LINCOLN — Nebraska's Blackshirts wore red faces after Saturday's 59-14 victory over Akron.
Two second-half touchdowns by the Zips, well after the game had been decided, took much of the joy out of the season-opening victory for the Husker defenders. Defensive tackle Jason Peter, wearing a scowl when he walked into the postgame interview room, best summed up the mood of the Nebraska defensive community.
"If we go up to Washington and play like this," Peter said, "we're going to get out butts kicked."
The Huskers will have ample time before their Sept. 20 showdown at Washington to work on correcting the first-game defensive mistakes that spoiled an otherwise impressive - and expected - rout of the overmatched Zips.
In winning its 37th straight home game in front of its 215th consecutive sellout crowd of 75,124, sixth-ranked Nebraska:
Compiled 644 total yards, its most since a 669-yard effort against Baylor last season, and averaged 8.6 yards per play.
Seventeen of the Huskers' 75 offensive snaps produced gains of 10 yards or more, with backup quarterback Frankie London breaking the longest run of the afternoon with a 51-yarder. London also connected with true freshman Matt Davison on a 46-yard pass play.
Scored on nine straight possessions after Kris Brown missed a 38-yard field-goal attempt that ended the Huskers' first series.
Brown later kicked a 34-yard field goal to go along with five touchdowns that put the Huskers ahead 38-0 at halftime. Nebraska then scored on its first three possessions of the second half to boost its lead to 59-7.
Got impressive games from London and starter Scott Frost at quarterback. Frost rushed for a career-high 123 yards on 11 attempts and completed 7 of 13 passes for 67 yards. London continued to demonstrate marked improvement in a performance that saw him rush five times for 79 yards - a 15.8 average - and complete 4 of 5 passes for 90 yards.
Welcomed the debuts of six true freshmen and junior-college transfer Brandon Harrison. Davison, from Tecumseh, Neb., was Nebraska's leading receiver with three catches for 64 yards. I-back Correll Buckhalter, who played most of the second half after Ahman Green's back tightened up, rushed for 61 yards, a total that could have been greater had a holding penalty not nullified a 41-yard touchdown run. Quarterback Bobby Newcombe ripped off a 22-yard run on his first play as a Husker, and Erwin Swiney, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Joe Walker and Harrison all saw considerable action on defense.
Limited Akron to 243 yards, 69 of which came on a fourth-quarter scoring pass from James Washington to Lavel Bailey. The Huskers held Akron to 82 yards on 26 first-half plays, and were still working on a shutout until the Zips put together a penalty-aided scoring drive midway through the third quarter.
Overall, the opening game of Tom Osborne's 25th season as head coach produced more highs than lows.
"It went something like expected," Osborne said in assessing his 243rd win. "Offensively, the execution was good except for one turnover. Whether you're playing the No. 1-ranked team or the No. 50-ranked team, you still have to take care of the ball and you still have to execute.
"Our defense was generally pretty good, but it was a little disturbing to see them take off and have a long drive when we had pretty good people on the field. Some of that was helped on the kicking penalty when we had 12 men on the field. I think we can count to 11 most of the time here."
The penalty for having too many men on the field came after Nebraska had forced Akron to punt from its 37-yard line midway through the third quarter. The infraction allowed the Zips to retain the ball, and they got another boost when Eric Warfield was called for pass interference on a third-down pass from the Nebraska 41.
The 15-yard penalty gave Akron a first down at the Nebraska 26, and the Zips scored three plays later on an 11-yard run by Bo Hunter.
"The thing I'm getting fed up with is third-down penalties," Nebraska Defensive Coordinator Charlie McBride said. "I bet you we lead the world in third-down penalties, and then having the team score after we make a major mistake. The pass-interference penalty is uncalled for, and then we had too many men on the field.
"We're trying to run a program where you get everybody in the game, and the kicking game is one place you can get kids in. It seems to me that all we do is spend our time on the phone in between series changing kicking teams when we get in a game like this. Then you end up with 12 guys on or 10 guys on the field. It looks like a sandlot game, but it makes a lot of mothers happy."
In addition to being mathematically challenged, the Huskers raised McBride's blood pressure by falling short in a number of other areas.
"The thing I really wanted us to do was to get better in the second half, and they didn't do that," McBride said. "I don't think we could hold up against a good team right now. We're not very physical. We looked like a bunch of flies out there.
"We get people around the ball, but we're awful soft right now. We didn't get a good pass rush, we didn't contain and we got no sacks. They're not a bad football team, but we probably should have had three or four sacks. And I was disappointed in the yardage they got, especially in the second half."
