Tom Osborne hadn’t committed to a starting quarterback for the 1991 Colorado State game following Nebraska’s season-opening 59-28 victory against Utah State.
Would it be Mickey Joseph, who had started the opener?
Or Keithen McCant, who had come off the bench to take charge?
Both were seniors.
Turns out it was McCant, who would start the remainder of the season, as would sophomore I-back Derek Brown, who had started once at I-back and once at wingback as a freshman. He had been fourth in rushing in 1990, gaining 359 yards and scoring five touchdowns in eight games.
Leodis Flowers was Nebraska’s No. 1 I-back in 1990, the leading rusher, gaining 940 yards in nine games. He was a junior, but because of injuries and personal issues opted not to play his senior season. As a result, junior Scott Baldwin emerged from spring practice atop the depth chart at I-back. With uncertainty about the status of Flowers, Baldwin had begun the spring at fullback.
Baldwin gave way to Brown because of an ankle injury three carries into the season-opener. Baldwin would carry only six more times during the 1991 season, his career coming to an end that off-season because of an assault on a woman, determined to be the result of mental illness.
Depth at I-back wasn’t an issue, though. True freshman Calvin Jones, like Flowers part of the Huskers’ Omaha Central connection at I-back, stepped in at No. 2.
Both Brown and Jones rushed for two touchdowns in the 71-14 victory against Colorado State, before the 177th consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium.
Brown rushed for more than 100 yards for the second game in a row, gaining 121 on 15 carries. Jones carried nine times for 86 yards, fullback Omar Soto five times for 78 yards and a touchdown.
McCant, who teamed up with tight end Johnny Mitchell for 25 yards and a touchdown just 1:21 into the first quarter, finished 8-of-13 for 99 yards, with one interception. He directed the Huskers to scores on seven-of-nine possessions—making it 11 of 14 in two games.
The score was 43-0, and Nebraska had 429 yards of offense, at halftime.
It finished with 696 total yards.
The Husker defense, which gave up home-record passing yardage to Utah State, stepped up against Colorado State, recovering five fumbles and intercepting three passes, one of which junior safety Steve Carmer returned 34 yards for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.
Nebraska also had four sacks, including one by Carmer. The others were by middle guards Pat Engelbert and David Noonan and outside linebacker Donta Jones.
Carmer would finish the season as Nebraska’s leading tackler, with 87.
Ninety-eight Huskers saw action. Near the end of the third quarter, Huskers Erik Wiegert, the starting offensive left tackle, and Brian Boerboom, the starting offensive right tackle, were relaxing on the bench, finished for the afternoon.
“We’re not going to be sitting here at this time next week,” Wiegert said.
Boerboom nodded in agreement.
Next up for Nebraska would be No. 4-ranked Washington at Memorial Stadium.
The Huskies’ visit was on everyone’s mind, probably soon after the McCant-to-Mitchell touchdown pass reflected where the Colorado State game was certainly headed. The Washington game “is going to determine our season, where we’re going to go, what Nebraska is made of,” Mitchell told reporters.
“We’ve lost respect,” Brown said. “People think we get on TV in big games and lose.”
The Washington game was scheduled to be televised regionally by ABC.
Tom's Time is a regular feature that will take a closer look at the life of Tom Osborne. Nebraska has a storied history in football that dates back to the earliest years of the game, but the tradition to which Husker fans hold Nebraska is mostly a reference to Osborne's 25 years as head coach. And that will always be worth exploring in greater detail. Click here for all of the entries in the series.
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.