1996 Fiesta Bowl
|1996 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl|
|National Championship Game|
|Date||January 2, 1996|
|Stadium||Sun Devil Stadium|
|Referee||Pat Flood (Pac-10)|
|United States TV coverage|
|Announcers||Jim Nantz and Terry Donahue|
The 1996 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl game was a post-season college football bowl game in which the Nebraska Cornhuskers won the national championship for the 1995 college football season by defeating the Florida Gators, 62–24. Played on January 2, 1996, at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona, the game matched the #1 and #2 ranked teams in the nation, respectively, Nebraska and Florida. The game was part of the 1995–96 Bowl Alliance.
The game was billed as a classic #1 vs. #2 matchup, featuring two completely different but equally potent offenses.
Nebraska, the defending national champion, opened the season by pounding Oklahoma State 64-21. It set the tone for a season in which no opponent came within 14 points, including three Top-10 ranked opponents whom the Huskers defeated by a combined score of 134–49 (#8 Kansas State, #7 Colorado and #10 Kansas). The Huskers averaged more than 53 points per game and 400 yards rushing.
Florida, behind the passing of future Heisman winner Danny Wuerffel, had racked up similarly impressive offensive numbers, though mostly through the air. They emerged unbeaten through a brutal Southeastern Conference schedule, having throttled rivals Tennessee and Florida State, and whipping Arkansas 34–3 in the SEC championship game. Florida, like Nebraska, had rarely been tested; its closest margin of victory had been 11 points.
Oddsmakers had made Nebraska about a 3-point favorite going into the game. However, many experts picked Florida to win, as it was thought that Nebraska's option attack would not succeed very well on Sun Devil Stadium's grass field, and that Wuerffel's passing arm would be too deadly for Nebraska to stop.
Florida received the opening kickoff and drove to the Nebraska 5, before settling for a 23-yard Bart Edmiston field goal. Aided by good field position, the Huskers countered on their opening series with a 53 yard scoring drive, capped by a 16-yard cross-field throwback pass from Tommie Frazier to Lawrence Phillips. The Gators blocked the Huskers' extra point, and Nebraska led 6–3. Late in the period, Florida went back ahead on a short 1-yard sneak from Wuerffel and led 10–6. As the Gators scored, CBS' Terry Donahue stated, "Nebraska better not get too far behind."
The Huskers effectively put the game out of reach with a 29-point explosion in the second quarter. Phillips began the quarter with a dazzling 42-yard touchdown run that put the Huskers back in front. On the very next possession, Florida took over at its own 22, but was pushed back into the shadow of its own end zone. On second down, the Huskers appeared to have sacked Wuerffel in the end zone for a safety, but officials ruled his forward progress had brought him out to the 1. On the very next play from scrimmage, Jamel Williams blitzed and sacked Wuerffel untouched in the middle of the end zone, forcing the resulting safety that had been denied from the play before, and the score was 15–10. A 1-yard dive from freshman Ahman Green and a Kris Brown field goal made the margin 15 points. Then, cornerback Michael Booker picked off a Wuerffel pass and returned it 42 yards for another Nebraska score, this one making it 32–10. Nebraska quickly forced a punt and added a second Brown field goal to take a decisive 35–10 advantage into the locker room.
Florida continued to struggle against Nebraska's aggressive, blitzing defense. On their second possession of the second half, Wuerffel was intercepted by Eric Stokes at the Nebraska 28. The Huskers' first two possessions both ventured deep into Florida territory before turning it over on an interception and on downs. Frazier then broke through the line for a blazing 35-yard touchdown run later in the third, putting the Huskers further in front at 42–10. Florida countered with a 77-yard scoring drive, capped by a 35-yard pass from Wuerffel to Ike Hilliard, and a two-point conversion made the score 42–18. The Huskers took over possession at their own 20 with less than a minute remaining in the third quarter. What followed was one of the most memorable plays in Nebraska football and Fiesta Bowl history.
On second down from the Nebraska 25, Cornhuskers quarterback Tommie Frazier ran an option play to the right, and decided to keep the ball rather than pitch. He gained 11 yards before being met by a group of Florida defenders at the 36-yard line, which he then dragged approximately 10 yards before shrugging them off and breaking free, streaking 75 yards down the sideline to give Nebraska a 49–18 lead. Frazier had broken no less than seven tackles on the play. Frazier would finish the game with 199 yards rushing. Nebraska also set records for most rushing yards in a bowl game, with 524, and the most points in the second quarter of a bowl game, with 29.
The fourth quarter was something of an anti-climax, with the result having more or less been decided. After the Huskers were forced to punt for the first time in the game, Florida muffed the catch and Nebraska recovered. Frazier orchestrated another touchdown drive on the short field, ending with a 15-yard Lawrence Phillips touchdown run. The ensuing PAT was blocked to leave the score at 57–18. Nebraska backup quarterback Brook Berringer came in to relieve Frazier and led the Huskers on one last scoring drive, which he capped himself with a 1-yard quarterback sneak, and the Huskers led 62–18. Reidel Anthony of Florida returned the ensuing kickoff 92 yards to end the scoring.
Florida attempted a two-point conversion, but quarterback Eric Kresser was sacked and fumbled. Nebraska defensive tackle Christian Peter recovered and returned it for two points but the play had been blown dead.
Third-string quarterback Matt Turman drove the Huskers to the Florida goal line before taking a knee to run out the clock. Nebraska won 62–24 and claimed a second consecutive national championship. They were the first team to win back-to-back titles since Alabama in 1978 and 1979. As of 2013, the 1994 and 1995 Nebraska teams remain the only undefeated and untied consensus - back-to-back national champions since Oklahoma in 1955 and 1956.
The 1995 Nebraska squad has been voted as the greatest college football team of all-time in many surveys, including the all-time Sagarin ratings. An ESPN poll has them at #3, only behind the 1971 Huskers and 1972 USC Trojans.
For much of the summer of 1995, a common joke on ESPN was "Hey Gators, Nebraska just scored again." The Gators would use the Fiesta Bowl rout as a rallying point for the 1996 season, in which they won the first national championship in school history.
- Dickey, Pat (2013). 100 Things Florida Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. Triumph Books.