LINCOLN — Judging by the score Saturday, Nebraska’s 76-14 victory over Division I-AA North Texas was the laugher it was supposed to be.
But after seeing which players hobbled off the field, the Huskers said their most-lopsided victory in seven years wasn’t so funny.
On the season’s first play, quarterback Tommie Frazier suffered a sprained right ankle that sidelined him for the day one snap later.
Then with 9:21 left in the third quarter and NU leading 49-7, I-back Calvin Jones strained a left knee ligament at the end of a 6-yard run to the North Texas 3-yard line.
A sellout crowd of 75,643 at Memorial Stadium was near silence as doctors and trainers helped the Heisman Trophy candidate to the bench.
“We’re like everybody in the country,” NU Coach Tom Osborne said. “There are two or three players we can’t afford to lose.
“And you’d maybe start with Calvin Jones and Tommie Frazier.”
How soon might Jones, the returning Big Eight offensive player of the year, and Frazier, last season’s Big Eight offensive newcomer of the year, be ready?
“I’ve got a good feeling about Tommie for next week,” Head Trainer George Sullivan said an hour after the game. “But I don’t think we’ll plan on Calvin.
“When we took him off the field, he said when he got hurt that it felt like somebody had just grabbed his leg and jerked it.”
Team doctors said Jones’ anterior cruciate ligament appeared to be sound. Still, Osborne said, the junior out of Omaha Central — who gained 124 yards on 16 carries and ran 1 and 24 yards for touchdowns — might miss two to three weeks.
Jones, in a statement issued through the sports information office, said he’s disappointed that he might miss upcoming games against Texas Tech, UCLA and Colorado State.
“I was looking forward to helping the team,” he said. “But I know all I can do is help them from the sideline.
“I would have come out of the game after that series, but things happen and you have to keep a bright perspective on things. I will put my fate in God’s hands and see what happens.”
Sullivan said neither Jones nor Frazier were to be hospitalized or re-examined Saturday night.
“We’ll look at both of them Sunday morning and go from there,” he said.
Osborne said he’ll probably face some criticism for playing Jones with a 42-point lead.
“Right now we wish we had taken him out,” the coach said. “But our feeling all along has been that a good back needs to carry the ball 15, 16, 17 times a game minimum. Calvin, to be sharp, needed that much work.
“He was probably looking at his last or next-to-last carry.”
While glum about the injuries, Osborne said he was pleased with the way backup sophomore quarterbacks Brook Berringer and Tony Veland, and No. 2 I-back Damon Benning picked up the slack for the eighth- and ninth-ranked Huskers.
Berringer, who entered the game with varsity totals of zero yards passing and minus-3 rushing, completed 7 of 7 passes for 124 yards and one touchdown. He also ran for touchdowns of 1 and 4 yards.
Veland, with career totals of zero yards passing and 1 yard rushing, hit 6 of 9 passes for 76 yards and one touchdown and ran 1 yard for a score.
“They played with a lot of composure,” Osborne said, ”and ran the offense well.”
Frazier was excited over the play of his two backups.
“They had planned on playing, but not two plays into the game,” Frazier said. “For them to go in at a critical point when the score is 0-0 and do a great job was exceptional.”
At I-back, Benning gained 82 yards in eight carries in his first varsity game. The redshirt freshman out of Omaha Northwest broke a 51-yard run and scored on a 9-yard burst.
Overall, Nebraska gained 575 yards — 360 rushing and 215 passing — to 294 for North Texas.
The Huskers scored on eight of their first nine full possessions, and led 28-0 after the first quarter, 42-7 at halftime and 63-7 with five minutes left in the third quarter.
“I was a little sorry about the score,” Osborne said. “Yet I didn’t quite know what to do about it. I don’t really know what this proves. We have a good team. I’ve said that all along.
“The thing we’re going to have to have now is some guys who haven’t played a whole lot step up to the plate and become great players.”
Berringer got to pinch hit in the first minute after Frazier got hurt gaining 7 yards on an option play to start the game.
“I was trying to break a tackle when I felt my foot stick in the turf as I was going down,” Frazier said. “You can tell something is wrong when you feel pain like that.”
