clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Game of the Year of the Day, 1994: Nebraska 24, Miami 17

Tom Osborne’s 1994 Nebraska Cornhuskers: one of the 50 best* of all time.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Tom Osborne

The date: January 1, 1995

The matchup: No. 1 Nebraska (12-0) vs. No. 3 Miami (10-1)

The stakes: The national title. The best opportunity yet for Tom Osborne to get a two-decade monkey off of his back. Pretty much everything.

The back story: From 50 Best*:

In 1975, Nebraska began the season 10-0 and reached second in the country in advance of a trip to Norman. Oklahoma 35, Nebraska 10.

In 1978, the Huskers finally beat Oklahoma to move to No. 2 again and needed only a home win over unranked Missouri to get a shot at the national title. Missouri 35, Nebraska 31.

In 1982, they lost at Penn State, 27-24, thanks to a controversial, patently incorrect call that resulted in a long, late Penn State completion. It was their only loss of the year; Penn State won the national title.

In 1983, they finally got to the end of the regular season undefeated with what many called the best Nebraska team ever. All they had to do was beat underdog Miami in the Orange Bowl to finish No. 1. Miami 31, Nebraska 30.

In 1993, after a decade of mostly two-loss seasons, they finally got another shot. They went 11-0 in the regular season and got a 1-versus-2 battle against Florida State in the Orange Bowl. FSU 18, Nebraska 16.

Since he succeeded resurrection artist Bob Devaney in 1973, Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne had put together a tenure of nearly impossible consistency and constant what-ifs.

Our desire to evaluate every coach’s legacy after every single game was certainly weaponized by the proliferation of the Internet, but it didn’t start with the Internet. Heading into 1994, Tom Osborne was The Guy Who Couldn’t Win The Big Game. Something always got in the way. And by the late-1980s, he was struggling to find fifth gear again. NU was constantly very good but rarely truly great, losing at least two games every year from 1984 to 1992 and going five straight years without final poll ranking in the single digits.

Most teams would kill for such a run. But Osborne was still hoping for a breakthrough.

Thanks to a combination of strong talent identification, proper use of the Prop 48 rule, and, yes, a few character risks, Osborne bumped NU’s talent level up just enough to make another go at a title. The Huskers came up one game short again in 1993, but they headed into 1994 a major contender. And then quarterback Tommie Frazier was lost for an extended time with blood clot issues.

NU survived a few iffy offensive performances thanks to the ridiculous Blackshirts defense, and backup quarterback Brook Berringer raised his game significantly down the stretch. The Huskers got to the finish line 12-0, and Frazier was expected back for the Orange Bowl.

Now all the Huskers had to do was clear the hurdle they couldn't clear in 1991 (Miami 22, Nebraska 0), 1988 (Miami 23, Nebraska 3), or 1983 (Miami 31, Nebraska 30): beating The U in the Orange Bowl.

The game: Via the AP/Newspapers.com:

MIAMI—Tom Osborne, who suffered his most painful defeats at the Orange Bowl, celebrated his greatest victory there last night.

The Nebraska coach all but clinched his first national championship when the top-ranked Cornhuskers beat No. 3 Miami 24-17 behind the fourth-quarter leadership of quarterback Tommie Frazier.

"It means a lot," Osborne said after the game, still not smiling. "I'm proud of the players. They showed a lot of heart.

"We were maybe a little stronger physically in the fourth quarter."

Frazier, playing for the first time since being sidelined with blood clots in late September, guided the Cornhuskers to two touchdowns by Cory Schlesigner in the last eight minutes after sitting out the second and third quarters.

In a controversial decision, Osborne chose Frazier to start the game instead of Brook Berringer, who was 7-0 as a starter in Frazier's absence. The decision paid off when, with Frazier at the controls, Schlesinger scored on runs of 15 and 14 yards in the fourth quarter to rally Nebraska from a 17-9 deficit.

This game played out like a movie, with the awkward QB arrangement, the “Here we go again” early deficit, the fourth-quarter bull charge (“maybe a little stronger physically in the fourth quarter” was the biggest understatement Osborne ever made), and, of course, the fullback scoring the winning points. A Nebraska fan fiction writer would have drawn it up in exactly that manner.

The box score:

(Ignore the odd “Fla” nomenclature.)

Newspapers.com

Miami came up with some huge early passes before NU’s defense was able to start hitting QB Frank Costa a little bit. Berringer, meanwhile, had a little bit of success in the middle of the game but had a crippling end zone interception as well.

It really is worth your time to watch the entire game above. There were lots and lots of plot twists, and you can pinpoint pretty much the exact moment that Miami’s defensive front runs out of gas. Pretty fun.

This was both the beginning of the Nebraska dynasty -- the Huskers would win titles in 1995 and 1997, as well -- and the end of Miami's first big run. The Canes had won the 1983, 1987, 1989, and 1991 titles, beginning a huge run with the 1983 upset of Nebraska, and the tables had finally turned. Miami would be back, of course, and NU has been yearning for greatness since basically the moment Osborne retired, but this was maybe the most significant result of the 1990s.