LINCOLN — Undefeated Nebraska used four thunderbolt plays and a drive of 89 yards Saturday to win by 34-7 over a Texas A&M football team that was short on finesse but had plenty of brawn and competitive zip.
Junior Johnny Rodgers was the game-breaker, returning the second-half kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown after the bruised Cornhuskers had produced only a 13-0 advantage in the opening 30 minutes.
The Omaha Tech grad also contributed the next touchdown on a 32-yard pass collaboration with Jerry Tagge. Safety Bill Kosch wrapped up the N.U. scoring with a record-matching interception runback of 95 yards in the fourth quarter.
The first big play had been a 67-yard run from scrimmage by fullback Bill Olds in the first quarter. Nebraska’s only slug-it-out drive came in the second period and was climaxed by quarterback Tagge’s wedge from inside the one for his initial touchdown of the season.
Texas A&M averted a shutout — deservedly so — when wingback Hugh McElroy darted 94 yards with a kickoff return in the game’s final five minutes.
Although forced to labor hard for its victory margin, Nebraska boasted a total-offense advantage of 383 yards to 100, a total Olds matched in 10 carries. The N.U. three-game air-ground total is 1,219 yards.
In defense of its national poll lead, Nebraska also accumulated 71 first downs and 15 touchdowns, the latter coming at a steady pace of five per game.
When the last of the shouts from the Memorial Stadium crowd of 67,993 had faded, and the Nebraska Marching Band was playing its post-game serenade, the sun broke through the overcast for a suggestion that all was well in the Husker football world.
There had been no such reassurance during the first half, which was marked by glowering clouds and glaring errors.
In that time of hard line play and savage open-field tackling, Nebraska lost the ball twice on fumbles, once on an interception. It had one extra-point attempt blocked and missed on its first field goal attempt of the season — Rich Sanger’s kick from the 29 being wide. Nebraska also was penalized three times.
In addition, Tagge suffered his first interception in 50 passes, a string which included his final 11 throws in the Orange Bowl game. Lee Hitt made the steal on a pass intended for Rodgers.
The Aggies also were experiencing some frustration. They lost one fumble and one interception, and saw Kosch race in to block Mike Bellar’s attempted field goal from the 32.
The Aggies’ lost fumble came with second-and-six at the N.U. 10. End Willie Harper, playing his best game of the young campaign, recovered a bobble by sub quarterback Tim Trimmier on the 11, spoiling the visitors’ only first-half penetration of the Husker 25.
Meanwhile, an important message was being written in the statistics. A&M didn’t have a single yard passing, trailed the Huskers in total-offense yardage, 25-304, and made only one first down.
The Aggie attack perked up a little the second half when Mark Green, 6-3, 218-pound sophomore, made his varsity debut. Green managed three completions for 17 yards and ran 14 times for 43 yards.
Nebraska’s Blackshirts got in their share of tough licks, making 10 behind-the-line stops for losses totaling 39 yards. Harper made three of those tackles and pressured the quarterbacks on countless other plays.
Middle guard Rich Glover took part in a dozen tackles. Bill Janssen ranked next with nine.
However, game honors went to Texan Grady Hoermann, a linebacker credited with 11 solos and three assists.
Another mean customer was middle guard Van Odom, who recovered a fumble on Jeff Kinney’s first carry of the game.
Not until its fifth possession could Nebraska turn on any scoreboard lights. The ball was on the N.U. 18 following a third-down punt by Mitch Robertson that soared and bounced 62 yards — although it was not a quick-kick.
Tagge passed to tight end Jerry List for 11, halfback Gary Dixon made four. Then Olds took a pitchout around his right end, survived a sideline squeeze at the Husker 40, got important blocks from Rodgers and List and pedaled on to a touchdown with only six seconds to go in the opening quarter. Sanger ran his PAT consecutive string to 10.
Early in the second period, A&M threatened after McElroy returned a Jeff Kughes punt 51 yards to the host 14. Two plays later, Harper made his vital recovery at the 11.
From the point, Tagge scored for the Huskers on a drive of 89 yards. A momentary crisis arose when Kinney fumbled inside the 10. Dick Rupert speared the ball on the six, and three plays later Tagge went across. It was after this touchdown that Bland Smith blocked Sanger’s conversion attempt.
With 24 seconds remaining in the first half, Sanger’s field goal effort from the 29-yard line had good distance but shifted to the left.
Rodgers’ 98-yard return of the second-half kickoff was mostly a matter of speed. He negotiated the final barrier of consequence at the N.U. 40 and was home free.
That was his first touchdown with a kickoff return. Last year he scored on punt returns of 48 yards (against Missouri) and 66 (against Oklahoma State).
Umbrellas were raised to a light sprinkle late in the period as Nebraska moved from its 20 to the Aggie 32. Running toward the corner, Rodgers got behind Hitt and toted Tagge’s pass into the end zone.
Tagge now has registered 19 touchdown passes, matching the school career record set by Bob Churchich.
Still not at the halfway mark in his varsity career, the blazing Rodgers had caught 53 passes for 942 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Kosch’s 95-yard scoring run with a pass by Green and McElroy’s 94-yard return of the subsequent kickoff (actually the second kickoff because of an N.U. penalty) had the crowd gasping late in the fourth quarter.
Just as significant, though, to Nebraska’s dominance was a sample of Blackshirt defense in the same quarter.
After a punt by Sanger, who averaged 48 yards on two efforts, A&M scrimmaged from its 20. First down: Glover hit Green for a three-yard loss. Second down: Joe Blahak turned a Green-McElroy completion into a one-yard loss. Third down: Harper wrestled Green for a deficit of four.
It takes two-way heroics to win football games.
Coach Bob Devaney had said he would be “very, very satisfied” if Nebraska could collect 30 points. The offense delivered.
Most handicappers pegged Nebraska as a 28-point favorite. The margin was 27, and inasmuch as the customers usually are willing to give the points, the handicappers also had a reason to grin a little.
Utah State will be the opponent this week for Nebraska’s fourth straight home game before traveling to Missouri and the opening of the conference championship defense.
|Yards per carry||1.9||4.3|
Nebraska is 10-4 all-time against Texas A&M.
|Texas A&M||Sept. 25|
|Utah State||Oct. 2|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 23|
|Iowa State||Nov. 6|
|Kansas State||Nov. 13|
Nebraska has played 11 games on Sept. 25. See them all »
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