The Cornhuskers' 1994 opener, in the Kickoff Classic on Aug. 28,
bore at least one similarity to their 1993 finale, that thrilling
18-16 thud against Florida State in the Orange Bowl: It was hot. As
the Huskers squared off against West Virginia, the temperature
climbed to the triple digits on the Giants Stadium turf, and the
humidity in East Rutherford, N.J., was downright Miami-ish.
And that wasn't the only reminder of south Florida; early in the
second quarter, hurled from the stands by the Husker faithful, was a
bombardment of . . . penalty flags? ''Excuse me,'' said the P.A.
announcer, correcting his call. ''Those were oranges.''
The fruit was fired moments after third-year starter Tommie
Frazier raced for a 25-yard touchdown on a quarterback option --
though it gave the Huskers a lead of only 10-0. Usually Nebraskans
save their citrus showers for safer leads on more important
occasions, like those crisp fall Saturdays against Oklahoma or
Colorado. But on this date that marked the beginning of the '94
season, before 50 big-market sportswriters and a national TV
audience, the airmailed message was clear: This team will repeat as
Big Eight champs and return to Miami come Jan. 1.
The Big Red, ranked No. 4 in the preseason AP poll, began to make
good its fans' symbolic word, exploding for 21 points in the second
quarter and proceeding to trash West Virginia 31-0. Frazier's first
scoring jaunt proved to be his shortest of the afternoon; the others
came from 27 and 42 yards out. Frazier had a hand in all four TDs,
rushed for 137 yards on 12 carries, completed eight of 16 passes for
100 more and was named the Kickoff Classic MVP.
Meanwhile, the Nebraska defense, which had lost five of its 1993
starters to the NFL, pitched its first shutout in 20 games, preserved
in the closing minutes by a Sedric Collins interception in the end
zone. The Cornhuskers held the Mountaineers to eight yards net
rushing, racking up 13 tackles for losses and holding running back
Robert Walker, who had set a West Virginia rushing record in '93, to
46 yards on 12 carries. Middle linebacker Doug Colman, a Ventnor,
N.J., native who had 106 of his nearest and dearest among the 58,233
in the stands, made eight tackles and recovered a fumble that set up
West Virginia's only effective weapon was punter Todd Sauerbrun,
who averaged 60 yards on nine kicks, including a school-record
90-yarder. West Virginia coach Don Nehlen surveyed the damage. ''We
got a lot of work to do on defense,'' he said. ''We got a lot of work
to do on offense. We got a lot of work to do everywhere.''
The Nebraska picture was considerably brighter. ''I don't think we
started last season real well, but as the season went on, we started
smoking,'' Husker defensive coordinator Charlie McBride said. ''In
the Orange Bowl we played about as good as we can play. It's just
continuing now.'' Frazier, who did / nothing to hurt his chances to
win the Heisman Trophy, was more guarded. ''I don't think this game
means that much,'' he said. ''We have to wait four or five games to
see how good this team is.''
The Cornhuskers did have cause for concern: They turned the ball
over five times. ''Obviously, we're still a little disjointed in our
execution,'' coach Tom Osborne said. ''When you only have a short
time to get ready, it's really hard to put a good, fluid performance
Osborne took some risk for the $500,000 Kickoff payoff: A loss in
a game with such exposure might have jeopardized Nebraska at the
ballot box throughout the season. And even as it turned out, cynics
could dismiss the victory as typical of the lion-to-lamb progression
Cornhusker teams had tended to take in recent years; Nebraska won its
ninth straight lid-lifter but had not won a bowl since '87. It would
take more than a hailstorm of vitamin C to change that perception.
This is an article from the Jan. 17, 1995 issue