1986 Sunkist Fiesta Bowl
15th edition
1234 Total
Nebraska 01409 23
Michigan 30240 27
DateJanuary 1, 1986
StadiumSun Devil Stadium
LocationTempe, Arizona
MVPJamie Morris   (Michigan RB)
Mark Messner (Michigan DT)
FavoriteMichigan by 3 points[1][2][3]
United States TV coverage
AnnouncersCharlie Jones, Sam Rutigliano
Fiesta Bowl
 < 1985  1987

The 1986 Fiesta Bowl was the 15th edition of the Fiesta Bowl, a college football bowl game, played at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona, on Wednesday, January 1. Part of the 1985–86 bowl game season, it matched the fifth-ranked Michigan Wolverines of the Big Ten Conference and the seventh-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers of the Big Eight Conference; both were runners-up in their respective conferences.[2]

Behind by 11 points at halftime, Michigan took advantage of Nebraska turnovers, scored 24 points in the third quarter, and prevailed by a score of 27–23.[4][5] Running back Jamie Morris and defensive tackle Mark Messner, both Wolverines, were named the game's MVPs.[3][6]

This was the third matchup of top-10 teams in the Fiesta Bowl; the prior two were in January 1982 and December 1975. This was the first bowl game with a corporate title sponsor, as bowl organizers had reached agreement with Sunkist Growers in September 1985, making the game officially the Sunkist Fiesta Bowl.[7][8]


Main article: 1985 NCAA Division I-A football season


See also: 1984 Nebraska Cornhuskers football team

The Cornhuskers opened the season with a home loss to Florida State, won nine straight, then lost at rival Oklahoma. This was their second appearance in the Fiesta Bowl, returning after a decade.


Main article: 1984 Michigan Wolverines football team

The Wolverines opened with five wins and were ranked second, but lost by two points at top-ranked Iowa. Two weeks later, they tied Illinois. This was Michigan's first Fiesta Bowl appearance.

Game summary

The opener of a bowl tripleheader on NBC (Rose, Orange), the game kicked off shortly after 11:30 a.m. MST, as did the Cotton Bowl on CBS, which matched the #16 Auburn Tigers with the #11 Texas A&M Aggies.[2]

Michigan opened the game and offense and scored on a 42-yard field goal from Pat Moons with less than four minutes elapsed. In the second quarter, Nebraska scored on a five-yard pass from quarterback McCathorn Clayton to running back Doug DuBose to give Nebraska the lead. DuBose scored again on a three-yard run to give Nebraska a 14–3 advantage at the half.

Michigan dominated the third quarter, aided by Husker miscues. DuBose fumbled on the third play of the second half and the Wolverines recovered at the Husker 21. Gerald White scored four plays later from a yard out to pull Michigan to within four points. Clayton fumbled on Nebraska's ensuing possession, and Michigan quickly capitalized again, this time on Jim Harbaugh's one-yard quarterback sneak, putting Michigan ahead 17–14 just over four minutes into the third quarter. Following a blocked Nebraska punt, Moons kicked his second field goal of the game, a 19-yarder. Later in the third, Harbaugh scored his second rushing touchdown of the game, a two-yard run, to give Michigan a comfortable 27–14 advantage.

In the fourth quarter, Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne decided to spark his sputtering offense by inserting talented freshman quarterback Steve Taylor. he drove the Huskers 64 yards from their own three-yard line, driving deep into Michigan territory, but turnrd it over on downs. However, the Nebraska defense forced a three-and-out and was able to drive 77 yards in 12 plays, capped by Taylor's one-yard touchdown run to cut Michigan's lead to six points at 27–21, with less than three minutes remaining.[3]

Michigan found itself backed up in the shadow of its own goal post. Rather than risk disaster, they opted for an intentional safety with 1:22 remaining in the game, and punter Monte Robbins deliberately ran out of the end zone. Trailing by four points and no time outs, the Huskers set out from their own 46. The Wolverines intercepted an errant Taylor pass in the end zone to kill Nebraska's final threat.[3][4][6]

Morris was the leading rusher of the game with 156 yards on 22 carries (7.1 avg.).[6]

The attendance of 72,454 at this Fiesta Bowl was a record for a sporting event in Arizona.[3]


First quarter

Second quarter

Third quarter

Fourth quarter



Statistics  Nebraska   Michigan 
First Downs 20 16
Rushes–yards 60–304 49–171
Passing yards 66 63
Passes 6–15–1 6–16–0
Total Offense 75–370 65–234
Punts–average 3–40 5–44
Fumbles–lost 6–3 2–0
Turnovers 4 0
Penalties–yards 7–46 8–43
Time of possession 32:01 27:59


The win improved head coach Bo Schembechler's bowl record to 3–10 (.231); Michigan (10–1–1) climbed to second in the final AP poll, and Nebraska (9–3) fell to eleventh. In the previous season, unranked Michigan lost the Holiday Bowl (to top-ranked BYU) and finished at 6–6.[4]

Through 2022, this is Michigan's sole appearance in the Fiesta Bowl; Nebraska's next was two years later.


  1. ^ "The latest line". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. January 1, 1986. p. 36.
  2. ^ a b c "Today's bowl games: Fiesta". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. January 1, 1986. p. 5C.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Fiesta fumbles". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. January 2, 1986. p. 21.
  4. ^ a b c d "Wolverine 'D' shucks Nebraska". Spokane Chronicle. (Washington). Associated Press. January 2, 1986. p. C2.
  5. ^ Woolford, Dave (January 2, 1986). "UM erupts in third period; Nebraska mistakes costly". Toledo Blade. (Ohio). p. 22.
  6. ^ a b c d e Jenkins, Sally (January 2, 1986). "It's a case of turnaround for Michigan". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). (Washington Post). p. 3B.
  7. ^ Young, Bob (September 27, 1985). "Sunkist agrees to sponsor Fiesta Bowl". The Arizona Republic. Phoenix, Arizona. p. G1. Retrieved December 24, 2020 – via newspapers.com.
  8. ^ Young, Bob (September 27, 1985). "Sunkist agrees to sponsor Fiesta Bowl (cont'd)". The Arizona Republic. Phoenix, Arizona. p. G3. Retrieved December 24, 2020 – via newspapers.com.