Game Preview: '95 Nebraska vs '96 Florida

The Semifinals are here! There are only 4 teams left in the Scout.com/WhatIfSports.com Tournament of Champions. Here is a look at our first semifinal matchup between the '95 Nebraska Cornhuskers and the '96 Florida Gators which will take place on Tuesday June 27.

Will this be a repeat of the 1995 championship game in which the Big Red Machine steamrolled Florida, 62-24, in the Fiesta Bowl or will it be a chance for the Gators to redeem themselves?

Nebraska made it to the semifinals in typically efficient Nebraska style, grinding it out with the option for 223 rushing yards in a 40-21 win over the '90 Colorado squad. While Florida made its way into the semifinals with an uncharacteristic 24-22 win over '92 Alabama in which the Gators ran more times than they threw (37-28), were seriously outgained (440-254) and had to rely on special teams (punt return for a touchdown) and last second defense (stopped David Palmer short of the goal on a two-point conversion that would have tied the game with 1:11).

'95 Nebraska got on one of its typical rolls in the second quarter against '90 Colorado, striking for three touchdowns, one on the ground, one by air and one by special teams, to break open a tight game. The Cornhuskers built on their 28-10 first half lead by striking quickly in the third quarter on a 77-yard touchdown run by quarterback Tommie Frazier and a field goal by Kris Brown with 8:14 remaining for a 38-10 lead. From there it was cruise control for Coach Tom Osborne's Cornhuskers.

Lawrence Phillips pounded away inside the tackles, finishing the game with 128 yards and a touchdown. From a defensive standpoint, the Cornhuskers took the running game away (Colorado got 115 yards on 48 carries) to force the Buffaloes out of their comfort zone. The result was a typically ho-hum Nebraska win.

The '96 Gators trailed '92 Alabama 9-0 at the half, but the Gators manufactured three touchdowns and a field goal and then held on for dear life to get the win. Florida's normally precision passing game was stymied by Alabama's defense, but Danny Wuerffel (16-28, 152 yards, 1 touchdown) connected with little-used wideout Travis McGriff for a 48-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to give the Gators a 24-9 lead. The Gators withstood two long touchdown drives by Alabama in the fourth quarter but the defense came through in the clutch, stopping Palmer's two-point conversion and picking off a Jay Barker pass (Lawrence Wright got the interception) with 13 seconds remaining.

Nebraska's game plan going into the semifinal game with Florida will be the same game plan it used all season long, hammer away between the tackles and stretch the defense with the option until the floodgates open. Florida has to regroup after an uncharacteristically poor offensive showing. Nebraska's efficient running game wears opponents down so it's imperative that the Gators avoid three-and-outs and put points on the board. A scoreless first half like the one against Alabama 92 could be disastrous.

SEMIFINAL EDGE: For '95 Nebraska to make it to the championship game, the Cornhuskers must take care of the ball and pound away with that relentless ground attack. Nebraska's ability to control the ball for long stretches gives the Huskers a real advantage defensively, too.

For Florida to win, all the stars and planets must align defensively to stop a ground attack like nothing the Gators saw that year in the Southeastern Conference. The '95 Gators didn't use the shotgun but the '96 Gators discovered that it's quite a help in neutralizing the pressure on Wuerffel.

The key number for this game is 250. If Nebraska rushes for 250 yards, then figure the Cornhuskers advance. If Wuerffel has time to throw for more than 250 yards, the Gators are in the hunt.

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