LINCOLN — Tom Osborne was grateful again. Monte Kiffin gave a sheepish grin and let out a long "whew." Daryl White said, "We can play 100 per cent better than this." And Rich Sanger said, "we stunk up the place."
But when it was over Nebraska's record read: three wins, no losses, which is a whole lot better than the no wins and three gallant losses for Wisconsin.
Wisconsin, a 30-point underdog and an expected sacrificial lamb for the 76,259 patrons at Memorial Stadium Saturday, turned tiger.
The Badgers forced the nation's No. 2 team to come from behind twice in the final quarter and clutch desperately to a 20-16 victory in the waning seconds.
Looking very much unlike a national championship contender, the Cornhuskers fumbled and stumbled along until they had to produce some offensive efficiency. Then, they managed to find the answers, which, of course, is what champions do.
Nebraska showed championship timbre with touchdown drives of 80 and 83 yards after falling behind by 7-10 and 14-16 in the last eight minutes.
In the process, quarterback Dave Humm was at his passing best while setting a couple of Husker hurling records, Frosty Anderson was at his sure-fingered receiving best, and I-back Tony Davis, who reinjured a leg and fumbled a couple of times, was at his battering best.
After slogging through the first three quarters at 7-7 and finally falling behind on a 29-yard Rich Barrios field goal, Nebraska steamed back to go ahead with 5-and-a-half minutes left with Humm hitting passes of 27, 27, minus five and the final 23 to Anderson.
Nebraska fans felt better with the 14-10 lead. The tide had surely turned. The locals were finally on their way.
Oops! Badger substitute tailback Selvie Washington ran the following kickoff back 96 yards through the middle of the guys in the red shirts. It was suddenly comeback time again.
Humm started the winning drive from his 17-yard line with 5:03 left. "I just told them in the huddle that we can do it, just don't make any mistakes," the left-handed junior said.
He hit Brent Longwell for 14 yards on the first play, missed once to Anderson, then picked up six and seven yards with completions to Maury Damkroger and Ritch Bahe.
Then, the Husker running game that had been so puny most of the afternoon, supplied the most important yardage of the afternoon. Bahe ran a counter trap play over the left side, cut back across the middle of the field and concluded a 40-yard play at the Badger 16.
Two plays later, Davis, who did not start because an ankle injury had not completely healed and who missed much of the game after the same left was hurt when he was stepped on in the second quarter, got the winner from the 14.
It was pure Davis. He found a nice hole up the middle, normally good enough for a five-yard gain. The Tecumseh toughie got it all by spinning off one tackler, then winning a footrace with two others to the goal.
"The line opened the biggest hole I've seen," said Davis. "Oh, yes, it was easily the biggest hole today. The line just did the job. I wasn't so sure I'd be in there. I fumbled (on the previous drive) and you usually don't go back in there after a fumble. I'm glad they (coaches) gave me a chance."
Although Nebraska easily dominated the statistics (445-214 in total yards), the Huskers were disappointed in their inability to gain consistently on the ground. Wisconsin held a 175-148 edge on rushing plays, thanks mainly to yeoman duty by Bill Marek, a 5-8, 186-pound sophomore who gained 145 yards on 30 carries.
But with Wisconsin’s linebackers concentrating so much on stopping the running plays, Humm was able to pass at will. His 297 yards and 25 completions (in 36 attempts) were Nebraska records. Frank Patrick held the old yardage mark of 290 against Oklahoma in 1967. The 25 completions were two more than Jerry Tagge recorded against Kansas in 1969 and tied by Humm against Iowa State last year.
“We figured we could throw the play action hooks,” said Humm. “Against their zone it was pretty easy to do. But they wouldn’t let us run. They were like North Carolina State, real quick. We couldn’t trap them.
“Then again, we might have been a little overconfident. They had us really well scouted. Their defensive line really read well, and they were well-disciplined.
“But we knew we could do it. The (offensive) line really sucked it up. Frosty did as good a job as any receiver I’ve ever seen. The line did a great job of pass blocking. It felt good to have that much time to pass.”
