October 29th – at Nebraska             No.3  Nebraska 24, No. 2  Colorado 7

Like many over-hyped Super Bowls, the 1994 Game-of-the-Year failed to live up to advance billing … at least as far as Colorado fans were concerned.

No. 3 Nebraska methodically took care of business, defeating No. 2 Colorado, 24-7, to take the inside track to the Big Eight and National Championships.  Led by quarterback Brook Berringer, subbing for injured starter Tommy Frazier, the Cornhuskers built a 17-0 halftime lead and were never thereafter challenged by the Buffs.

Fullback Cory Schlesinger scored on a 14-yard run midway through the first quarter to give Nebraska a lead it would not surrender. Early in the second quarter, the Colorado defense made an impressive goal line stand against the Nebraska offense, but the Cornhuskers did come away with a 24-yard field goal by Tom Sieler to take a 10-0 lead.

Rashaan Salaam, who had three carries for eight yards in the first quarter, didn’t have much chance to get things going until the Buffs were down two scores. Trailing 10-0, The Buffs put together their most efficient drive of the first half led by the impressive exploits of Salaam who carried six times for 28 yards and gained three first downs on an 11-play drive that eventually stalled at the Nebraska 26-yard line. From there, with halftime fast approaching, the Buffs looked to move back within one score and establish a sense of momentum that might carry over to the second half. Instead, kicker Neil Voskeritchian was short on a 43-yard field goal attempt.

In the final minute of the first half, Nebraska culminated a nine-play, 73-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run by Clinton Childs to take a commanding 17-0 lead into the break.

The Nebraska offense was not flashy, but it was effective, keeping the ball for 21:27 of the first half clock.

The Buffs did have their chances.  In the third quarter, Nebraska’s defense stopped two Colorado drives on fourth down, first at the Cornhusker 35-yard line, the second at the Nebraska 21.  The fourth quarter was a repeat of the third, as Nebraska stopped the Buffs on two more fourth down attempts.

Colorado’s offense, so dominant in the weeks leading up to the showdown with Nebraska, was kept in check.  Rashaan Salaam did pick up a score on a six-yard run late in the third quarter, but the Buffs could manage only 155 yards on the ground for the game. The Colorado defense did hold Nebraska to just five first downs and 11 total yards in the second half, but the damage done in the first half could not be overcome.

“Other than Nebraska’s fine play, I really don’t have any explanation for why we didn’t play well,” said Colorado head coach Bill McCartney.  “They just outplayed us.”

Salaam would ultimately finish the day with a respectable 134 yards rushing on 22 carries, the most by any Nebraska opponent all season, but his effort had been overshadowed by the performance of a Nebraska defense that held one of the nation’s top scoring offenses to a season-low seven points.

“I’m shocked,” said Salaam afterwards. “I’m really disappointed. I came out here really confident. I worked hard for this. It’s just stuck in my throat and I can’t swallow.”

Buff players, who saw their chances at a Big Eight title and a shot at the national title eliminated in one afternoon, did not have any explanations, either.  “They made some great plays against us that we shouldn’t have allowed,” said senior linebacker Ted Johnson.  “We got too far behind and couldn’t come back.”

Defensive tackle Darius Holland was more succinct:  “They totally and honestly just whipped our ass.”

Here is the YouTube video of the 1994 Colorado/Nebraska game, courtesy of CU at the Gamer Paul;

 

Now What?

What had seemed to be a charmed season was now seemingly in ruins.  With the loss, Colorado fell to No. 7 in the polls, and was now 7-1 (3-1 in the Big Eight).  A 7-1 record from a team which had been 8-3-1 in 1993, considering six of the first eight games had been against ranked opponents, was not bad at all.

But, with the Orange Bowl and the National Championship now out of reach, the question had to be asked:

Now What?

“I don’t think we’re a candidate to win the National Championship at this point,” said a disappointed McCartney after the Nebraska loss.  “But we are a candidate to go to a January 1st or 2nd bowl and play a great opponent.  We still have that to look forward to.”

The most likely scenario for the Buffs, if they could win out in their final three games of the regular season, was a trip to Tempe, Arizona, for the Fiesta Bowl.  “We have the first pick on Colorado if they are not the Big Eight champs,” said Fiesta Bowl representative John Junker.  “So we’d have to pass on them in order for them to play in any other bowl and it’s not likely that we’ll do that.”

So, three wins would likely mean a New Year’s Day date in Arizona.  Three walkover wins against Oklahoma State, Kansas, and Iowa State and a game against a top tier team would mean 11 wins and a top ten finish.  Not bad.

But 1994 still had so much more drama to offer.

– Game Notes –

– Nebraska’s edge in total yards – 345-to-314 – and first downs – 20-to-18 – were not great, but the Cornhuskers held a decisive 234-89 advantage in total yards in the decisive first half.

– Nebraska held the ball for 38:24 of game clock, to just 21:36 for Colorado.

– The Buffs’ lone scoring drive of the afternoon, coming on a six-yard run by Rashaan Salaam, was the end result of only a 36-yard touchdown drive (in five plays), coming after the Cornhuskers’ lone turnover on the day.

– Linebacker Ted Johnson had a team season-high 20 tackles against Nebraska, including 13 solo tackles. Johnson would go on to garner many honors in the 1994 season. A second-team All-American (AP), Johnson was a first-team All-Big Eight honoree, one of 15 semi-finalists for Defensive National Player-of-the-Year (Football News), and was the runner-up for the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s best linebacker (Dana Howard from Illinois won the Butkus Award in 1994).

– The 24-7 victory over Colorado would vault former No. 3 Nebraska into the No. 1 ranking. Wins over Kansas, Iowa State, and Oklahoma kept the Cornhuskers perfect in the regular season. Nebraska was then matched with No. 3 Miami in the Orange Bowl. A 24-17 victory over the Hurricanes gave the Cornhuskers a perfect 13-0 record, and Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne his first national title (in his 22nd-year as head coach). No. 2 Penn State, which defeated No. 12 Oregon, 38-20, in the Rose Bowl, remained at No. 2. Colorado, which entered the bowl season as the nation’s No. 4 team, supplanted Miami at the No. 3 spot after defeating Notre Dame, 41-24, in the Fiesta Bowl.

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