LINCOLN —Just when Nebraska nearly had its followers convinced it was just another good football team, it went out and touched on greatness.
The ascent to such a level of performance lasted 30 minutes for the offense and nearly 60 minutes for the defense Saturday and Colorado went home on the short end of a 28-16 score in a battle for pride and a possible bowl.
A loss, said Husker Coach Tom Osborne, would have put "the whole thing down the tube—the Big Eight, bowls, everything. We were one touchdown from blowing it open.
"If we can get by the next two teams (Iowa State here next Saturday and Kansas State in Manhattan Nov. 17) we will have a real decent chance at winning the game at Norman (against Oklahoma, the Big Eight leader, Nov. 23).
For the Huskers and the second largest home crowd in N.U. history (76,555), the Colorado game was a day of rare relaxation. An early 14-point cushion forced the Buffs to pass more than they wanted, and that is rarely a successful venture against a Husker defense that is becoming fiercely proud of its national leadership in pass defense.
So fierce, in fact, that the Huskers were incensed when Colorado scored in the fourth quarter on a 73-yard trick play that involved a "swinging gate" formation and tailback Billy Waddy passing to quarterback David Williams.
The Buffs were accused of scoring a "cheap" touchdown by safety Bob Thornton. Cornerback Randy Borg called it a "Micky Mouse play" and told Williams so when he caught up with him in the end zone.
But the Blackshirt defenders were all smiles after the game because the offense, which had scored only four touchdowns in the last three games and none on passes in the last two, scored four times in the first two quarters—two on Dave Humm passes, two on Tony Davis runs—to establish early dominance.
That took much of the burden off the Blackshirt defense, which was then allowed to loosen up and just play containment, taking fewer chances.
The defense allowed Buff tailback Charlie Davis to enjoy his best day of the season with 93 yards on 15 carries, which wasn't much consolation for losing three straight times to the Cornhuskers. But the Buffs were most successful when they were not close to scoring, a malady that had afflicted the Huskers for three games.
Colorado's scores came on a 31-yard Fred Lima field goal set up by Dave Logan's 38-yard punt return, a five-yard shot by fullback Bo Matthews after Husker Davis lost a fumble at the enemy nine and that swinging gate thing.
"I don't mind scoring two touchdowns," said Tony Davis, "but I hated like hell to score that third one—the one I gave Colorado with that fumble."
For Davis, however, that bad mark was wiped out with another excellent afternoon of tough — that seems to be the only accurate description of Davis's running style — rushing. He finished with 97 yards on 25 carries, leaving Buff Davis a runner up in the individual yardage competition, too.
Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the afternoon for the offense was not the long-distance plays that helped the Huskers earn a 379-327 total offense advantage. It was one of those half-yard plays, the kind that had been discussed for a week after the Huskers failed to make that much on fourth down at the Oklahoma State goal last week.
The replay came up 52 seconds from the end of the first half when N.U. had a yard to make for a touchdown on fourth down. Percentage player Osborne opted for Rich Sanger's field goal, which was good. But the Buffs were offside.
As he did at Oklahoma State with a half-yard to go, Osborne then went for the touchdown. Again it was Davis. Again the run was to the right side.
This time, however, Bob Wolfe, Stan Hegener and Brent Longwell, delivered heavy blows at the knees of the Buff defenders, and Davis played high jumper, sailing up and over the heap and crashing to the Astro-Turf two yards into the end zone.
"Coach Osborne knew if we made it, it would give our offense a lot of confidence," said quarterback Humm. "Tony did a great job of getting up in the air. There was no way of stopping him with the blocks he got."
As important as that final touchdown was to offensive confidence, the first one was the major crippler of Buffalo determination.
It was one those game-opening, tempo-setting marches that had been sought by the Huskers for several weeks. It carried 79 yards in just seven plays, and the pass was back.
Humm threw long to sophomore split end Dave Shamblin for 44 yards to the Buffalo 10, then came right back with a toss to tight end Brent Longwell for the remaining yards.
“We felt if we could get them (Buffs) down right away, they would have some doubts. After that first drive, we came back to the bench and told each other to not let them down now,” said Humm. “There’s sometimes a tendency to let down when you score that fast.
“Then we got a good break (linebacker Bob Nelson recovered a Bo Matthews fumble at the C.U. 14, and Davis scored from the nine two plays later). We pretty well controlled the game after that. It sure was a lot better feeling going into the half with a big lead (28-3).”
The third Husker touchdown came just as quickly. Two plays after middle guard Willie Thornton blocked a punt by Stan Koleski, Humm passed 21 yards to Frosty Anderson for a touchdown.
The return of split end Anderson gave the Husker passing game “a big lift,” said Osborne. “Just having him around helps.”
The Huskers had gone two straight games without a touchdown pass. Anderson, who was the Big Eight’s leading receiver, suffered a shoulder separation three weeks ago. He caught the touchdown pass while wearing a taped harness that restricted his reach. He did not have to reach for Humm’s toss, however.
“I was just glad to contribute something,” said Anderson. “I felt Dave Shamblin carried the load… I was fortunate to be in the game when we threw for the touchdown.”
Willie Thornton got in his most extensive duty of the season when regular middle guard John Bell was injured (hyperextended knee) in the second quarter. Thornton fit the Nebraska mold of middle guard excellence perfectly.
Besides the block, he distinguished himself with nine unassisted tackles and three assists. Linebacker Tom Ruud was the No. 1 Blackshirt with 13 tackles. End Tom Pate, making his first start in place of injured Bob Martin, did himself proud with nine stops, including one on Williams’ attempted two-point conversion run.
“When you’re second string, the only thing you can hope for, if you’ve got a guy like Bell in front of you is that he gets hurt,” said Thornton, the Amory, Miss., sophomore. “But I sure never wanted to see him get hurt. I was shocked when it happened. This was a crucial game.
“I made some tackles, and it was fun, especially since we were ahead like that.”
It was a big day for the Thorntons. Safety Bob intercepted two passes, but most of the credit, he said, had to go to the coaches. “They did a heck of a job. Overall, we had a real good game.
“We’ve finally started to jell. They (Buffs) started to run at us (in the second half), but we weren’t too concerned. Our line can stop anybody when they put their minds to it. We almost went into a slump in the second half, sitting on the lead, and that’s not the thing to do.”
Cornerback Borg acknowledged that Buff backs Davis and Bo Matthews were strong runners, and “they were driving on us in the second half. But we were making mistakes, too. It helped that the offense gave us something to work with.
“I think this game was the beginning we needed for the rest of league,” Borg said. Then he broke into a big grin.
“When I graduate (he is a senior) I can say we beat Colorado every year I played. There has never been any love between the two schools.”
|Yards per carry||4.1||4.1|
Nebraska is 49-19 all-time against Colorado.
|North Carolina State||Sept. 22|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 27|
|Iowa State||Nov. 10|
|Kansas State||Nov. 17|
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