Then, the quarterback touched on a little extra incentive.
“We want Coach Osborne to keep winning. He works too hard for us to let him down.”
Offensive Capt. Daryl White, the left tackle, said simply: “We didn’t play a good game. But we did do it (win). That’s a good sign. I know, though, that we can’t win in the Big Eight if we play like that.
“They (Wisconsin) did exactly like we expected them to do. We just had a letdown. You can’t fault the backs or the line. It was everybody.
“We thought we would be able to run on them. I think they were the third (behind UCLA and North Carolina State) best team we played. I’d like to win a little easier, but no matter how we won, we did win. That’s all that counts.”
Osborne, still undefeated as a head coach, said he was “not really that disappointed in the performance. I feel that this early in the season the important thing is to win. This just shows that we have to be well prepared every game in order to win. You can’t just win with superior athletes.
“We knew they (the Badgers) were good. But the players read in the paper that they are favored to win by 35 points and they’re No. 2 in the nation. The emotional buildup isn’t the same.
“But I can’t say enough good things about Wisconsin. They controlled the line of scrimmage more than we did. And it’s hard to win when you don’t control the line of scrimmage. They’re as good as an 0-2 (now 0-3) team as I’ve ever seen.”
The Huskers got that message on its first two possessions when Wisconsin’s defense refused to budge.
It was the combination of Davis, coming off the bench, and Randy Borg, the heroes of the season-opening win over UCLA, who injected some offensive life.
Borg returned a Ken Simmons punt 29 yards to the Husker 48-yard line to start the first scoring drive. Humm hit Longwell and Anderson on passes of 12 and 19 yards, then found Davis over the middle for nine yards and the touchdown on third and six.
Badger Marek did the tough work, the biggest chunk during a 30-yard gain during which he broke two tackles, in the tying drive, but Washington was allowed to score the first of his two touchdowns from a yard away 3:02 from the end of the first half.
Humm was never sharper with his passes than he was in trying to beat the halftime gun on the drive that started from his 18. He didn’t miss while logging completions of 17, 9, 6, 8, 18 and 7 yards to put the ball on the Badger 17 with 16 seconds left.
With no timeouts left, he went for the end zone to Anderson, who lost a battle with Greg Lewis when the defender intercepted near the goal line.
“I thought Dave would hit it or throw it out of the end zone,” said Osborne. He tried to force it in (to Anderson), and it was intercepted. We didn’t even get a chance at a field goal out of it.”
WIth its rushing game ineffectual and Humm’s deft passing only able to keep the Huskers even, No. 2 quarterback Steve Runty was greeted with lusty cheering when he entered the game in the middle of the third quarter.
Humm was sidelined after he “got a cramp in my calf and got my head snapped back” while throwing an incompletion. “I felt groggy,” he said.
But Runty, who was honored with a “Steve Runty Day” by Ogallala and Ceresco residents, was unable to move the team in two series, and Humm came back to lead the last two crucial drives.
Still, the thrills lasted down to the final seconds after John Bell, who again led Husker tacklers with 12, and Mark Heydorff stopped Washington for no gain at the Nebraska 36 with 1:28 left.
Trying to run out the clock, Davis fumbled and Tom Alward came up with the key recovery at the Husker 35 with 11 seconds left.
That allowed Brent Longwell, who averaged a 41.5 yards while replacing Rich Sanger as the punter, to kick the ball out of the danger zone, and the Badgers tried one last pass, which failed.
“That was a long ball game, a long game,” Osborne sighed.
“I’ll never make it,” said a relieved defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, reflecting on two straight scares by heavy underdogs.
Nebraska will take its thrill of the week show to Minneapolis next week for a game against Minnesota, which will again be rated an inferior opponent. But Tom Osborne and his assistants don’t want to listen to such talk.
|Yards per carry||3.4||3.3|
Nebraska is 4-10 all-time against Wisconsin.
|North Carolina State||Sept. 22|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 27|
|Iowa State||Nov. 10|
|Kansas State||Nov. 17|
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