On this date 25 years ago, Billy Joe Hobert and Beno Bryant led a big second-half surge as the No. 4 Huskies rallied to beat No. 9 Nebraska in Lincoln.
It was one of the Huskies’ most memorable victories of the 1991 national-championship season. And, as they trailed by 12 points late in the third quarter, it probably looked for awhile like their most improbable win, too.
The final score in Lincoln, Neb.: No. 4 Washington 36, No. 9 Nebraska 21.
That was 25 years ago today.
As part of a periodic flashback to 1991 championship season, we’ll revisit some of the great moments of the greatest team in Husky history through The Seattle Times archives. Today, we review Washington’s win at Nebraska on Sept. 21, 1991.
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Headline: UW STICKS IT IN THEIR EARS: Huskies overpower Cornhuskers
Published Sept. 22, 1991
By DICK ROCKNE
Seattle Times staff reporter
LINCOLN, Neb. — Mired in a 12-point hole as a consequence of a multitude of sins, Washington last night rallied to produce what Coach Don James called one of his greatest victories.
The No. 4-ranked Huskies overcame adversity by scoring 27 unanswered points — 20 in the fourth quarter — to defeat No. 9 Nebraska 36-21 before 76,304 fans in Memorial Stadium.
It was a triumph generated by the passing and leadership of quarterback Billy Joe Hobert, the running of Beno Bryant and the stellar performance of a defensive unit that added another notch to its distinguished record of achievement.
“It’s a big victory, to beat a team like Nebraska at home,” James said outside a Husky locker room gone bonkers. “They don’t lose very many at home.”
James said he was particularly proud of how his team came back, seemingly from the brink of defeat.
“We had adversity and fell behind, and then when we fumbled the punt and fell further behind, that’s a time when a team can hang it up and quit,” James said. “But it was a great fourth quarter for us.”
The fumbled punt by Bryant, on the Husky 2-yard line, came with 5:36 to play in the third quarter. Mike Anderson recovered it for Nebraska, and on first down Derek Brown ran for the touchdown to build the Cornhusker lead to 21-9.
But that, as it turned out, is when the lights went out on the Huskers (2-1). The Huskies roared back behind Hobert and Bryant by scoring four touchdowns.
The Huskies (2-0) completed a 76-yard, 12-play drive with a 15-yard touchdown run by Bryant with 19 seconds left in the third quarter to make the score 21-16.
Next, Hobert hit Orlando McKay on an 8-yard TD pass to cap a 69-yard, six-play series that put the Huskies ahead for the first time, 22-21, with 11:20 to play in the game.
Two plays after the kickoff, Nebraska quarterback Keithen McCant was hit by Jaime Fields and fumbled, and Paxton Tailele recovered for Washington.
That led to 3-yard touchdown run by Hobert that gave the Huskies a 29-21 lead with 7:26 to go.
The coup de grace was provided by tailback Jay Barry, who weaved around right end for 81 yards and a touchdown with 5:38 to play.
Hobert, a redshirt sophomore making only his second start, completed 23 of 40 passes for 283 yards; Bryant, a junior who obviously is nearly recovered from a preseason knee injury, gained 139 yards on 17 carries. Barry, with his 81-yard run, finished with 110 yards on 11 carries.
Overall, the Huskies posted Nebraska-like numbers. They gained 618 yards, close to the school record of 675 set against Washington State in 1950 and close to the most ever given up Cornhuskers (656 to Oklahoma in 1956). Nebraska gained 308 yards.
The offensive and defensive efforts finally overcame the adversity of eight penalties for 91 yards, two pass interceptions thrown by Hobert and Bryant’s fumbled punt.
No one was more responsible than Hobert, who made big plays when they most were needed.
Example: Late in the third quarter, when the Huskies trailed 21-9, Hobert completed an apparent touchdown pass of 33 yards to McKay. But a holding penalty nullified the play and left the Huskies with third down and 27 from the Nebraska 49.
Hobert scrambled up the middle for 19 yards. Then, on fourth down, he hit McKay for 15 yards and a first down. Bryant followed with a 15-yard run up the middle for the touchdown.
What Hobert said about the 19-yard scramble was that “it should have been a first down. I tripped up. I should have kept my feet.”
Running is not what he wanted to do.
“But I didn’t see anybody open and I felt like I was being flushed out so I just took off,” Hobert said. …
Meanwhile, James was talking about memorable victories and mentioned the triumph at Michigan in 1984 and the win at UCLA in 1989.
“I’d say obviously this one has got to be right up there at the top because of who we played,” James said.
Headline: WASHINGTON RESPONDS WITH CONFIDENCE, TRUE GRIT
Sept. 22, 1991
By BLAINE NEWNHAM
Seattle Times columnist
LINCOLN, Neb. — This was the stuff of which national champions are made.
When everything that could go wrong had, the University of Washington responded with a confidence and true grit that enabled it to quiet massive Memorial Stadium and leave a legion of Big Red fans almost gasping at what they had seen.
