LINCOLN — Saturday was a nice day for a football scrimmage, and a whopping 66 Nebraska players joined in the 49-0 frolic over a game but woefully outmanned Minnesota team.
Before the day was over, a record Memorial Stadium turnout of 76,217 saw the eighth straight Cornhusker victory over the Gophers produce the host team's best offensive and defensive totals of the year.
Nebraska, which banished its regulars with 6-and-a-half minutes left in the third quarter while sitting on a 42-0 lead, rolled up 542 yards in total offense while limiting the frustrated visitors to 144 yards.
Best previous figures in a 3-1 season were 481 in the 77-7 rout of Army and 229 against Texas A&M.
The lone bright spot for Minnesota in absorbing a third consecutive loss was the fact it was the last time the Gophers will have to face Johnny Rodgers.
The senior flanker from Omaha pushed his career touchdown total against Minnesota to six with a pair while becoming the Huskers' all-time touchdown producer.
Rodgers' last play of the game, a two-yard touchdown run with 6:21 left in the third quarter, gave him 35 touchdowns in his three seasons, breaking Jeff Kinney's career record.
He also became the first Big Eight player to surpass 2,000 yards in pass receptions. He caught seven against the Gophers for 127 yards to give him 2,070.
And his 12 points gave him 210 in his career, one short of the Nebraska record held by Bobby Reynolds in 1950-52.
But it was his dancing punt return magic that produced the biggest thrill. Nebraska fans had been waiting since the Orange Bowl game to see Johnny pop one.
Rodgers made the wait worthwhile on a 64-yarder with a little extra flavor.
The outcome was all but decided with five minutes left in the second quarter and a 28-0 lead when Rodgers stifled the yawns by fielding a higher hopper on his 36 and cruising to his right.
He somehow burst through heavy traffic at midfield and found himself alone with four escorts to the end zone.
The play was so pretty even Rodgers had to turn around and watch. He backpedaled the last 10 yards into the end zone, scoring face-to-face with his four bodyguards, whose only job was to signal to the fans that it was a touchdown.
The punt return touchdown was Rodgers' sixth, one short of the NCAA record, and, coupled with a kickoff runback, his seventh scoring kick return, also one short of the national mark.
Coach Bob Devaney said: "Rodgers is a very, very exceptional player. He can do more than any other player in the country. I certainly wouldn't trade John for any back."
Assistant Head Coach Tom Osborne said the Omahan "probably made more great catches today than in any other game he's played for us."
But Rodgers was hardly the whole show.
Gary Dixon was the first and finest of five I-backs. His three short-range touchdowns in the first half matched his personal record triple in his Husker debut last year against Oregon.
The muscular Californian led 12 ball carriers with 53 yards on 12 carries — 51 coming before intermission.
Quarterback David Humm, again displaying a wealth of poise and polish, recovered from a one-for-six start and finished with 11 for 21 and 192 yards and his fourth touchdown pass of the year.
His replacement, Steve Runty, who refuses to concede a thing in his battle to win the starting job, again came through with a stellar backup job, completing his only two tosses, including a third-and-21 play for 43 yards while driving his squad of subs to the final touchdown.
And the defense?
Bill Janssen's team finally got its shutout, knocking the vim out of the Gophers' veer-T offense by allowing only 93 yards on the ground.
Actually, it was the third straight blanking for the Blackshirts of the first team. Texas A&M and Army scored their only touchdown late in the game against the subs.
Naturally, it was middle guard Rich Glover leading the defensive charge despite running into double team blocking all afternoon. His five tackles and seven assists were trailed by his assistant John Bell's eight total tackles. Steve Manstedt and John Dutton logged seven each.
Although the 49-0 outcome will surely not hurt the Huskers' image in the national ratings, the comparative score became a moot situation as far as Nebraska and Colorado are concerned.
Nebraska had hoped to improve on its No. 7 position with a favorable comparison against No. 3 Colorado's 38-6 win at Minneapolis a week before.
Nebraska did its part, but Colorado was garroted by Oklahoma State, 31-6, Saturday.
Colorado had taken its toll on Minnesota, forcing Gopher Coach Cal Stoll to leave five regulars home because of injuries.
Minnesota had to know what was in store when another starter, defensive tackle Jeff Gunderson, was lost on the first Nebraska offensive play of the game.
If Gopher followers didn't get the message then, they should have on the following play.
Linebacker Tom MacLeod intercepted a Humm pass but lost the ball on the return — the ever present Rodgers retrieving for the Huskers on the Minnesota 42.
Humm followed up by passing 21 yards to Rodgers (who else?), and three plays later, Dixon crashed in from the four yard line with just 3:16 gone.
Minnesota, as it did the week before against Colorado, made the most of its weakened forces in the first quarter. The best the Gophers could muster was a 16-play, 56-yard drive that ended on downs at the N.U. 24.
Nebraska pulled away from the 7-0 first-quarter advantage with a three-touchdown power performance in the second stanza, ignited by the play that earned Rodgers the Big Eight career yardage record.
The 28-yarder featured a leaping catch and three broken tackles in a journey to the Gopher 32. Dixon carried on four of the next five plays, including the last one over left guard Bob Wolfe from the two.
The next two Nebraska possessions also ended in touchdowns. A 76-yard march was aided by a pass interference penalty (Rodgers was the receiver) and a personal foul (Rodgers was throttled on the sideline).
Humm rolled out from the eight and pitched to sub I-back Dave Goeller in the left flat. The Pilger, Neb., native easily scored his third touchdown of the season.
A 35-yard Humm-to-Frosty Anderson pass was the big play of the fourth touchdown — a six-yard Dixon shot ending a 65-yard march.
After his dazzling punt return in the third quarter, Rodgers scored his third touchdown of the season on a rushing play. His 27-yard reception started the drive from the Minnesota 43 and he ended it on a two-yard scoring sweep.
Runty's troops wrapped it up by marching 62 yards in 13 plays on a drive that ended 44 seconds into the last quarter.
Jeff Moran got the honors from inches out on fourth down with a high dive over the middle. Rich Sanger, who had an excellent kicking day with three punts averaging 45 yards, booted his seventh straight extra point.
For Nebraska Coach Bob Devaney, it was his second victory over new Minnesota Coach Cal Stoll, whose Wake Forest team lost here, 36-12, two years ago.
The victory also closed out retiring Devaney's career record against Minnesota at 8-0 and his perfect mark over Big 10 Conference teams to 10-0.
Nebraska will take next Saturday off and will open Big Eight play Oct. 14 against Missouri in Lincoln. Minnesota will take its 0-3 record against a third straight Big Eight foe next week when Kansas invades the Twin Cities.
|Yards per carry||2.0||4.7|
Nebraska is 25-32 all-time against Minnesota.
|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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