Best from the Nest: Jackets Take Down Cornhuskers in 1991 Citrus Bowl

Keith Holmes of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets jump to block a field goal during the Citrus Bowl against the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Orlando, Florida. Georgia Tech won the game 45-21.
Keith Holmes of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets jump to block a field goal during the Citrus Bowl against the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Orlando, Florida. Georgia Tech won the game 45-21. /

In his first piece for Yellow Jacked Up, Adam Colgan takes us back to the 1991 Citrus Bowl where the Yellow Jackets took down the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Setting the Picture: By Dylan Callaghan-Croley

Before diving into the 1991 Citrus Bowl, lets set the picture. The 1990 season of course was arguably Georgia Tech’s greatest season of all-time and resulted in the Jackets sharing a piece of the National Championship that season. The Jackets entered their fourth season under head coach Bobby Ross at the time and were coming off a less than spectacular 7-4 season the year before.

To say the least, the Jackets being a national championship contender was unexpected. They entered the season unranked in both the Associated Press poll and the Coaches poll. It wouldn’t be till week five of the season when they cracked the top 25 and from there they would creep up the rankings each week before cracking the top-10 in week 10, where they were ranked No.7 in both polls.

The Jackets would go 10-0-1 in the regular season in 1990 and would usually win in comfortable circumstances. Their only “blemish” on their record that season was a tie to North Carolina (13-13). The Jackets would drop in the polls due to the tie but would skyrocket back up just two weeks later. The Jackets on November 3rd, made their presence known nationally when they took down then No.1 ranked Virginia, 41-38 at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville.

Other than, the Jackets were nearly impossible to beat. Virginia Tech would look to spoil the Jackets hopes late in the season in a classic defensive battle but the Jackets would win 6-3. They would cap off the regular season with a dominating victory over Georgia, 40-23.

Nebraska, on the other hand, was in the midst of a bit of a “quiet period” during their dominating run from 1982 to 2001. At no point during this nearly 20-year period did the Cornhuskers win less than nine games and considering they won 10+ games in 14 of those 19 seasons, its safe to say nine wins would be considered quiet for the program. Which is crazy to think about to say the least, it’s truly a stretch of dominance that we may never see again. The 1990 season was one of those nine win seasons for the Huskers as they went 9-2 in the regular season with losses to Colorado and Oklahoma.

The 1991 Citrus Bowl: By Adam Colgan

In this week’s Best from the Nest, we go back to the 45th Annual Florida Citrus Bowl (New Year’s Day 1991) The Yellow Jackets, under Head Coach Bobby Ross leading the Yellow Jackets to 10-0-1 as the only undefeated 1A team left, ranked No. 2 against the 9-2 Nebraska Cornhuskers out of the Big Eight. Tech’s offense that season was led by sophomore quarterback Shawn Jones (16-for-23 through the air for 227 yards and 2 touchdowns with 41-yards and a score on the ground) and running back William Bell (3 touchdowns) along with a suffocating defensive front restricting the Cornhuskers to 126 rushing yards. Heading into the Citrus Bowl, Tom Osburne’s Nebraska team was averaging over 340 yards per game.

Jones got the start Tech wanted marching his offense down to the two-yard line, showing impressive scrambling ability that wouldn’t look out of place in today’s NFL. Fullback Stefen Scotton then muscled his way over on a short run, drawing first blood for the Yellow Jackets. Not to be outdone, the defense then held Nebraska to a three-and-out. It was a precursor for what would happen on third down for the Cornhuskers, as they went 1-for-13 on third-down in the game. The Jackets offense was stifled for much of the remainder of the first quarter, before Jones hit wide   Rodriguez for a 46-yard completion, though the drive ended with a 37-yard missed field goal attempt.

Nebraska started their second quarter offense with a fumble, recovered by Tech’s D to give first and 10 from the Nebraska 22. A false start was redeemed by a quick fire five-yard gain to wide receiver Emmet Merchant. Jones and Merchant connected again on the next play, a beautifully thrown ball to the corner of the endzone to put Tech 14 points to the good. Big Special Teams plays were then to dominate proceedings for a time, Nebraska punt coverage hitting McGill after a fair catch signal giving Tech great field position. Offensive penalties stymied the drive before a big completion to TE Brent Goolsby brought them knocking on the redzone. Jones and Bell’s connection then chose to come to the fore, a screen pass bringing them down to the 2 before catching a TD pass without a glove being laid on him.

The Cornhuskers took this moment to wake up on both sides of the ball, backup QB Haase leading them on four play, 71-yard drive ending a TD pass to Mitchell for their first points of the day. A Tech fumble on the next drive had Nebraska starting off at midfield, with true freshman Brown blowing past defenders taking a 50-yard run to the house to bring them well and truly back into the game. In two minutes the Yellow Jackets lead had been reduced to a single score, and a potential fumble on the kickoff return wasn’t helping the nerves of the fans. A quick three-and-out was the last thing they needed but salvation was to come on Special Teams, Nebraska muffing a punt recovered by Tech at the 23 of Nebraska. Sisson was to kick a 37-yard field goal, stopping the rot and putting the Yellow Jackets up 24-14 at half time.

Nebraska started the third quarter with a drive kept alive by defensive penalties more than good offensive play. A facemask tackle on Haase, and a pass interference on Mitchell giving their drive oxygen with two first downs. Special Teams again came up trumps for the Yellow Jackets, blocking a 34-yard Barrios field goal attempt. A hookup to Bell brought Tech to Nebraska territory, before a Bell rumble and a completion to Gilchrist brought the drive to the redzone. Bell on the draw took them to the two yard line before a simple walk in TD for Jones. Both teams led a nothing drive, before a Haase pass to William Washington for a score to round out the third quarter at 31-21. The Cornhuskers were to be shut out for the final quarter.

The fourth quarter was to be about one man, William Bell. The culmination of a five play, 64-yard drive was Bell powering in from six yards before the play of the game. With the ball on their own 43-yard line, Bell runs into the guts of the Nebraska defense only to be stood up by three defenders. Inexplicably, the Cornhuskers don’t finish the play and somehow Bell spins free, bursting a lung up the sideline before diving into the endzone to put the icing on a dominant display.

That was that, Jones was awarded MVP the peak of the collegiate career for the man who would go on to play a single season for the Minnesota Vikings at safety. Bobby Ross would go on to be a head coach at the NFL level with the Chargers and Lions. The Yellow Jackets were to win the National Championship, although shared with Colorado due to the infamous Fifth Down Game.

We hope you enjoyed our first “Best from the Nest” piece here at Yellow Jacked Up! Let us know what past games you’d like to see in the future!