LINCOLN — With a quarterback who wasn’t supposed to be a very good passer and a defense that was suspect, Nebraska dispatched a highly-touted UCLA team, 40-13, Saturday.
In the process, the passer set a Cornhusker and Big Eight Conference record for pitching accuracy and the new Blackshirts handled the Bruins’ wishbone offense with ease, except for a couple of lapses that were predictable for a first game.
The outcome was a long way from the opening game a year ago when UCLA bushwhacked the Huskers in Los Angeles ending a 32-game unbeaten streak.
Many had been labeling the Uclans as the toughest foe the Huskers will play all year. On the strength of Saturday’s national television performance, Coach Tom Osborne’s first season should rank favorably with the beginning of the Bob Devaney era (9-2 in 1972).
Athletic Director Devaney appeared delighted as he circulated among the players offering congratulations in the joyous locker room afterwards. “That felt great. It’s a lot easier sitting up there (in the stands). It’s a lot of fun.”
Osborne, the important first one behind him, said: “This was probably the best prepared team, psychologically, of any team I’ve been around.”
Quarterback Steve Runty, who was thrust into the high-pressure situation of directing the offense when All-America candidate Dave Humm was slowed by a knee injury, picked up Osborne’s preparedness theme.
“We were so well prepared for the game I couldn’t believe it. The coaches did a great job of getting us ready.”
Runty was labeled an inferior passer to the junior he had played behind all last year. Given his chance to start, however, he drove the offense with deadly efficiency, running up a hefty 304 yards on the ground and deftly blending in nine completions in 11 passing attempts for 105 yards.
His completion percentage was .818, wiping out Humm’s conference and school records of .778 on 14 of 18 against Army last year.
True, half of the plays were called by Osborne, with split ends Frosty Anderson and Bob Revelle carrying messages, but Runty executed superbly, picking at the corners of the Bruin defense. That gave quick and powerful Tony Davis more room to operate inside.
The Tecumseh tough labored for 147 yards on 24 carries. His handiwork enabled the Huskers to play keepaway for two 80-yard drives in the third quarter that blunted the Bruins’ main challenge after they had trimmed a two-touchdown lead to 20-13 seconds before the half.
This was supposed to be a Nebraska team that would not be as explosive or as exciting as the last three Husker clubs that had Johnny Rodgers in their midst, but on this day that only a duck could love a trio of Nebraska prep products gave the 74,966 Memorial Stadium fans thrills aplenty.
Ogallala grad Runty, dubbed appropriately “Duck” by his teammates; I-back Davis and senior cornerback Randy Borg of Alliance pulled the loudest cheers, but all emphasized that the win was the work of an entire team.
“It’s important to establish a running game,” said Runty. “And we showed we had a good running game. There was very efficient blocking in the line and great running. Tony is going to be a good one.”
Borg, who provided the most drama by returning a punt 77 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, spread the credit around, saying “There are a lot of stars in a game like this.”
The Alliance native, who returned a punt 60 yards for a touchdown against Army last year, said the dash past the UCLA bench was “just like we practiced. John Dutton threw a great block that got me to the wall, and there were a couple of others along the way. I just read the blocks. I got credit for putting it in, but it was definitely a team effort.”
Steve Manstedt took out the first Bruin tackler, Bob Thornton got two on the key block and Zaven Yaralian chopped down the last threat on the runback that prompted the first oranges of the season to be thrown on the field.
Borg, a steady veteran in the inexperienced Blackshirt unit, said reports that the defense would be weaker served as a prod to him and his teammates.
“All fall Coach Kiffin (defensive coordinator Monte) has been saying we are a good defense, but we have the potential to be a great one. If we continue to improve, we will be a great one. This is a great beginning.
“We prepared hard for this game — it was the worst fall camp I’ve been through — and there were times when we weren’t too happy about what they (coaches) were putting us through. But now I have to concede that they were right.
“The team was convinced we were in better shape (than UCLA), and the game proved it. We came out in the third quarter and controlled the ball on them, and that’s when it counts — in the third and fourth quarter.”
