5:30 PM ET, December 27, 2002
SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) -- Nebraska has become a mediocre football team -- and now the Cornhuskers have the record to prove it.
Eli Manning threw for 313 yards and a touchdown as Mississippi ended Nebraska's 40-year streak of winning seasons with a 27-23 victory Friday in the Mainstay Independence Bowl.
The Cornhuskers (7-7) had finished above .500 every year since 1961, when they went 3-6-1. Their seven losses this year are their most since going 3-7 in 1958.
"We all wanted to end this thing right. It did not happen,'' Nebraska coach Frank Solich said.
Manning was 25-for-44 for Ole Miss (7-6) and became the school's career passing leader in what could be his final college game. The highly touted junior said he will take some time after the season to decide if he will enter the NFL draft.
Manning, the offensive player of the game, said he has no timetable for making a decision.
"I'm going to look at some things and see how it all works out,'' he said.
Nebraska was No. 8 in the country after a 3-0 start this season. But the Cornhuskers' startling demise prompted Solich to make sweeping changes to his coaching staff after the regular season.
Solich fired his defensive coordinator and two other defensive assistants and said he will hire an offensive coordinator next season. Solich has acted as his own offensive coordinator since taking over for Tom Osborne in 1998.
"We were well prepared for this game. Our coaches did a great job of getting us ready to play,'' said Nebraska defensive end Chris Kelsay, who had two sacks and was defensive player of the game.
Nebraska had its option working in the first half with 207 of its 262 yards on the ground.
But Ole Miss adjusted in the second half and held Nebraska to 97 yards and no touchdowns. Dahrann Diedrick had 92 yards rushing and Lord had 176 total yards.
"We knew coming into the game we were going to have to adjust to their offense,'' Ole Miss linebacker Eddie Strong said. "I could tell they weren't as physical as they were in the first half.''
The win enabled the Rebels to avoid their first losing season since 1996. It was their third Independence Bowl victory in the past five years.
Ole Miss took its first lead of the game four plays after a curious play call by Nebraska.
On a fourth-and-12 from their own 35, the Cornhuskers faked a punt, letting upback Judd Davies throw a pass that fell incomplete. The play was an audible called at the line by Davies.
Toward Sanford went over the top for his second 1-yard touchdown run of the game moments later to give Ole Miss a 24-20 lead with 3:24 left in the third.
Brown's third field goal of the game, a 29-yarder made it 24-23 with just under eight minutes left.
But Jonathan Nichols made a 43-yarder with 4:30 left and Nebraska never threatened after that.
After a quiet first quarter, the Cornhuskers and Rebels took turns scoring touchdowns in a 28-point second quarter.
Lord's first completion of the game went for a 41-yard touchdown to Herian that made it 10-0.
Von Hutchins' interception and 27-yard return to the Nebraska 27 setup the Rebels' first score -- an 11-yard pass from Manning to Kerry Johnson.
Groce got the Cornhuskers' lead back to 10 on a record-tying punt return.
Groce brought Cody Ridgeway's kick back 60 yards for his fourth punt return touchdown of the season, tying an NCAA record.
Groce caught the ball near the left sideline, ran clear across field, before turning it up. Once he did, he was hardly touched by an Ole Miss defender. The score made it 17-7 with 2:43 left in the half.
Manning needed a little more than a minute to answer, driving the Rebels 88 yards on nine plays, the last a TD run by Sanford.
Mississippi coach David Cutcliffe has been the subject of much speculation in recent days. A report last week said he was planning to leave the Rebels to fill the coaching vacancy at Kentucky.
Cutcliffe released a statement last Saturday saying he was not a candidate for the Kentucky job, but that has not stopped the speculation.
Before the game Ole Miss athletic director Pete Boone said he has not spoken with Cutcliffe about Kentucky since Saturday, and he would be surprised if the coach left.
"I'm right where I need to be,'' Cutcliffe said.
|3rd Down Conversions||6-16||5-16|
|4th Down Conversions||0-1||0-1|
|FG||6:53||JOSH BROWN 29 YD FG|
Drive info: 7 plays, 60 yards.
|TD||13:38||MATT HERIAN 41 YD PASS FROM JAMMAL LORD (JOSH BROWN KICK)|
Drive info: 6 plays, 80 yards.
|TD||7:47||KERRY JOHNSON 11 YD PASS FROM ELI MANNING (JONATHAN NICHOLS KICK)|
Drive info: 6 plays, 27 yards.
|TD||2:43||DEJUAN GROCE 60 YD PUNT RETURN (JOSH BROWN KICK)||17||7|
|TD||1:32||TOWARD SANFORD 1 YD RUN (JONATHAN NICHOLS KICK)|
Drive info: 9 plays, 88 yards.
|FG||9:02||JONATHAN NICHOLS 37 YD FG|
Drive info: 13 plays, 57 yards.
|FG||7:06||JOSH BROWN 23 YD FG|
Drive info: 6 plays, 48 yards.
|TD||3:24||TOWARD SANFORD 1 YD RUN (JONATHAN NICHOLS KICK)|
Drive info: 4 plays, 35 yards.
|FG||7:50||JOSH BROWN 29 YD FG|
Drive info: 9 plays, 27 yards.
|FG||4:38||JONATHAN NICHOLS 43 YD FG|
Drive info: 8 plays, 57 yards.