BOULDER, Colo. — Nebraska won the first three quarters, which were the best ones to win as it turned out, then took the rest of the day off Saturday.
Colorado's battle-scarred survivors of three straight losing campaigns in the Big Eight saved the TV ratings, for those who hadn't snoozed off by then, with a closing rush that turned a 31-0 laugher into 31-15 at the end.
And it could have been closer except for Colorado native John Starkebaum's end zone interception in the last minute after the Buffs had reached the Nebraska seven-yard line.
With a cold drizzle and the home viewing comfort offered by ABC-TV's regional television service there were gaping holes in the sellout Folsom Field crowd, which was announced at 52,049.
Those hardy souls in attendance, including an estimated 6,000 Nebraskans, watched the Cornhuskers work over the poorest defense, statistically, in the Big Eight with a highly agreeable mixture of Dave Human passing and Monte Anthony rushing.
For three quarters.
After 45 minutes of skirmishing in a drizzle and 38 degree temperature, the Huskers were waltzing along at 31-0, with Humm passing for two touchdowns, John O'Leary running for two and Mike Coyle chipping in a 37-yard field goal.
Anthony didn't figure in the scoring, but he figured mightily in the outcome. He finished the day with 159 yards on 23 carries for the highest yardage production by a Nebraska back in 34 games.
The bruising Bellevue freshman, whose 55-yard dash in the third quarter was the longest by a Husker this year, was closing in on Jeff Kinney's 171 yards against Oklahoma in 1971 when the Buff defense closed the door in the fourth quarter.
That was a remarkable achievement by Bill Mallory's first Colorado team considering that it had been decimated by injuries in the last two weeks.
The rookie coach with the hard-nose philosophy had ordered heavy combat during the week to get his players to stop feeling sorry for themselves after a disappointing loss to Missouri the week before.
They had enough left to make the finish interesting.
Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne, who has said a number of times that he will take a win any time, anyway in the Big Eight, wasn't jumping-up-and-down happy with the outcome, and his players quietly trooped into the locker room as if they had just completed a hard day's work, which it was.
"I'm disappointed with the end of the game because we wanted to play our second offense. But we were pleased with the effort," Osborne said.
"We relaxed a bit, but it is to Colorado's credit. They obviously came to play. I'm just sorry we didn't put it away decisively."
Mallory wasn't jumping up and down, either, but he seemed more pleased than his rival coach.
"A loss is a loss," Mallory said, "and I never like to lose. Last week (24-30 loss to Missouri) was worse because we should have won it.
"I'm not trying to get philosophical, but I'm proud that my players didn't fold. It's easy to get down in a situation like that, but they hung in there."
It was Mallory's first loss to Nebraska, but the Buffs continued a bad habit. It was the seventh straight loss to their flatland neighbors. And Folsom Field regulars haven't seen the red coats lose here since 1960.
Nebraska was never in much danger of losing, not after a pair of 80-yard touchdown drives and Coyle's three-pointer made it 17-0 at the half, but the final statistics came out almost a dead heat.
Nebraska held a 443-420 total yardage advantage. The Buffs had 22 first downs to the Huskers' 20 and 259 rushing yards to 243. Nebraska led in passing, 200-171 and lost only one of five fumbles while Colorado lost three of five.
The most conspicuous lost dribble came on the Nebraska two-yard line in the third quarter when Colorado was stretching the resiliency out of the Blackshirts' "bend but not break" defense as Monte Kiffin, the defensive coordinator calls it."
After Mike McCoy, a :09.6 sprinter, hoofed the second-half kickoff back 53 yards and Nebraska linebackers Tom Ruud and Bob Nelson stopped slipping fullback Terry Kunz on fourth down at the Nebraska nine, the Buffs got another chance.
Linebacker Jeff Geiser, returning for the first time in three games after an injury, claimed a fumble by Nebraska fullback Tony Davis on the N.U. 16.
Six plays later, Colorado was at the two, and sophomore tailback Doug Bruce was running with a pitchout to his left. He was belted by Nelson, and tackle Mike Fultz recovered the ensuing fumble, the second week in a row that Nebraska has stymied a touchdown in such a manner with their britches up against the goal line.
"Right at the start of the second half, our defense saved us," Osborne said. "They (Buffs) really could have turned the game around on us. The defense came up with a tremendous effort."
Mallory agreed that Fultz's recovery was crucial.
