LINCOLN — The good old days returned to Nebraska Saturday after a one-week absence.
Looking remarkably like the powerful Cornhusker football teams of the last two years. Bob Devaney's final team swept aside gritty Texas A&M, 37-7, in a near carbon copy of the national champions' triumph over the same team (34-7) here one year ago.
Forgotten was the bad dream of the previous week's loss to UCLA as the Huskers evened their record at 1-1 with a 467-yard of defensive output and a defense that held the Southwest Conference team to 229 yards and scoreless until the substitutes got their chance to join in the fun.
It was a day of just plain joy for the record 76,042 sun bathers gathered in 88-degree pleasantry in remodeled Memorial Stadium.
A 14-0 lead in the first quarter erased any anxiety about a possible second loss, and at the end, relaxed Husker partisans took an "aw shucks" attitude when an Aggie touchdown pass in the final 3-and-a-half minutes prevented a shutout.
And they were hollering for just one more touchdown in the final seconds as sub quarterback Steve Runty drove his team to the visitors' four yard line while Devaney insisted that the clock keep moving.
Besides marking the first victory of the season, the home opener was distinguished as the beginning of the 50th season at Memorial Stadium. The win was No. 19 in a row before the home folks, one shy of the stadium record.
The scoreboard reflected the vast improvement in the consistency of the offense, which fumbled only once — retaining possession — and turned the ball over only once, on a Dave Humm interception. Five turnovers at UCLA were instrumental in that 20-17 loss.
Humm displayed very un-sophomore form, completing 10 of 17 passes for 182 yards. One aerial was a nine-yard touchdown to tight end Jerry List — the second time in two games the combination worked for a score. Humm's performance prompted Assistant Coach John Melton, in the press box, to comment with admiration: "Gee, he's sure going to be a great one."
There were other flashes of greatness, such as every time flanker Johnny Rodgers touched the ball. He returned a punt 40 yards, a missed field goal attempt 33 yards and caught a pass for a 42-yard gain, mostly on his fancy stepping in the secondary.
Rodgers' two pass receptions gave him career total of 101, the first Nebraskan to catch more than 100.
Then there was placekicker Rich Sanger, who provided one of the day's top thrills — and some of the loudest groans — with a 54-yard field goal, aided by a 15-mile-per-hour tailwind and two missed 38-yarders, an errant extra-point boot and two punts that averaged only 29 yards.
Sanger's boomer that pushed the score to 31-0 seconds into the fourth quarter, was one yard short of the Big Eight Conference record set by Nebraska's Paul Rogers in 1969 and equaled last week by Colorado's Fred Lima.
The defense, which held the Aggies without a first down in the second half until 6:50 remained in the game, took the pressure off middle guard Rich Glover, who was credited with five tackles after logging 16 the week before.
Linebacker Johnny Pitts and monster Dave Mason were the Blackshirt leaders with seven tackles each. Sophomore defensive end Tom Pate had six and tackle Monte Johnson and cornerback Joe Blahak matched Glover's five.
Similar balance was found on offense with I-back Gary Dixon leading the rushers with 52 yards on 12 carries and his backup men, Dave Goeller and Don Westbrook, logging 45 and 34 yards, respectively, with Rodgers adding 35 at flanker.
Texas A&M, considered one of the powers in SWC and a 36-13 conqueror of Wichita State the week before, surprised by passing 27 times from the run-orientated wishbone-T formation, completing 15 for 154 yards.
The Ags, however were held to 75 net yards rushing, which is one of the reason quarterback Lex James relied more on the aerial attack.
On defense, linebacker Grady Hoermann was a genuine pest for the second straight year. After a super 13-tackle output last year, the 217-pound senior was credited with 15 Saturday.
The Aggies appeared to have the right idea at the start by kicking off and taking the wind after they had won the toss.
The Huskers were stymied on their initial charge, but not for long.
On the second possession, starting when Rodgers returned a punt eight yards to the 14, Nebraska took only eight plays to score on the first of two consecutive Humm one-yard sneaks over center Doug Dumler.
Four straight first downs came on Bill Olds' 11-yard run and Humm-to-Rodgers passes of 14 and 42 yards, Johnny putting on a move only as he can to evade two tacklers in the secondary.
Dixon then carried three straight plays for 17 yards and Olds got another before soph Humm scored his first varsity touchdown and sent the balloons skyward for the first time this year in Memorial Stadium.
After A&M's Roberto Payan was short on a 62-yard field goal attempt, returned to the 38 by Rodgers, Nebraska traveled rapidly to the foe's 11. At that point Humm's fourth-down pass bounced off fullback Maury Dmakorger's mitts.
That disappointment, however, didn't last long. Steve Manstedt recovered the first of five Aggie fumbles (N.U. came up with three of them) on the nine.
Rodgers swept left for seven and Goeller set up Humm for touchdown No. 2 Sanger made it 14-0 with 13 seconds left in the first quarter.
If Devaney was looking for consistency in his offense, he had to be pleased with the third scoring drive, which started at the Nebraska five after 6-foot-7 John Dutton knocked down a fourth-down James pass.
The Huskers took a backward step to the three with an offside penalty, then reeled off 14 plays without a hitch. Humm's 37-yard toss to Frosty Anderson — his first reception of the year — along the right sidelines was the big gainer.
On fourth and one, Damkroger wedged over between Bob Wolfe and Daryl White, and Sanger made it 21-0, which stood at the half.
The third quarter was the Blackshirts' finest hour, limiting the Aggies to three plays on each of three series and recovering a fumble on another.
Mason came up with the ball at the Aggie 14. Goeller lost a yard, then gained six, setting up a nifty work of aerial artistry involving Humm and List. The tight end delayed at the line as Rodgers split end Frosty Anderson took the secondary men to the sidelines with them. List had no opposition over the middle as he took Humm's lob nine yards, prancing into the end zone holding the ball jubilantly over his head.
After Sanger's dynamic foot work opened the fourth quarter, Steve Runty got his reward for patience. He entered the game with 12:45 remaining and promptly drove his squad of backups 40 yards to the final N.U. touchdown.
With Don Westbrook providing most of the ground punch, Runty came up with third and seven at the 12. He neatly slipped a touchdown pass to soph flanker Ritch Bahe up the middle between two defenders, who flattened themselves when they arrived too late.
With the regulars watching from the bench, the Ags, who had averted a blanking with 98-yard kickoff return in the final moments the previous year, hustled 80 yards with their own subs.
Freshman Skip Walker's running and sophomore Don Dean's passing got the job done. Dean lofted a 29-yard scoring strike over cornerback Zaven Yaralian's head to Homer May with 3:29 left.
Runty and his crew weren't through yet, moving from their 20 deep into A&M territory as time ran out. Runty signaled to the bench asking for permission to call time out. But Devaney ruled that 37-3 was enough.
Runty had time for one more play, passing 10 yards to junior fullback Ralph Powell on the four to end it.
Nebraska, after the confidence-building afternoon, will travel to West Point, N.Y., next week for a date with Army. The Aggies must prepare for powerful Louisiana State in Baton Rouge, La.
|Yards per carry||2.0||4.1|
Nebraska is 10-4 all-time against Texas A&M.
|Texas A&M||Sept. 16|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 28|
|Iowa State||Nov. 11|
|Kansas State||Nov. 18|
|Notre Dame||Jan. 1|
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