LINCOLN — Nebraska played ragged, listless football before 40 thousand Homecoming Day fans Saturday and Pittsburgh had no trouble plucking a 21-7 victory.
The Huskers may have been thinking ahead to the Oklahoma game or to the possibility of playing in the Orange Bowl.
Something was wrong because the effort was nothing like the sparkling play of the past few weeks.
An unusual jockeying of lineups by rival coaches sent the Husker first team against the Pitt reserves in the first and third periods.
This left the Husker subs to take on the Pitt regulars in the major part of the second and fourth periods.
But it was the same story in either case, with Pitt’s lines outcharging the Nebraskans and the visiting backs running with much more authority.
A scoreless first half reminded fans of the three Husker-Pitt scoreless deadlocks more than 20 years ago.
But Coach Tom Hamilton’s Panthers broke loose for two touchdowns and a 14-0 lead in the third quarter before Nebraska counted its only point on one sudden, spectacular thrust.
The Huskers had just taken the kick-off after Pitt’s second touchdown and had a first down on their 44.
Quarterback Dan Brown tossed a backward pass to Willie Greenlaw and the sophomore from Maine ran to his left. The Pitt defenders started to close in.
But Willie had no intention of keeping the ball. Before he got to the line of scrimmage he tossed a forward pass on the dead run.
It came down around the Pitt 36, where Ron Clark apparently was covered by Darrell Lewis and Bob Grier.
But at just the right time Clark leaped high and away from the Panther arms to make a beautiful catch.
When he came down, he whirled away from his two foes, and in a flash was in the open. He merely jogged the rest of the way to the touchdown.
Before and after that one dazzler the Huskers looked like anything but a team with Orange Bowl possibilities.
On offense, most of the drives bogged down early. It got so bad in the closing stages that the Huskers were running far back and tossing wild passes like a bunch of grade school kids.
On defense, Nebraska couldn’t check a Pitt team that looked no better than several of the earlier Husker victims.
In the first half, Nebraska managed to escape with a deadlock by stopping three Pitt scoring bids.
First the ball was taken on downs on the 27.
Then Clark’s fine pass defense ended two other drives just ahead of the rest period.
Once Ron intercepted Henry Ford’s pass and fell on the Husker six. He took the ball away from End Fred Glatz on a well-timed jump.
A few minutes later Pitt managed to get off five passes in the last 45 seconds of the second period.
The final throw by Lewis was headed for a touchdown as Halfback Richie McCabe was poised for the catch in the corner of the field.
But at just the right second Clark grounded the ball as the gun ended play.
But the Panthers weren’t to be denied in the third period even if the Husker regulars were in against the Pitt subs.
Halfback Charles Post, a 170-pound sophomore, broke things open with a wide run and cutback for 40 yards. He would have gone all the way. But Andy Loehr hauled him down from behind on the six.
Nick Passodelis rammed for three, then Bob Grier drove for the last three — and Ambrose Bagamery kicked his first of three perfect extra points.
The Huskers snapped back with a flurry and got as far as the Pitt 44.
Then Center Ed Bose intercepted a pass by Brown and returned 32 yards to the Nebraska 30.
The same Cost contributed another 12-yard run before Bagamery wiggled the last two yards to the touchdown.
The final Pitt points came in the last period after a bid had been stopped a few plays before.
Ford’s interception of a pass by Rex Fischer gave Pitt the ball on the Husker 42 and running plays carried to the seven.
Nebraska gambled on two passes out of the end zone — and lost. The first Harry Johnson was incomplete. But the second by Greenlaw boomeranged.
Center Bob Ballock intercepted on the 10 and lumbered to a touchdown.
Pitt had a margin of only 288-204 in total net yards. But it was set back 95 yards on penalties.
Nebraska is 6-15 all-time against Pittsburgh.
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