Saved by the Bell, you might say—specifically, Trumane Bell.
That’s one way to summarize the 1993 Nebraska-Kansas game in Lawrence.
The Huskers’ senior tight end broke from a pass route and came out of the end zone, with quarterback Tommie Frazier under pressure, went up, caught a pass at about the 2-yard line, and stretched the ball over the goal line as two Kansas defenders brought him down.
Six points for Nebraska, which had lined up second-and-goal at the 10-yard line. Byron Bennett’s extra-point kick made the score 21-14 Huskers, with 8:20 remaining.
Another way to summarize the game would be: Sometimes a little luck helps.
Kansas responded with a 17-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, with freshman tailback June Henley diving over right tackle on first-and-goal at the Nebraska 3 for the touchdown with :52 remaining.
The carry was Henley’s 12th on the drive; he accounted for 60 of the yards and finished with 148 on 37 carries. Yet he wouldn’t be on the field when the Jayhawks went for two.
Kansas Coach Glen Mason took a timeout before the play, a rollout pass by quarterback Asheiki Preston, intended for wide receiver Ashaundai Smith.
The conversion pass was incomplete: Nebraska 21, Kansas 20.
Where’s the luck? For one thing, Henley wasn’t in the game, inexplicably, reducing the possibility of a run. For another, the Husker defense was out of sync. Two blitzers came from the same side; Preston rolled out the other direction, though defensive tackle Kevin Ramaekers was pressuring him.
And finally, Preston’s pass fell short.
Kansas tried an on-side kick, but Husker I-back Damon Benning covered the ball at the Jayhawk 47-yard line. Nebraska gained 9 yards on three plays. The Jayhawks called timeout after each play, leaving Nebraska with fourth-and-1 at the KU 38 with 32 seconds remaining.
Kansas was offsides, giving the Huskers a first down. Game over.
The penalty was only the third of the game against the Jayhawks.
The touchdown pass to Bell—his second of the season—wasn’t a broken play, according to Frazier. Rather, it was a “designed rollout.” And Bell was the logical target, at 6-foot-3, against a shorter defender. Frazier said he saw the mismatch and threw the ball.
Bell described the catch as “probably the biggest” of his career.
The pass was just the seventh by Frazier, the fourth completion. His third went to tight end Gerald Armstrong for 8 yards and Nebraska’s second touchdown, with 8:46 remaining in the first half.
Brook Berringer completed 3-of-5 passes with one interception.
I-back Calvin Jones scored the Huskers’ first touchdown on a 4-yard run just over 10 minutes into the game, after Kansas had taken a 7-0 lead on a 30-yard Preston touchdown pass.
Nebraska’s offense was run-heavy, with Jones leading the way, carrying 29 times for 195 yards. As a team, the Huskers rushed for 297 yards and finished with 368 total yards. Each team had 19 first downs. Kansas ran 69 plays to Nebraska’s 64. And the time of possession was almost even.
The Jayhawks, who opened the season with a 42-0 loss in the Kickoff Classic against preseason No. 1-ranked Florida State, went into the Nebraska game with a 4-5 record.
A loss almost certainly would have derailed the Huskers’ national championship hopes, of course. They went into the game ranked No. 6 and would move up to No. 4 following No. 3 Ohio State’s 14-14 tie with Wisconsin and No. 5 Alabama’s 17-13 loss against LSU.
Nebraska was among only three undefeated teams remaining—Miami, which moved from No. 4 to No. 3, was 7-1. The other undefeated, untied teams were No. 1 Florida State, which had handed Miami its only loss a month before, and No 2 Notre Dame. Florida State and Notre Dame would meet in South Bend the next Saturday, when the Huskers would play Iowa State.
Another way the Kansas game might be summarized is as evidence of the “Iowa State Syndrome,” about which Tom Osborne talked during the week leading up to the trip to Lawrence.
The basis of the “Iowa State Syndrome” designation was Nebraska’s 19-10 loss to the Cyclones, who had a losing record, at Ames in 1992 –the loss would be Osborne’s only one in 25 seasons against a team that finished with a losing record. The Huskers might have been complacent at Iowa State following back-to-back blowouts of No. 8 Colorado (52-7) and No. 13 Kansas (49-7).
A John Reece interception with 1:21 remaining had preserved a 21-17 victory at No. 20 Colorado the week before the Kansas game in 1993. Maybe there was some “Iowa State Syndrome” complacency, or luck. Either way, you could say Nebraska was saved by (the) Bell.