Photo courtesy of Nebraska athletics
Since Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2010, the Cornhuskers and Michigan have split four meetings. Prior to that, the previous two meetings between the schools were bowl games.
Unquestionably, the most bizarre of those took place on this day 15 years ago. Nebraska rallied from 11 points down to beat Michigan in the Alamo Bowl, 32-28.
Despite the thrilling nature of the victory, it was the game’s final play that will long be remembered.
Setting the Stage
Once No. 3 in the polls, Michigan was in the midst of a disappointing season. The 20th-ranked Wolverines were 7-4 with the losses coming by a combined 17 points.
Following a midseason slide, Nebraska had won consecutive games as it also arrived at the Alamodome with a record of 7-4. The Cornhuskers were looking to finish strong after their first losing season in 43 years the year prior.
The Comeback and Finish
Less than nine minutes remained in San Antonio as Nebraska found itself on the short end of a 28-17 score. Michigan appeared to be in control before a big punt return by Cortney Grixby seemed to ignite the Cornhuskers.
Following the 27-yard return, it took just a pair of Cory Ross runs to cover the final 38 yards. After the 31-yard touchdown run, quarterback Zac Taylor found Todd Peterson for the 2-point conversion to cut the lead to 28-25.
Two of the next four plays for the Wolverines resulted in fumbles. The second time, Nebraska took advantage.
After starting at the Michigan 17-yard-line, Taylor found Terrence Nunn for the go-ahead touchdown on 3rd-and-6 from the 13. Up 32-28, the Cornhuskers stopped Michigan on downs on the ensuing drive with just over two minutes to play.
The Wolverines would get the ball back with just seven seconds to play. Although they were unable to score, they did make things interesting.
On the game’s final play, quarterback Chad Henne found Jason Avant over the middle. The play continued for nearly a minute as Michigan managed to lateral the ball eight times. With players from both teams off the sidelines and on the field, tight end Tyler Ecker appeared to have a shot at scoring, but as the last line of defense, Nebraska’s Titus Brothers shoved him out of bounds inside the 15-yard-line.
No flags were thrown. The finish was bizarre, but the game was finally over.
The teams traded touchdown passes in each of the first two quarters. After Taylor found Nunn for a 54-yard scoring strike to get the scoring started in the first, Henne found Ecker for a 13-yard touchdown to tie the game.
The second quarter is when Michigan took its first lead when Henne found Mike Massey for a 16-yard touchdown. With less than three minutes to play in the quarter, Taylor and Nate Swift hooked up from 14 yards out to tie the game, 14-14.
Jordan Congdon’s short field goal more than six minutes into the third quarter put Nebraska in front 17-14, but the next two scores would be Michigan touchdowns. Henne capped the third quarter scoring with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Mario Manningham. With less than 12 minutes to play in the game, Henne used his legs to score from seven yards away as Michigan held the game’s biggest lead at 28-17.
Neither Henne nor Taylor completed 50% of his passes, but the two each tossed three touchdowns. Henne passed for 270 yards while Ross rushed for a game-high 161 yards to propel the Nebraska offense. The Wolverines finished with 400 yards, but turned the ball over four times compared to twice for Nebraska.
After reaching the Rose Bowl in each of the prior two seasons, Michigan finished just 7-5 and unranked at season’s end for the first time since 1984. It would serve as the third of four straight bowl losses for the Wolverines.
Nebraska would finish 8-4. After never being ranked at all throughout the year, the Cornhuskers finished No. 24 in the final polls.
The 2005 Alamo Bowl would serve as the only bowl win for the Cornhuskers in four seasons under head coach Bill Callihan. It came on this day 15 years ago.