November 27th – @ Nebraska #14 Nebraska 16, Colorado 14
“General” Robert Neyland, longtime head coach at the University of Tennessee, is a legendary name in the annals of college football. In leading the Volunteers to over 160 wins in 20 seasons, the College Football Hall of Fame coach was used to winning. “Almost all games,” Neyland pointed out, “are lost by the losers, not won by the winners.”
Such was the case in Memorial Stadium on Thanksgiving weekend, 1998.
The Buffs, despite facing a Nebraska team equally riddled with injuries and self-doubt, came out playing like an intimidated team. Early mistakes proved to be the difference in a frustrating 16-14 defeat, giving Nebraska a seven game winning streak over the Buffs.
Just as was the case in 1995, when the Buffs allowed Ahman Green to score on a 57-yard run less than two minutes into the game, (on the way to a 44-21 loss) and in 1992, when an interception led to a three-yard scoring run by Derek Brown with only 1:14 off of the first quarter clock (en route to a 52-7 rout), Colorado played early like a team destined to lose.
After a touchback on the opening kickoff, the Buffs set up shop at their own 20-yard line. On the Buffs’ second play from scrimmage, quarterback Mike Moschetti fumbled. The ball squirted loose, finally recovered by the Buffs back on their own one-yard line. Two plays later, a shanked punt by Nick Pietsch gave the ball to the Cornhuskers on the Colorado 30-yard line. Nationwide, Buff faithful uttered: “here we go again”. The Buff defense held, however, and after Kris Brown missed a field goal attempt, Colorado had new life. Perhaps this would be the year that the Buffs would overcome the first quarter blahs and carry the day!
Mike Moschetti’s first pass attempt after the missed field goal attempt brought the Buffs back to reality. Moschetti, harried by defensive lineman Jeremy Slechta, was intercepted by free safety Clint Finley, who returned the pick 42 yards for a touchdown. 7-0, Nebraska, with 11:09 still to play in the first quarter.
The missed field goal had been a ruse. Colorado was back to playing like Colorado. What was worse, the Buffs were making Nebraska look like Nebraska again.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the rout. Colorado didn’t fold.
In fact, the Buff defense played brilliantly, holding Nebraska out of the end zone for the remainder of the game. Three field goals and 254 yards of total offense were all the Cornhuskers could muster. For the second time in 1998, the Colorado defense had held a top ten offense to 16 points.
And, for a second time, Colorado lost.
Colorado did put together decent drives, tying the score on a 17-yard pass from Moschetti to Javon Green midway through the first quarter, with the second long drive giving the Buffs the lead, 14-13, on a 13-yard pitch and catch from Moschetti to freshman fullback Andy Peeke in the third.
Colorado even had a chance to put the game away late in the third quarter. After taking the lead, the Buff defense forced a Nebraska punt. On a nifty reverse punt return, freshman John Minardi took a pitch from Ben Kelly, following a convoy 39 yards, all the way to the Nebraska 22-yard line. Already up 14-13, the Buffs seemed poised to deliver a knock-out punch and pull out a win in Lincoln for only the second time since 1967.
Destiny, though, took a hand. Penalties, missed assignments, and turnovers sealed the Buffs’ fate. Colorado did not even get a field goal attempt out of their great field position. Given ample chances by their defensive teammates, the Colorado offense just could not put together that one drive which would have righted so many wrongs.
Cornhusker Kris Brown connected on a 25-yard field goal with 8:48 remaining to give Nebraska a 16-14 lead. The Buffs had several opportunities in the waning moments to put together a final drive to pull of the upset, but it wasn’t meant to be. An offensive pass interference call against senior wide receiver Darrin Chivarrini (held without a catch for the first time all season) put an end to the Buffs’ final chance.
“When you do a post-mortem on a two-point loss,” said a disconsolate Rick Neuheisel after the game, “it’s the most sickening thing. It’s hard for me to stay upbeat.” Neuheisel would have to, though, as the 1999 season would begin with the preparation for CU’s upcoming bowl game, announced a week later to be Oregon in the Aloha Bowl.
So much in college football rides on perception. A team in the preseason top ten will be given much more leeway with a loss than a pretender which does not have the history or the hype. Coming into the game against Colorado, much of the talk was of the end of the Nebraska dynasty. The Cornhuskers in 1998 had lost to Kansas State for the first time in 29 years, had lost at home for the first time in six years, and had been saddled with three conference defeats for the first time since 1976. First-year head coach Frank Solich, while not on the hot seat for his job, was certainly subject to much discussion amongst Nebraska faithful.
One win later – never mind that his team had been outplayed in many facets of the game – Solich and Nebraska were back amongst the elite. 9-3 (the 12th game courtesy of a set up game with Louisiana Tech to start the season), Nebraska now had nine wins for the 30th consecutive year. The 47-game home winning streak and 19-game winning streak overall had been lost earlier in the season, but the beat went on. Nebraska edged closer to the top ten in the next poll, rising to 13th.
For Colorado, though, coming on the heels of a 5-6 year, there was only mild consolation in a 7-4 campaign. The Buffs had been 5-0, but had stumbled mightily down the stretch. Those who saw the glass as half empty noted that head coach Rick Neuheisel, who had posted a 20-4 record in his first two seasons utilizing primarily Bill McCartney’s recruits, had gone only 12-10 since with his own recruits in the leadership positions. Those who saw the glass as half full noted that many young players had been forced into duty due to injury, and saw the winning campaign as a sign that the ship had been righted.
In either event, the Buffs’ win early in November against Iowa State had assured the Buffs of a bowl game, which Neuheisel recognized as vital to the advancement of his young team due to the extra practices a bowl game provided. Colorado would have to wait, though, until after the conference championship games to find out where and when they would be playing.
Game Notes -
- Marlon Barnes had 25 carries for 102 yards to lead all rushers. The Nebraska game represented the third game of the 1998 season in which Barnes eclipsed the 100-yard mark (Oklahoma; Iowa State). Out with injuries for five of the Buffs’ 12 regular season games, Barnes nonetheless lead the team in rushing for the season, with 572 yards.
- Freshman linebacker Jashon Sykes led the team in tackles, with 14 (ten solo). Sykes also added two sacks against the Cornhuskers.
- Sophomore cornerback Ben Kelly had an interception against Nebraska. His four picks for the season led the team in 1998.
- The day after the Nebraska game, quarterback Mike Moschetti was named the Big 12 Newcomer-of-the-Year. Moschetti was the first such Buff to be so honored in the Big 12 era, and was the first Buff to be named the conference Newcomer-of-the-Year since kicker Jim Harper won the award in 1990.
- Nebraska came into the 1998 game ranked 14th in the nation. The game represented the first time since 1981 when Colorado faced Nebraska when the Cornhuskers were not a top ten team.
- Nebraska went on to lose to No. 5 Arizona, 23-20, in the Holiday Bowl. With a 9-4 overall record, Nebraska finished the 1998 season ranked 19th.