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Tom’s Time: Mental Lapses Mar Huskers’ Win over Arizona State in ’92

July 01, 2020

Travis Hill said it was “weird.”

Nebraska had come home to rebound from a frustrating loss at No. 2 Washington, defeating Arizona State 45-24 in the final non-conference game of the 1992 season. Yet the senior outside linebacker didn’t “feel great” about the 21-point victory.

Neither did defensive coordinator Charlie McBride.

“Mentally, that was probably the worst game we’ve had since I’ve been here,” he was quoted, adding, that he didn’t think the Blackshirts had been “all that wired up.”

McBride was in his 16th season at Nebraska, his ninth as defensive coordinator.

(He had been an assistant at Arizona State for three seasons in the late 1960s.)

The Sun Devils had been 1-1, the loss also against Washington, 31-7. Still, Nebraska’s defense gave up 514 yards, the third-most since 1982 and seventh-most all-time. And the Huskers’ 38-10 lead just over a minute into the second half was cut to 38-24 by third quarter’s end.

The defensive problems could be corrected, McBride said, they weren’t physical.

Nebraska had gained “only” 369 yards, but 319 had come by rushing. Mike Grant had completed 6-of-14 passes for 50 yards and a touchdown, with one interception.

The interception, late in the first half, was Grant’s fifth and the Huskers’ sixth of the season. Opponents wouldn’t intercept another Nebraska pass until six games later at Oklahoma. The Huskers would finish the regular season—bowl games weren’t included in official statistics—with seven interceptions, five lost fumbles and a plus-18 turnover ratio, second-best in school history at that point.

The five (of 20) lost fumbles were the school record (tied in 2016) until 2017.

Nebraska won the turnover battle against Arizona State, recovering two fumbles and intercepting three passes, one of which, on the Sun Devils’ third play of the second half, defensive tackle Bruce Moore returned 54 yards for a touchdown for the 28-point lead—with Byron Bennett’s kick.

On the first series of the half, I-back Calvin Jones carried twice for 21 yards, Grant threw an incomplete pass, and then Jones carried 24 yards for a touchdown.

Jones finished with 111 yards on 17 carries to lead the Husker rushing attack. Derek Brown, the other “We-back,” also carried 17 times, for 64 yards and a touchdown. Fullback Lance Lewis gained 78 yards on six carries, 50 of the yards coming late in the game for the final touchdown.

Grant scored the first touchdown on a 5-yard run and, after Bennett kicked a 37-yard field goal, passed to tight end Gerald Armstrong for Nebraska’s second.

The touchdown pass was Grant’s third of the season; he had thrown two in the opener against Utah. Through four games, he was 36-of-74 for 384 yards, with the five interceptions.

For the second game in a row, Grant was the only quarterback Tom Osborne used, in this case even after the Huskers took the 28-point lead.

More weirdness?

Some fans had begun grumbling about Grant following the Washington game, calling for true freshman Tommie Frazier to be the starting quarterback. They were vocal enough the front page of The Lincoln Star on the Wednesday after the game included a reference to the front page of sports, with pictures of Frazier and Grant above the heading: “Quarterback controversy?”

Osborne said he couldn’t understand the complaints. “I was holding my breath every play that something would not happen to the guy (Grant),” he had said after the Washington game.

Also, Frazier had the sore shoulder after falling in practice on the Thursday before the Washington game. Besides, Grant was far ahead of the other quarterbacks, said Osborne.

But the Arizona State game was different. And the complaining continued.

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