Tom's Time
Photo Credit: Nebraska Athletics

Tom’s Time: Powerful ’95 Huskers Offer Saban a Glimpse into His Future

September 22, 2022

Nick Saban pulled no punches. No surprise there.

The game was Saban’s first as Michigan State’s coach.

The team Nebraska played in East Lansing in 1995 lacked the talent, particularly in the offensive and defensive lines, to compete at the Huskers’ level, Saban said.

In fact, it wasn’t just the line on defense. “We probably have five (defensive) players who are legitimate and the rest are average,” said Saban, who had been the defensive coordinator under Bill Belichick with the Cleveland Browns the previous four seasons.

The numbers reflected that. Nebraska outscored the Spartans 30-3 in the second half, on the way to a 50-10 victory, televised regionally by ABC.

Afterward, Tom Osborne said: “I didn’t think we’d win real easily.”

But he had been mistaken.

As was the case against Oklahoma State, every Husker who made the trip to East Lansing saw action. And as had been the case in Stillwater, I-back Lawrence Phillips dominated, rushing for 206 yards and four touchdowns on 22 carries. The last touchdown came on a 50-yard run.

Phillips watched the fourth quarter from the sideline, as back-up I-backs Ahman Green and Jay Sims ran for touchdowns, Green’s a 57-yarder, Sims’ an 80-yarder on his only carry.

Sims, a walk-on from Omaha by way of West Memphis, Arkansas, was the team’s fastest player. He had been timed at 4.41 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

Though he didn’t score a touchdown, Clinton Childs, the other I-back, carried eight times for 83 yards. Nebraska finished with 666 total yards, 552 by rushing.

Quarterback Tommie Frazier left the game after suffering a deep-thigh bruise on the first drive of the second half and didn’t return, though if something had happened to replacement Brook Berringer, Frazier could have gone back in and handed off, according to Osborne.

Berringer was 6-for-11 passing, for 106 yards. The Huskers had little need to throw.

The Blackshirts again were aggressive, forcing six fumbles, two of which they recovered, and sacking Tony Banks four times, two by Terrell Farley. Free safety Mike Minter intercepted a pass.

Linebacker Phil Ellis led Nebraska with nine tackles, including a sack.

Banks accounted for most of the Spartans’ yardage, completing 21-of-35 passes for 290 yards and their lone touchdown, midway through the first quarter.

Michigan State managed a net of 45 yards rushing, on 34 carries.

Kris Brown was 3-for-3 on field goal attempts and 4-for-4 on extra points. Back-up Ted Retzlaff, a walk-on from Waverly, Nebraska, kicked the final extra point.

Saban, whose only other season as head coach was 1990 at Toledo, questioned the effort of his players in the second half and said those who didn’t want to compete would be replaced by those who did. Michigan State would finish the season 6-5-1, including a loss to LSU in the Independence Bowl.

Saban would bring Michigan State to Lincoln in 1996 for another reality check in what would be a 6-6 season, ending with a loss to Stanford in the Sun Bowl.

In 1999, the Spartans finished the regular season 9-2 and No. 9 in the AP poll. Before a Citrus Bowl game against Florida, Saban left for LSU, where he would win a national title in 2003. After five seasons there and two seasons coaching the Miami Dolphins, Saban replaced Mike Shula at Alabama.

And the rest is history.

Nebraska had prepared for Michigan State by studying film of the Cleveland Browns’ defense and Virginia Tech’s offense—the Spartans’ offensive coordinator had come from there.

Before Sims’ 80-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown run, teammate Jay Foreman, a linebacker, asked him if he was going to let a freshman out-do him. Green had just run 57 yards for a touchdown.

“Six inches of daylight, man, that’s all I need,” Sims responded.

The play was “47 tackle trap,” something Osborne had put in for Michigan State.

Clearly, the preparation had paid off.

The win would quickly be set aside, not only to focus on the home opener against Arizona State but also for some off-field issues, including one that would lead to the dismissal of Phillips.

The drive to a second national championship was not without significant road bumps, off the field.

Next up: Arizona State without Phillips

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