Peter Tom Willis watched from the sidelines when Danny McManus rewrote the record book during Florida State’s last Fiesta Bowl victory over Nebraska two years ago.
Monday, Willis made some revisions by throwing for 422 yards and five touchdowns as the fifth-ranked Seminoles routed No. 6 Nebraska, 41-17.
“We thought we could throw on them and that’s what we did,” said Willis, a fifth-year senior who had a school-record 3,124 passing yards this season. “I didn’t think I threw the ball that well. I don’t think this was my best game.
“We have the best receivers in the country and I think we’re the best team in the country. But we didn’t think we could beat Nebraska as bad as we did.”
The victory capped a 10-2 season for Florida State, which won its final 10 games. It was the worst loss for the Cornhuskers (10-2) since Oklahoma beat them 38-7 in 1977.
Nebraska, facing the most lopsided bowl defeat in its 100-year football history, used a blocked punt and a two-yard touchdown run by backup quarterback Mickey Joseph with 1:16 to play to avert its worst postseason loss since the 1967 Sugar Bowl (34-7 to Alabama).
The Cornhuskers, who haven’t won a New Year’s Day game since the 1987 Sugar Bowl, are 0-4 in the Fiesta.
“We thought we were ready to play. Obviously, we were not and I’m a little embarrassed,” Coach Tom Osborne said. “We had a lot of turnovers (five) and a lot of penalties (13 for a bowl record-135 yards). The turnovers probably cost us 21 to 28 points.
“We thought we were capable of winning the game and we almost ended up getting blown out. But Florida State may be the best team in America. I can’t argue with that after we were beaten so badly.
“Willis played awfully well for them,” Osborne added. “But we gave him a lot of time to get his throws off. The same thing happened the last time we played them.”
Florida State, 2-1 in Fiesta Bowls, beat Nebraska, 31-28, here in 1988 when McManus threw for 375 yards and three TDs with 401 yards total offense.
Willis, named the game’s most valuable player, finished with a record 414 yards total offense and completed 25 of 40 passes after hitting 15 of 21 passes for 250 yards in the first half.
“I couldn’t be more proud of a quarterback than I am in Peter Tom this year. He kept getting better and better,” Seminole Coach Bobby Bowden said. “Wait until he sees the films to see how good he played.”
Willis was 12 of 14 for 210 yards and three touchdowns in the second quarter alone as Florida State took a 21-10 halftime lead.
He put the Seminoles ahead to stay at 14-10 on a five-yard pass to Reggie Johnson with 6:55 remaining in the second quarter. It came three plays after Chris Drennan missed a 49-yard field goal.
Drennan gave Nebraska a 10-7 lead on a 39-yarder six minutes earlier.
Willis hit Terry Anthony on a 14-yard scoring pass 1:18 into the second quarter and found Dexter Carter on a 10-yarder 24 seconds before halftime.
Paul Moore’s one-yard plunge in the third quarter put Florida State up 27-10 before John Davis’ blocked punt set up Willis’ eight-yard TD pass to Johnson 2:32 later.
Willis’ fifth touchdown pass, a 24-yard play to Anthony with two seconds remaining in the third quarter, made it 41-10.
The Cornhuskers led 7-0 on Gerry Gdowski’s nine-yard TD pass to Morgan Gregory 3:41 into the game before a crowd of 73,953 at 74,865-seat Sun Devil Stadium--the second-largest in the Fiesta Bowl’s 19-year history.
Gdowski was 13 for 23 for 154 yards with two interceptions, his first one since Oct. 7. He had just two interceptions in 146 passes during the regular season, none in his last 92 attempts.
Nebraska, which made only two turnovers in its last three regular-season games, had three in the first half Monday.
The Cornhuskers were held to 322 yards total offense--115 of it on the ground. They led the nation in rushing this season with a 375.3-yard average.
“I never would have believed we would have held them like that. I was super surprised,” Bowden said. “Our defense played so well. The way we played, we’re as good as anybody in the country.”
Florida State finished with 494 yards total offense.
Ronald Lewis had 106 yards on five catches. Anthony had 88 on six receptions.
“Their guys made four or five great catches,” Osborne said. “They took care of the ball all day. We knew Willis could throw the ball. We were just hoping to cover his receivers, but we didn’t get the job done. The deep ball really hurt us.”