Tom's Time
Photo Credit: Randy Hampton

Tom’s Time: One Last Sting to End Huskers’ 1990 Season

February 06, 2020

Nebraska was a 2-point favorite against Georgia Tech in the 1991 Citrus Bowl, according to USA Today. You could look it up, to quote Casey Stengel or James Thurber or whomever.

The Huskers were No. 19 in the Associated Press poll, after losing two of their last three games. Georgia Tech was No. 2, its only blemish a mid-season tie with North Carolina.

Go figure.

It didn’t take long to see the fallacy in that. Just over seven minutes into the second quarter, the Yellowjackets led 21-0. Nebraska responded with a quick pair of touchdowns to cut the deficit to 21-14 with 5:07 remaining in the first half. But that was as close as it would get.

The final score was 45-21, the Huskers’ fourth-consecutive bowl loss.

“It looked like Florida State all over again,” Nebraska defensive coordinator Charlie McBride said, referring to the Huskers’ 41-17 loss to Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl the year before.

Even loyal Husker fans apparently hadn’t believed in the 2-point-favorite role. Nebraska sold an estimated 4,700 tickets, the fewest since the 1977 Liberty Bowl against North Carolina.

Enough of negativity, however, at least for a bit. Consider the Huskers’ second-quarter touchdowns, the first on Tom Haase’s 30-yard pass to Johnny Mitchell, the second on Derek Brown’s 50-yard run.

Haase, a junior walk-on from Aurora, Nebraska, came off the bench to replace Mike Grant at quarterback early in the second quarter, after Grant’s four passes were incomplete. Grant started in place of Mickey Joseph, who was sidelined by the right leg injury suffered against Oklahoma.

Haase, who had seen little action, made the most of his opportunity, completing 14-of-21 passes, without an interception, for 209 yards and two touchdowns, the second to William Washington, also a tight end. The reception was the first of Washington’s career, even though the sophomore from Tyler, Texas, had been in the regular rotation for two seasons.

Mitchell finished with five catches for a Nebraska bowl-record 138 yards. The touchdown was his eighth of the season. He had begun the season fourth on the depth chart, hadn’t played in the opener and didn’t have a catch until the sixth game. Then he caught at least one touchdown pass in five-consecutive games. The seven touchdowns during the regular season tied the school record for tight ends. Bowl games weren’t included in official NCAA statistics.

Though he didn’t start a game that season, Mitchell was named first-team All-Big Eight as well as the conference Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year.

He was a “big fella, running fast,” Joseph said of the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Mitchell, the fastest of the tight ends—he had run the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds.

Brown also didn’t play in the opener and missed the Kansas and Colorado games with a separated shoulder. Had he not missed those two games, he might’ve been a candidate for Big Eight Offensive Freshman of the Year, according to the 1991 Husker media guide. In eight games, he carried 59 times for 375 yards (6.4 per carry) and five touchdowns and caught five passes for 79 yards and a touchdown.

Brown was Nebraska’s leading rusher in the Citrus Bowl, with 99 yards on 11 carries.

Mitchell and Brown both had to deal with Proposition 48. 

Mitchell, who was from Chicago’s Simeon High, went to Lincoln on his own in 1989, worked and took classes part-time at the university until he met Prop 48 requirements. Brown, a Parade and USA Today prep All-American from La Habra, California by way of Anaheim Servite High, signed a letter of intent in 1989, then also took classes part-time before meeting ACT requirements. 

So back to the negatives, but only briefly . . . 

Nebraska’s running game was again stifled. The Huskers, who had averaged 340 rushing yards per game to rank second nationally, managed only 126 on the ground against Georgia Tech.

The Huskers finished No. 24 in the AP rankings, their lowest (by 12 places) since they weren’t ranked in 1968. The United Press International coaches’ poll was more generous. Nebraska was No. 17.

Georgia Tech, the nation’s only undefeated team, moved up to earn the UPI national championship, while Colorado, a 10-9 winner against No. 5 Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl, remained No. 1 and the AP champ.

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