Despite all of his accomplishments, legendary Nebraska head football coach Tom Osborne had the reputation of a coach who couldn’t win the big game. That reputation would die on this day 25 years ago.
In his 22nd second season in Lincoln, Osborne had his team in a familiarly haunting position — undefeated and playing for a national championship at the Orange Bowl — on Jan. 1, 1995. The year prior, Byron Bennett missed a 45-yard field goal as time expired in an 18-16 loss to Florida State. To cap the 1983 season, Osborne elected to go for a 2-point conversion and the win in a 31-30 loss to Miami.
The No. 3 Hurricanes were again the opponent for the 12-0 Cornhuskers to close the 1994 season. Top-ranked Nebraska trailed by eight after three quarters, but rallied for a 24-17 victory to deliver Osborne his first national title.
Entering the night, one of the bigger decisions facing Osborne was who to start at quarterback. Tommie Frazier had not played since the final weekend in September while Brook Berringer had guided the Cornhuskers to eight straight victories. Frazier got the start, but more importantly, he got the finish.
Through three quarters, Miami had dominated the contest. The 10-1 Hurricanes twice led by 10 points thanks to long touchdown passes from Frank Costa to Trent Jones and Jonathan Harris. To that point, the only touchdown for Nebraska came on a 19-yard touchdown toss from Berringer to Mark Gilman.
Down 17-7 late in the third quarter, it was a defensive play that would turn the tide for Nebraska. After a penalty backed Miami inside its own 5-yard-line, linebacker Dwayne Harris sacked Costa in the end zone for a safety.
The Cornhuskers were unable to take advantage on their next offensive series and then of what appeared to be a big break. After an errant snap went over the head of Miami punter Dane Prewitt and Nebraska was set up with goal to go, Berringer made what appeared to be a costly mistake. With no one open, the Nebraska quarterback heaved one into the end zone and into the arms of Miami’s Earl Little for an interception.
After the errant throw, Osborne ultimately went back to Frazier, who had not seen action since the first quarter. As for the Nebraska defense, it would not allow the Hurricanes another first down.
Midway through the final quarter, Nebraska drew even. After a big run from Lawrence Phillips, fullback Cory Schlesinger capped a 60-yard drive with a 15-yard touchdown. Frazier found tight end Eric Alford for the tying 2-point conversion.
The Nebraska defense wasted no time getting the football back as the Cornhuskers took over at their own 42-yard-line. On a critical 3rd-and-4, Frazier would make the biggest play of the game on an option run for 25 yards inside the Miami 30. Three players later, Schlesinger scored from 14 yards out to put Nebraska ahead for good with less than three minutes to play.
Fittingly, it was the Nebraska defense that sealed the contest. After back-to-back sacks of Costa from Harris and Terry Connealy, safety Kareem Moss intercepted the Miami quarterback’s fourth down throw to preserve the win and perfect season.
Schlesinger may have rushed for two touchdowns, but it was Phillips who paced Nebraska with 96 yards rushing. The Cornhuskers finished with 199 yards on the ground to just 29 for Miami. Costa passed for 248 yards in the loss. Harris tallied three tackles for loss.
Penn State would win the following day against Oregon in the Rose Bowl to also finish undefeated, but Nebraska managed to garner 51 1/2 of the 62 first-place votes in the AP Poll and 54 of the 62 in the Coaches Poll to claim the national title. Osborne would cap his career by winning three national titles in four years as Nebraska repeated in 1995 and shared the title with Michigan in 1997. The first of those was wrapped up on this day a quarter-century ago.
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