Birth of a Rivalry – Part IV


Here is the continuation of the birth of a rivalry series. Today we look at another game that helped drive the rivalry to new heights.

Nebraska began the 1990 season ranked 7th nationally. The Huskers cruised through their non-conference schedule with victories over Baylor, Northern Illinois, Minnesota, and Oregon State. The Big Red then began their conference schedule with wins over Kansas State, Missouri, Oklahoma State and Iowa State. The Huskers were now 8-0 and their closest game was a 13-0 season opening win over Baylor.

After defeating Nebraska in Boulder in 1989, Colorado came within one win of a possible national title. As a result, they began the 1990 season with extremely high expectations. Their season started in Anaheim, California in the Disneyland Pigskin Classic against Tennessee, where the Buffaloes tied the Volunteers 31-31. After a win over Stanford, CU went on the road and lost to #21 ranked Illinois 23-22. Following the unexpected loss Colorado ran off five straight wins including the infamous 5th down victory at Missouri. This set up a November 3rd match up between #9 Colorado and #2 Nebraska.

The weather in Lincoln for this showdown was rainy, cold and windy. After a slow start by both teams, Nebraska led 6-0 early in the 3rd quarter. NU fans hungry for a national title soon went crazy when the Memorial Stadium scoreboard flashed that #1 Virginia had lost to Georgia Tech. The cheering would continue when the Huskers recovered an Eric Bieniemy fumble at the CU 45. On the next play, Nebraska quarterback Mickey Joseph sprinted down the right sideline, and looked to be about to score. Unfortunately he stepped out of bounds at the 9, despite not being touched by a defender. Nebraska failed to score on the next three plays, and Gregg Barrios then missed a 20-yard field-goal attempt.

Nebraska managed to maintain the momentum and two drives later, they drove 80 yards and scored on Joseph’s 46-yard pass to Johnny Mitchell for a 12-0 lead with 2:38 left in the third quarter. From that point on Colorado dominated. The Buffaloes drove 71 yards and scored on Bieniemy’s 1-yard run with 14:43 left in the game. Colorado then stopped the Huskers and started driving again. Bieniemy had an 8-yard run, which was followed quickly by a Darian Hagan 34-yard pass. Three plays later, Bieniemy scored on a 2-yard run. CU missed on the two-point conversion but led 13-12 with 8:37 left.

With less than 7 minutes to play Nebraska had the ball and faced a fourth down still trailing by a point. The Huskers lined up in punt formation, but the generally conservative Osborne called for a fake. NU failed to pick up the first down and Colorado had the ball with 6:38 left. Of the fake, Osborne said:

“I’ll probably catch heck for it since it didn’t work. I began to see that we weren’t stopping them very well, and I thought maybe that was our best chance to move the ball down the field.”

Six plays later Bieniemy found the endzone again and Colorado went up 20-12. Nebraska’s offense sputtered once more and the Buffs got the ball back. As time ran down Bieniemy scored the final touchdown, his fourth of the day, with 1:20 remaining.

When the game ended Bieniemy, who had 161 yards, ran off, grabbed an orange from an assistant coach and held it over his head while facing the southwest corner of the stadium, where CU’s fans were sitting. Colorado had defeated Nebraska for the second year in a row and the Buffaloes were headed back to the Orange Bowl.

After the Colorado loss Nebraska bounced back to defeat Kansas. Two weeks later, however, the Huskers were dismantled 45-10 by Oklahoma in Norman. At 9-2 Nebraska headed to the Citrus Bowl to face #2 ranked Georgia Tech. Nebraska continued its season-ending collapse and the Yellow Jackets thrashed Big Red 45-21. Nebraska finished the year 9-3 and ranked tied for17th in the UPI poll and 24th in the AP poll.

Colorado, which was now ranked #1 met #5 Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl. The Buffaloes got revenge on the Irish by defeating them 10-9. This led to a split national title, in which Colorado won the AP title, while Georgia Tech took home the UPI honor.

National Titles
Bill McCartney – 1
Tom Osborne – 0

The rivalry grows.

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