This was the performance Miami gave against Houston, that Florida State gave against BYU, big, strong, quick athletes put in positions to exploit same.
And it happened in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers haven’t given up so many yards – Washington had 618 – since they were clubbed by Oklahoma 35 years ago.
When it was over, when the Washington offense had shown what 1990s football is all about and its defense had made Nebraska’s option offense look like Smithsonian material, the Big Red fans stood to salute Washington leaving the field.
“I was impressed with their sportsmanship,” said Mario Bailey.
“The fans showed a lot.”
The Huskies showed more.
The final score, Washington 36, Nebraska 21, was not indicative of the closeness of the game — the Huskies were behind 21-9 as the third quarter was ending.
And yet it was.
The Huskies threw a blitzkrieg at the Huskers. They showed why Don James hired Keith Gilbertson. They showed that they can win a national championship with Billy Joe Hobert at quarterback.
“These kids are really special,” said Gilbertson, the offensive coordinator, “when you get down 21-9 in the heart of Big Eight country and you come back like we did, hey, that’s special.”
Nebraska had rolled up monster scores and statistical numbers in embarrassing Utah State and Colorado State. This was a team that after two games hadn’t punted.
But it was obvious from the beginning that the only team that could beat Washington was Washington.
The Husky defense allowed Nebraska one sustained drive all night, and that was propelled by two trick plays. In terms of size and strength, the Husky defense was a match for Nebraska. In terms of speed, it was no contest.
Steve Emtman made a strong claim to the Outland Trophy with his obsessive, all-over-the-field, at times maniacal play.
But more than anything, this game belonged to the offense. For the first time, the one-back offense Gilbertson brought from Idaho was working the way it works for Dennis Erickson at Miami.
The Huskies came first with the pass, spreading the field, forcing Nebraska to expend energy pass rushing. Then it came back with the run. It was just as Gilbertson and Don James and drawn it up.
In the no-back set, Nebraska was forced to defend Bailey on one side and Beno Bryant on the other with linebackers.
“We don’t have corners in our program who can cover Mario Bailey, let alone linebackers,” said James.
Against one back and three wide receivers, Nebraska tried to get by with just one linebacker in the middle of the field.
“We hoped Beno’s quickness would work for us,” said James, “and it did.”
Bryant squeezed through the line, cut past the one linebacker and churned his way to 139 yards in 17 carries. Jay Barry went for another 114 yards, although 81 of it came in the dying minutes of the game.
“I’m worn out,” said Ed Cunningham, the center. “Nebraska has big, physical guys. But, hey, so do we.”
The Huskies dug themselves a hole with four holding penalties and one personal foul. They also got an old-fashioned homering from the officials, both on a two-point PAT they took away from Aaron Pierce and on a fumble Bryant had trying to field a punt at the two.
Even so, the Huskies need to get smarter. Tommie Smith had a clipping call on a punt Bryant was fair catching. One holding call came when five Huskies were trying to block three Huskers. And offensive lineman Pete Kaligis was tossed out of the game for a personal foul penalty after a play was finished.
There was also a blown center snap on a PAT attempt.
But all this seems so trivial in the face of what Washington had accomplished, running Nebraska up the statistical flag pole, solidifying themselves in the top five as Michigan and Florida State play next week.
In the end, the most impressive Husky, considering the circumstances, was Hobert. He completed 23 of 40 passes for 283 yards.
“How much adversity did Billy come back from?” asked Cunningham. “He knew where to put the ball, and then he delivered it on the money. He proved once again to me and the rest of the country that we can win with Billy Joe Hobert.”
Hobert saw the entire field. He threw a few balls that got away from him, but he was precise in his use of the offense and made tough throws when he had to. And near the end zone, he ran the option and knew how to score.
Mostly, he competed.
“Billy Joe has a pretty good ability to say `screw it’ when things don’t go well,” said James. “The tougher it gets, the better he likes it.”
On the sidelines, rooting him on, was Mark Brunell.
“He was real encouraging,” said Hobert, “it was nice to have him there.”
Trailing 21-16, Hobert went to work. In fact, the Huskies hit with frightening speed and effectiveness. Hobert found Aaron Pierce down the middle for 22 yards, then Matt Jones for 20 more, Beno ran the draw for 17 and finally Hobert hit McKay for eight yards and the score.
The Huskers were helpless.
Now came the defense. Paxton Tailele and Jaime Fields did a number on Keithen McCant, the Nebraska quarterback fumbling the ball at the 33 from where the Huskies rolled easily to their next touchdown, Hobert running the option and keeping himself for the final three and the score.
“I don’t think we’re clear out of Washington’s league,” said Tom Osborne, the Nebraska coach, “but that is one of the best defenses we’ve seen over the years and their passer did a great job.”
Tom wasn’t with the fans giving the Standing O, but he could have been. Should have been, in fact.