"They really galled me. I was really disappointed that they didn't take the damn thing (ball) in. It was an awfully costly mistake, and you can't do that against a Nebraska or Oklahoma. Not if you expect to win."
Kiffin said his defenders "played the goal-line defense in the third quarter about as well as we've ever played it." That was the extent of his praise.
"We bent again, but we finally broke," he said, referring to the last quarter. But there was only one touchdown (Billy Waddy's eight-yard end run) against the first team. The second unit was in on the other one (a 35-yard pass from David Williams to Rick Elwood)."
About that time, O'Leary jumped into the conversation, saying: "They (defense) helped us out last week (7-3 win over Oklahoma State). This was our turn."
The first Colorado touchdown ended a string of 11 quarters in which Nebraska had held opponents without a touchdown. It was also the sixth straight game and seventh of the year in which Nebraska has held foes scoreless for three quarters.
The second Colorado touchdown was the result of a gamble by Nebraska cornerback Dave Butterfield, who grew up in Sterling, Colo.
He nearly intercepted Williams' pass to Elwood.
"I touched the ball and got a piece of the receiver, too," Butterfield said. "I thought I had the interception."
Linebacker Starkebaum, a Haxton native, said his interception with 55 seconds left "was a good way to end it. All my high school friends were here. I really enjoy coming back and playing well in front of my friends."
Starkebaum also recovered a Colorado fumble at the Nebraska 23-yard line in the second quarter.
The Colorado venture was also the first opportunity for the monster back Jimmy Seeton, from Lakewood Colo., to see extensive duty. He replaced Wonder Monds, who went out with a sprained ankle on Colorado's first series.
While Nebraska's defensive players were bestowing praise on the hard running of Colorado's backs, particularly fullback Kunz, with 74 yards on 16 carries, Mallory was gushing over Nebraska quarterback Humm.
"That Humm is really something. What great poise he has," Mallory said.
The senior left-hander, who raised his Big Eight career touchdown record to 38, completed his first seven passes and was 11 for 18 at the half. He finished with 12 for 20 for 165 yards, half going to wingback Donnie Westbrook for 96 yards.
Humm's fourth completion of the opening drive was a quick pop over the middle to tight end Larry Mushinskie, who had a step lead on cornerback McCoy. Al Eveland's extra-point kick was low after a high snap from center.
Humm also passed 16 yards to the high-stepping Westbrook for the third touchdown that ended with Westbrook running over the top of defender Rod Perry near the goal line.
But Nebraska fans got perhaps their most enjoyment out of the longest pass play, during which Humm's only task was an underhanded lob to fullback Tony Davis. Tony who blocks, runs, cheerleads and anything else if it will help his team win, loooked like a northpaw Humm when he winged the ball down the middle to O'Leary in the second quarter.
The pass was a tad high, but O'Leary was tall enough to reach it and complete a 36-yard maneuver. O'Leary's one-yard touchdown and a two-point pitch out to Davis made it 14-0.
The third touchdown drive, climaxed by the Humm-Westbrook pass, was the longest of the season by the Huskers, 98 yards on seven plays after Brace's fumble. It included Anthony's 55-yarder with a pitch out.
The last Husker scoring drive was a shorty.
Ardell Johnson intercepted a Williams pass and returned it 20 yards to the Herd's 27. O'Leary barged over the left side from the three on the eighth play.
Nebraska had other opportunities to score, but the gritty Buffs held on fourth down at their nine-yard line in the second quarter and the 17 in the second.
It was plays such as those that prompted Kiffin to remark:
"They pull out all the stops when they play Nebraska. They play like they're in the Super Bowl. They talk about all the injuries they've had, but they got well awfully fast. People do that when they play Nebraska.
"But I like being where we are, with people shooting at us."
Waddy, the Buffs' leading rusher, was one of the injured who didn't show it. He didn't play until the last play of the third quarter. He finished with 57 yards on only six carries.
The Buffs, nevertheless, went away with only a gallant effort. Their record dropped to 3-5. Nebraska won its third straight game and boosted its overall mark to 6-2.
The scouts from the Sugar, Fiesta, Liberty and Sun Bowls, who weren't there to look at Colorado, stayed around for the whole game.
|Yards per carry||4.5||4.6|
Nebraska is 49-19 all-time against Colorado.
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 26|
|Iowa State||Nov. 9|
|Kansas State||Nov. 16|
Nebraska has played 19 games on Nov. 2. See them all »
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