Frazier stayed for one more play — a countersweep handoff to Jones. But after carrying out his fake, he hopped on one foot from the middle of the field to the bench.
“After it happened, I thought I could shake it off in the huddle,” Frazier said. “But with every step I took, it got weaker and weaker. So I figured I better go get it checked.”
X-rays of Frazier’s ankle taken at the stadium were negative. Upon returning from the training room, he performed some agility tests for the doctors. Frazier said even though his ankle was sore that he wanted to play again.
“If we had been playing Oklahoma or Colorado,” Osborne said, ”he would have talked his way back onto the field.”
But since the opponent was North Texas, such an underdog that most oddsmakers declined to list a point spread for the game, the coaches turned to Berringer.
And four plays later, Nebraska had its first touchdown of the season.
Berringer hung a deep sideline pass to split end Corey Dixon, who outfought two defenders to haul it in and complete the 33-yard touchdown.
“Brook was great when he came in,” offensive tackle Lance Lundberg said. “He was really poised.
“The guys up front just wanted to do the best we could to help him have all the time he could get for his reads.”
After the offense struck, the special teams and defense pitched in to make it 21-0 less than eight minutes into the game.
Cornerback Kareem Moss fielded a 37-yard punt that he said he should have fair-caught, raced up the middle, then cut left for 52 yards before going down at the North Texas 12.
Jones banged in from the 1 four plays later.
Then on the next possession, UNT backup quarterback Benny Valentine tried to hit wide receiver David Brown with a quick slant pass.
But NU cornerback John Reece tipped the ball into the hands of roverback Toby Wright, who ran 33 yards for a touchdown.
The Huskers scored again on the next possession with Veland at quarterback.
Veland completed consecutive passes of 14 yards to Dixon, 11 yards to tight end Gerald Armstrong and 11 yards for a touchdown to wingback Abdul Muhammad to put NU up 28-0.
North Texas pushed into Nebraska territory for the first time in the final 30 seconds of the first quarter on a 26-yard pass from quarterback Mitch Maher to tight end Luis Silva.
After being pushed back across the 50, UNT got back to a fourth-and-one at the NU 39.
On a quick count, fullback Stacy Anderson broke out of the backfield and got behind NU’s Moss for what appeared to be a sure touchdown bomb from Maher. But Anderson dropped the pass near the 15 to end the threat.
Nebraska countered with a six-play scoring drive. Berringer hit split end Reggie Baul with a 37-yard bomb to set up Berringer’s 1-yard option touchdown for a 35-0 lead with 10:56 left in the second quarter.
North Texas finally broke through when cornerback Roland Jackson picked off a Veland pass and returned it 19 yards to the Nebraska 27.
Four plays later, tailback Terrance Brown got free on a quick snap count and rolled around right end for a 2-yard touchdown with 6:42 left in the half to cut the gap to 35-7.
That touchdown didn’t please NU outside linebacker Trev Alberts.
“Our goal was to shut them out,” he said. “And we didn’t do that. So we’ve got things to work on.”
Nebraska stretched that 35-7 lead to 63-7 with touchdown runs from Jones, Berringer, Veland and Benning.
North Texas scored its second touchdown on a 71-yard pass play against a mix of third-and fourth-team NU defenders late in the third quarter.
But after walk-on quarterback Matt Turman threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to split end Riley Washington and then ran 1 yard for a score in the fourth quarter, Nebraska had its biggest victory margin since bombing Kansas 70-0 in 1986.
North Texas Coach Dennis Parker said the loss was hard on him, but not because he felt the Huskers piled on the points.
“It’s tough on me,” he said, ”because I’m stupid enough to come here thinking I was going to win. If I was a little more realistic, it wouldn’t bother me as much.”
|Yards per carry||4.6||5.9|
Nebraska is 1-0 all-time against North Texas.
|North Texas||Sept. 4|
|Texas Tech||Sept. 11|
|Colorado State||Sept. 25|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 7|
|Kansas State||Oct. 16|
|Iowa State||Nov. 13|
|Florida State||Jan. 1|
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