The Huskers’ ability to control the ball — keeping it away from Bruins’ high-powered offense and giving the Blackshirts vital rest periods — was the biggest sign of encouragement to Husker followers. A year ago, this was not always the case.
The tipoff that Nebraska apparently again has a necessary balance in its offense came on the first Husker possession when Davis carried eight times in 10 plays during a 56-yard drive that culminated in Runty’s scoring sneak behind rookie center Rik Bonness.
It became more apparent when the Bruins challenged. After Borg’s punt return made it 14-0, the first of the defensive lapses occurred.
Borg, perhaps buoyed by his elating experience earlier, fielded a punt on his five-yard line when it appeared destined for the end zone and returned it to the 11. Backup fullback Ralph Powell fumbled on the next play, UCLA covering.
Kermit Johnson, who led Bruin rushers with 82 yards, scored up the middle from the 12 two plays later. Efren Herrera, whose field goal provided the difference in the last 22 seconds last year, missed the extra point.
The Huskers stretched out the lead from that point with a 77-yard march in eight plays. Davis started it by grabbing a lateral pass from Runty, taking advantage of Dan Anderson’s timely block, and gaining 39 yards.
Runty put it in close with a 12-yard keeper gain, and then the former mopup quarterback launched a perfect nine-yard pass for the touchdown to Frosty Anderson, who had beaten cornerback Jimmy Allen.
The only other glaring defensive lapse came when the Huskers allowed UCLA to score 11 seconds before the end of the half after forcing a fourth-and-two call at the N.U. 46 in the last half-minute.
Bruin quarterback Mark Harmon expertly flipped the ball out to :09.6 sprinter Johnson, who turned the left end and was chased down three yards from the goal by sophomore monster back Wonder Monds.
Harmon had one of his rare moments of joy on the next play when he ran the option to his right for the touchdown.
From then on, it was all Nebraska. Harmon was used sparingly after he was bruised in the first quarter. His replacement, sophomore John Sciarra, was a little more effective than his more publicized teammate.
Sciarra completed the first Bruin pass 6:47 from game’s end. UCLA completed only two of nine passes for 20 yards, and although its 251 yards on the ground was respectable, it was not the answer in playing catch up.
The Huskers put it away with a pair of 80-yard scoring efforts in the third and fourth periods, the first of which illustrated the importance of having a running back who can be counted on for the tough, short yardage.
Nebraska was a long yard from the goal on fourth down with a 20-13 lead midway through the third quarter. Hardly a safe lead, Davis was the obvious call, a direct challenge to the beefy UCLA interior line.
Tony headed toward left tackle but was confronted two yards from the goal by defensive end Fred McNeill, touted as an All-American candidate. There was a brief stalemate, then Davis forced his way across the goal with brute strength.
Tough Tony showed he’s also a pretty good hoofer with a 43-yard scamper early in the fourth quarter. He took off around left end, cut back sharply across the middle and out-legged safetyman Kent Pearce to the goal.
The substitutes (82 Huskers played) got in their licks after Bob Martia recovered a fumbled punt by Steve Monahan. Don Westbrook gained 22 yards around left end, and Jeff Moran scored from a yard out.
The 40 points represented the largest opening-game offensive output since Devaney’s 1964 team swamped South Dakota 56-9.
Not a bad output for a team that was concerned about its quarterback situation a day before.
“I’ve been waiting for a chance to start for the last two or three years,” said Runty. “Before (coming in late in the games) I was limited in what I could do. It was more wide open today. I felt more in charge.
“I hope the coaches were impressed enough to figure I’m a little more even (with Humm) now.”
Was he nervous about starting his first game?
“I’m not a worrier,” said Runty. “I slept the best last night (Friday) that I have in weeks.”
Nebraska will have this Saturday off before returning to play North Carolina State here Sept. 22.
|Yards per carry||4.6||4.9|
Nebraska is 7-6 all-time against UCLA.
|North Carolina State||Sept. 22|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 27|
|Iowa State||Nov. 10|
|Kansas State||Nov. 17|
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