Nashville – Nebraska fell behind 14-0 midway through the first half and was not able to recover in a 38-24 loss to Tennessee in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl on Friday afternoon at Nissan Stadium.
With the loss, Nebraska ended the season with a 9-4 record (6-3 Big Ten), while Tennessee improved to 9-4 (4-4 SEC) with the victory.
Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs completed 23-of-38 passes for 291 yards and a touchdown, while adding 11 carries for 118 yards and a Music City Bowl-record three rushing touchdowns. Dobbs finished with 409 total yards and four scores.
Nebraska’s Ryker Fyfe, who drew the start in place of injured four-year starting quarterback Tommie Armstrong Jr. for the Huskers, answered with 243 yards on 17-of-36 passing. Fyfe threw a pair of touchdowns to senior receiver Brandon Reilly, who finished with four catches for 98 yards. Fyfe added a nine-yard touchdown run, but was harassed by Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett, who broke the Vols’ career sack record previously held by the legendary Reggie White. Barnett notched a nine-yard sack late in the fourth quarter to help seal the win for the Vols. Barnett, who closed his career with 33 all-time sacks, finished the game with six tackles and four quarterback hurries. As a team, Tennessee notched four sacks for 36 yards in the game.
Nebraska, which got a strong effort from running back Devine Ozigbo who finished with seven carries for 66 yards, managed just 61 rushing yards as a team on 28 carries. Overall, the Huskers produced 318 yards of total offense, while Tennesse piled up 521 total yards, including 230 rushing yards on 38 carries.
After a slow start for both teams in a scoreless first quarter, Tennessee took control with back-to-back touchdown runs to jump to a 14-0 lead. John Kelly started the scoring for the Volunteers with his 28-yard gallop that capped a quick-strike four-play, 73-yard drive that took just 1:26 on the game clock.
The Tennessee defense continued to stifle Fyfe and the Huskers on the ensuing drive, before Dobbs sprinted 10 yards for the first of his three rushing touchdowns to give the Vols a 14-0 lead. The Dobbs run capped an 11-play, 66-yard drive that consumed 4:44.
Nebraska responded quickly with a three-play, 80-yard drive that took just 1:12 and culminated with Fyfe’s 38-yard touchdown to Brandon Reilly. It was the first of two tremendous touchdown catches for the senior Reilly. His second came with 3:26 left in the third quarter, after Tennessee had pushed its lead to 17 points with a Medley 46-yard field goal to make it 24-7.
The Huskers went to the fourth quarter trailing 24-14, but Dobbs quickly pushed the Volunteer advantage back to 17 at 31-14 with 14:09 remaining.
Fyfe and the Huskers refused to quit, marching 47 yards in six plays to set up Drew Brown’s 45-yard field goal. The Husker special teams then came up with a big play, forcing a fumble on the ensuing kickoff that was recovered by the Huskers at the Tennessee 31. The Big Red offense cashed in five plays later with Fyfe’s nine-yard touchdown run to narrow the margin to 31-24 with 10:02 remaining.
But Nebraska could not complete the comeback, as Dobbs hit wide receiver Josh Malone with a 59-yard touchdown pass just 1:17 later, capping a four-play, 77-yard drive to make the final margin. Malone led the Vol receivers with 120 yards on five receptions.