McBride admitted he tends to be overcritical in analyzing the defense's performance. After all, Nebraska did limit Akron to an average of 2.4 yards on its 41 rushes. Take away Bailey's long touchdown catch, and the Zips averaged just 3.2 yards on their other 54 offensive plays.
"But they ran the ball against and got big chunks of yards against us, much like Texas did," McBride said, referring to the Longhorns' win in last season's Big 12 Conference championship game. "They hurt us with the same play that Texas hurt us with - countersweeps to the left side.
"And it wasn't our younger kids. They did it against our first bunch. Akron got the ball and just stuffed it right at us."
Nebraska's offense returned the favor against an Akron defense that figured to be the Zips' strength. Frost, who scored a pair of touchdowns, and London enjoyed repeated success by befuddling the Zips with option plays.
Frost broke off four runs of 10 yards or longer on options, including a gain of 25 yards and a scoring run of 26 yards on the opening scoring drive. Frost's other touchdown, a 5-yard run in the final minute of the first half, also came off an option play.
"Our option game has come a long way," Frost said. "I'm a lot more comfortable running it. Our line blocked it a lot better, and when I got the pitches off, Ahman and Correll carried the ball well.
"In the option, when the timing isn't there, a half step makes a big difference. Today, we seemed to have that timing down."
That was particularly true on Nebraska's fourth touchdown, when Green took a pitch from Frost and raced untouched down the sideline for a 45-yard score. Frost's pitch came a split second before he was clobbered by an Akron defender.
Nebraska's execution of the option, Akron Coach Lee Owens said, wrecked the Zips' defensive plan.
"We thought we could take the inside pitch away and take the quarterback one on one," he said. "He was good enough to break some tackles and make us miss.
"You can't get two defenders on all three aspects of the option. We thought the least of the runners would be the quarterback. That was the game plan going in. Once we tried to change and adjust to it, we didn't look very good doing it."
The Zips did slow Nebraska on its first possession, forcing Brown's 38-yard field-goal attempt that sailed wide right. But the Huskers wasted little time in scoring 38 points on six possessions that consumed just a little more than 10 minutes of the half.
Frost's 26-yard run opened the scoring with 6:18 left in the half. The Huskers needed just two plays to cover the 37 yards on their second scoring drive. Frost opened by passing 17 yards to tight end Sheldon Jackson, and Joel Makovicka scored the first of his two touchdowns with a bruising 20-yard run that saw him break six tackles.
Green capped a seven-play, 49-yard drive with a 7-yard run to make it 21-0 with 13:46 left in the second quarter. Nebraska's next possession ended with Brown's 34-yard field goal, and Green ripped off his 45-yard run to hike the lead to 31-0 with 4:04 remaining in the half.
Akron went three-and-out, and Nebraska closed its first-half scoring parade with an eight-play, 82-yard march that featured a 40-yard run by Green. Frost chipped in three completions, two to John Gibson and one to Jeff Lake, of 9 yards each, had a 10-yard run on an option play and scored on a 5-yard run with 53 seconds left in the period.
"I thought our offensive execution was crisp," Osborne said. "We expect to have a better offensive team this year. Scott Frost and Frankie London both played well, and Newcombe is a great talent. He needs to be a bit more disciplined, but he will."
Buckhalter, getting extensive playing time because of injuries to I-backs DeAngelo Evans, Jay Sims and Dan Alexander, almost got Nebraska a touchdown on its third play of the second half when he ripped through the Akron defense on a 41-yard run. A holding call nullified all but 17 yards of the gain, but the Huskers scored four plays later when Makovicka rumbled 11 yards for a touchdown.
London then took over, driving the Huskers 82 and 45 yards for their final two scores. London accounted for 71 yards on the first drive, running 51 yards on the opening play and then passing 20 yards to Shevin Wiggins. Buckhalter scored from the 8 two plays later.
Buckhalter scored three plays into the final period on a 3-yard run to finish the Huskers' scoring. The run gave Buckhalter 61 yards, nine more than Green gained when he made his debut as a true freshman two years ago Oklahoma State.
"Correll is a good, solid back who can play in the Big 12," Osborne said. "He's productive, and he doesn't seem to lack poise. If DeAnglo Evans, Dan Alexander and Jay Sims can come back 100 percent, we're going to be very strong at that position.
"Where Correll fits in, I don't know. But he's hard to knock off his feet."
|Yards per carry||2.4||8.4|
Nebraska is 1-0 all-time against Akron.
|Central Florida||Sept. 13|
|Kansas State||Oct. 4|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 18|
|Iowa State||Nov. 15|
|Texas A&M||Dec. 6|
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