Jerry Stovall said tonight he told his Louisiana State football team it would beat Nebraska on a field goal in the final 30 seconds. The Cornhuskers declined to cooperate, however, and left the Orange Bowl with a 21-20 victory, despite making six turnovers.
Nebraska benefitted greatly from several major blunders by an LSU team that came into the game a 10 1/2-point underdog. Perhaps because of those odds, or this week's racial disturbances in Miami, or the Penn State-Georgia game played at the same time, a crowd of 54,407, smallest in the Orange Bowl since 1947, turned out to watch.
Those few who saw the game live and on a national television broadcast also saw Nebraska take advantage of a bad decision by LSU punter Clay Parker to run with the football on a fourth-and-19 situation early in the fourth period.
Faced by a heavy Nebraska rush, Parker ducked under one potential tackler and seemingly had enough time to kick the football away. Instead, this bare-footed kicker tried to run for the first down, a tough enough task with two shoes. He was tackled seven yards short by Jeff Smith and Nebraska took over at the LSU 48.
From there, the third-ranked Cornhuskers, who had trailed, 14-7, at the half, came back and drove to the eventual game-winning touchdown, quarterback Turner Gill's one-yard dive over center on a keeper play for a 21-17 lead Nebraska never relinquished.
"If I had to do it over again, sure I would have kicked the ball," Parker said in the LSU locker room. "I just felt the pressure from that one guy. I didn't want to take a chance.
"It's the kind of play if you make it you are a hero. I didn't make it; what else can you say?"
You could also say Nebraska showed its poise and character late in the game, after Stovall had elected to go for a field goal--Juan Betanzos' 49-yard kick with 5:05 to play--that cut the Nebraska lead to 21-20.
"I told the kids all week I thought we'd win on a field goal in the last 30 seconds," Stovall said. "I thought we'd stop them and get the ball back again for another shot."
It never happened.
Instead, Nebraska drove from its own 20 to the LSU 18 when the final gun sounded.
In that drive, Nebraska took a large chance when Gill passed to Irving Fryar for 13 yards and a critical first down on third and 10 at the LSU 37 with 1:23 left in the game.
It was a daring maneuver for a team that lost four fumbles and had two passes intercepted tonight. But it was not out of character.
On Nebraska's second touchdown drive, late in the third quarter, Gill elected to pass on a fourth-and-one situation at the LSU 34. The pass to Todd Brown gained 17 yards and a vital first down.
Three plays later, Gill threw 11 yards to Mike Rozier in the flat, and the stubby tailback scored easily to cut LSU's lead to 17-14.
Why was Nebraska throwing the football at the end, with the game, and possibly the national championship, still not settled ?
"We had an outside chance to be the national champions," said Nebraska center Dave Rimington. "We wanted to show people this is a great football team."
LSU, meanwhile, demonstrated it is a team that cannot be taken lightly in the future. The young Tigers caused many of their own problems, including several penalties that eventually cost them the game.
The first of these came early in the third quarter.
Quarterback Alan Risher had just passed 19 yards over the middle to Eric Martin, who made a diving, one-handed catch even as his shoe fell off for a first down at the Nebraska seven.
On first and goal from the there, fullback Mike Montz went up the middle and was stopped inches short of a touchdown. However, officials ruled an illegal procedure on LSU--"They told me we didn't have enough people on the line," Stovall said--and LSU was penalized back to the 12.
Risher then threw three straight incomplete passes and Betanzos came on to kick a 28-yard field goal for a 17-7 LSU lead.
Stovall declined to complain about that procedure penalty or any other call in the game, including a personal foul on cornerback James Britt that aided the Cornhuskers' second touchdown drive late in the third quarter.
Britt also was called for pass interference against Brown on the Huskers' game-winning touchdown drive, but as Stovall said later, there was "nothing you could do about it."
Stovall said he told his team, now 8-3-1, that "I love them. They played the No. 3 team in the country to a standstill, and if we had the football one more time, I believe we would have won the game."
Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne said, "Our players showed excellent poise. We were pleased to win the game, despite all of the adversity."
Nebraska, now 12-1 with its only loss by three points to Penn State, won tonight despite gaining 403 yards, far short of its season average of 518 yards total offense per game. The Cornhuskers also prevailed by limiting LSU to 211 yards, including 38 yards on the ground.
"That was a great football team we just played out there," Stovall said.
Asked if he thought Nebraska was the No. 1 team in the country, he said, "That's the best team we've played. That's enough for me." [TABLE OMITTED]