Gill Chooses Scarlet over Crimson
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What Might Have Been in 1996

November 30, 2017

Scott Frost threw only 24 passes that day, 10 of them in the final 1:02. Three of the 10 were downed to stop the clock because Nebraska didn’t have any timeouts.

Five were complete, the last scooped up by Matt Davison in the back of the end zone, following Shevin Wiggins’ kick to keep the ball alive, with no time remaining.

After Missouri fans who had swarmed onto the field to celebrate what they thought was a victory were pushed back, Kris Brown kicked the extra point to tie the score at 38 and force overtime.

The Huskers would win 45-38, with Frost scoring the touchdown on a 12-yard run. The touchdown was his fourth of the game. He carried 23 times for 141 yards.

I-back Ahman Green was the game’s leading rusher with 189 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries.

Nebraska went into the game ranked No. 1 for a third consecutive week but dropped to No. 3 behind Michigan and Florida State. After an off-week, in which Florida State lost, the Huskers climbed to No. 2, where they would remain until after a 42-17 victory against Tennessee in the Orange Bowl.

Michigan, which defeated No. 8 Washington State 21-16 in the Rose Bowl, earned the AP national title, but Nebraska received the ESPN coaches’ national championship. Whether it helped persuade coaches who voted, Frost made a passionate plea for a split title

During post-game interviews, Frost re-iterated what he had said on national television immediately afterward: “If you can look yourself in the mirror and say if your job depended on playing either Michigan or Nebraska, who would you play? It’s been split before. It’s OK to split it.”

In any case, the Huskers wouldn’t have been in that position if not for the dramatic finish in the ninth game of the season at Missouri, which reflected Frost’s ability to do what had to be done to succeed. He wasn’t an exceptional passer. But he could throw when he had to, as the final drive illustrated.

Nebraska covered 67 yards without doing what it did best, run the ball. The Huskers led the nation in total offense and rushing that season, with averages of 513.7 and 392.6 yards.

Green led the team in rushing with 1,877 yards. Frost rushed for 1,095 yards and was the first Husker quarterback to rush and pass for 1,000 yards in the same season. He passed for 1,237 yards, completing 88-of-159 with four interceptions. He threw for four touchdowns besides the one at Missouri.

As a junior, he passed for 1,440 yards and 13 touchdowns with just three interceptions.

“I’d say his junior year he was a good quarterback; he was a great quarterback his senior year,” Coach Tom Osborne said in a 2013 interview. “I always felt bad that Scott didn’t come here initially because I think that had he done so, he would have been in his junior year where he was in his senior year. He would have been further along in the offense.”

Frost spent the 1995 season “pretty much on the scout team,” said Osborne, “and probably didn’t make a whole lot of progress in terms of doing what we did until he actually had to play as a junior. He went through the drills, but it wasn’t quite the same out there (as) getting repetition every day in practice. But he certainly was a great quarterback his senior year.

“And I’d say he played well his junior year.”

The only glitch in Frost’s first season at Nebraska, for which he took a disproportionate amount of criticism, was the 19-0 loss at Arizona State in the second game that snapped the Huskers’ 26-game winning streak, which included back-to-back national championships.

Despite that loss, Nebraska might have played for a third in a row under Frost’s direction if not for an upset loss to Texas in the Big 12 championship game at St. Louis. And that loss wasn’t on him.

Nebraska, hampered by illness – Frost estimated 20 percent of the team dealt with the flu – and injuries, couldn’t stop the heavy-underdog Longhorns, who amassed 503 total yards, including 353 passing by James Brown and 120 and three touchdowns rushing by Priest Holmes.

With Ahman Green and Damon Benning sidelined by injury, true freshman I-back DeAngelo Evans got his first career start, rushing for 130 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries for the Huskers. And Evans played despite a painful groin problem.

“That was a tough one to swallow,” said Osborne, “because we would have played for the national championship five years in a row had we won that game.”

Nebraska lost to Florida State in the 1994 Orange Bowl national championship game, of course, before winning the two national championships.

The Seminoles were No. 1 at the end of the regular season in 1996 and would have played Nebraska in the Orange Bowl if it won against Texas because No. 2 Arizona State, the Pac-12 champ, was locked into the Rose Bowl, where it played Ohio State – and lost.

“I think Florida State was beatable that year,” Osborne said. “They were a good team. We would have played Florida State for the national championship and had a pretty good chance.”

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