams had won at least nine games and gone to a bowl.
Fullback Lance Lewis ran 57 yards for the first touchdown against Utah, I-back Derek Brown ran 26 yards for the second, and quarterback Mike Grant ran 16 yards for the third, all in the first quarter. Second-string fullback Andre McDuffy scored the fourth, on a 6-yard run, following a 16-yard Tyrone Hughes punt return, a 5-yard Grant pass to Abdul Muhammad and a 19-yard Grant run.
Nebraska had 305 yards of offense and 15 first downs at that point.
But there was a degree of unrest, a feeling that Osborne’s teams couldn’t win “big” games. The reasoning had become circular; “big” games were defined as any Nebraska lost.
Though unclear how widespread, the feeling was there. And Osborne sensed it.
The Huskers had finished the 1991 season 9-2-1 and ranked 15th in the Associated Press poll. The losses were against undefeated split-national champions Miami (AP) and Washington (UPI), the tie with defending AP national champion Colorado, with whom they shared the Big Eight title.
Nebraska had won or shared seven conference titles under Osborne, but only one since 1983 had been outright. And the Huskers weren’t in the AP preseason top 10 for a second year in a row—the Huskers were No. 11. They had been No. 14 to begin the 1991 season; prior to that, they had been in the AP preseason top 10 for nine-consecutive seasons.
Thirteen starters as well as the punter and placekicker returned in 1992.
The six returning starters on offense included guard Will Shields, a two-time, first-team All-Big Eight selection who had earned a letter as a true freshman, only the second in the offensive line to do so since the NCAA restored freshman eligibility in 1972. The first was Jake Young.
Brown, who had rushed for 1,313 yards to earn first-team All-Big Eight recognition, was back as was sophomore Calvin Jones, who had shared time with Brown, rushed for 900 yards and 14 touchdowns, tying Brown for team-high, and been the conference Offensive Newcomer of the Year.
Jones and Brown, second-team All-Big Eight, would earn the nickname “We-backs” in 1992.
Lewis, tight end William Washington and center Jim Scott received All-Big Eight honorable mention.
Defensively, outside linebacker Travis Hill and strong safety Steve Carmer earned second-team all-conference recognition, and outside linebacker David White, weakside linebacker Mike Anderson, tackle John Parrella, free safety Tyrone Byrd and cornerback Kenny Wilhite earned honorable mention.
Wilhite, who hadn’t been a starter, intercepted six passes, which would have tied for the conference lead and 12th nationally except that he missed three games—six in eight games—because of injury and so didn’t qualify for official Big Eight or NCAA statistics. Go figure.
Also, outside linebacker Trev Alberts hadn’t been a starter as a sophomore but had shared time with White, a junior, and led the team in sacks, with seven for 50 yards in losses. That ability to rush the passer was a significant factor in Nebraska’s soon-to-be switch to a 4-3 base alignment.
Stigge was first-team All-Big Eight as a junior, and placekicker Byron Bennett received all-conference honorable mention in his sophomore season.
“I think we’re going to have a good football team this year,” Osborne had said.
Oh yes, the Huskers were playing on a new surface at Memorial Stadium in 1992. Two days after the spring game, the old turf was pulled up and replaced with AstroTurf-8, which the Huskers appropriately broke in with what would be a 49-22 victory against Utah.
Nebraska had 524 total yards, including 399 rushing. Grant was followed at quarterback by senior walk-on Joel Cornwell, who entered late in the third quarter. Redshirt freshman Brook Berringer and freshman Tommie Frazier each got in for a series late in the fourth.
Just over five minutes into the third quarter, Grant’s 6-yard touchdown run and Bennett’s extra-point kick made the score 42-0 and provided opportunity for back-ups. “I don’t know why people are fidgety when you’re ahead (42-0),” Osborne was quoted.
It seemed to have reached that point.
*Athletic Director Bob Devaney had been the nation’s winningest active coach before he retired following the 1972 season. Osborne’s 20th season would be Devaney’s last as athletic director. He would be replaced by Bill Byrne in January of 1993 and become Athletic Director Emeritus.
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.