LINCOLN — For guys who have spent considerable time knocking each other down in recent months, Nebraska’s offensive and defensive players bear no grudges. The two units which take different approaches to the game of football are having a love affair.
Coach Tom Osborne talked about it before the game in Memorial Stadium Saturday, the players talked about it afterward and Oregon was talking to itself most of the afternoon as the Cornhuskers opened the new season with a 61-7 frolic before 76,053.
When an offense scores a bunch of points and the defense keeps the opponent away from the goal line coaches like to call it a team effort. In Nebraska’s case, the TEAM is the theme in nearly every conversation.
Before taking the field, Osborne told his squad, according to defensive captain Tom Ruud: “You’re not going against each other any more. The offense and defense have to strive for unity.”
Nebraska offensive and defensive units have seldom complemented each other as well.
Oregon Coach Don Read was so impressed, he testified: “I’ve never seen balance like that since I’ve been coaching college football.”
There were these examples of unity in the first locker room celebration of the season:
— Ruud and his Blackshirt defense were hoping for a shutout but Oregon spoiled the fun with a touchdown in the last four minutes. “We were disappointed, sure,” said Ruud, “but we were really happy so many guys (over 70) got to play. There were third and fourth stringers in on the touchdown, and they’re out there with us every day, practicing just as hard.”
— Tony Davis, a 1,114-yard rusher last year, carried only eight times for 42 yards and would have liked more action. “I don’t care who carries the ball if we can score 61 points,” he said.
— Reserve I-back Jeff Moran was the Huskers’ leading rusher with 69 yards on four carries. Moran gained 29 and eight yards on two plays and fumbled the ball into the end zone on the later effort, then watched teammate Brad Jenkins beat him to the ball for the touchdown. “I didn’t care who scored the touchdown, just so we got it,” Moran said. “It’s the worst thing in the world to cough up the football.”
Quarterback Dave Humm, who passed for two touchdowns and ran for another, was pleased with the 61-point showing of his unit, but said, “The best thing was we were more of a team than we have been in the last couple of years and you could tell it. Different teams have different personalities, and this one is really a close bunch.”
“The thing that makes you a team,” Moran added, “is when the young guys get to play. There’s no greater morale booster. I know. I’ve been there.”
So the Huskers are close, but how good are they? Osborne said before the game that if his gang could move the ball on Oregon it should be able to move against any team. He didn’t hedge much afterward.
“I’m sure encouraged about our offense,” he said. “We did some good things early with misdirection plays and throwing the ball. We had some new sets (a double wing included), and that got them (Oregon) in trouble.
“But from here on down the line, we won’t have the element of surprise. Most of our new things worked real well.”
“I was really pleased with the offensive line, and I can’t say enough good things about the defense. The wind was a tremendous factor, too. We got real good field position.”
Nebraska went with the 16-mile-an-hour south wind to open each half. The Huskers chose the wind in the first quarter after winning the coin flip. Oregon chose to receive the ball in the third quarter.
After punts, the Huskers took possession of the ball at Oregon’s 44 and 46-yard lines to set up two lightning touchdowns by senior wingback Donnie Westbrook, who supplied the breakaway talent Osborne has been seeking.
Westbrook, a late-blossoming fifth-year back, broke for a 22-yarder from scrimmage and took a 34-yard pass from Humm.
Before Nebraska gave up the wind, Humm had passed for other touchdowns, 36 yards to tight end Larry Mushinskie, and the Blackshirts helped the offense with a safety when Ron Pruitt decked Oregon quarterback Norval Turner for a nine-yard loss.
Humm’s second touchdown pass pulled him into a tie with Jerry Tagge (1969-71) for the Nebraska career record of 32.
“I didn’t know about the record,” Humm said afterward. “I don’t want to think about records until after the season. There’s only one record I want. That’s 11-0 (team, won-loss).”
Even Humm was surprised with the ease of his record-tying toss. After a superb fake into the line by Moran (he said three defenders hit him), Humm spotted Mushinskie amazingly alone in the secondary. After the catch, the California junior scored on a leisurely run.
“Those are the hardest ones to throw,” Humm said. “You know you’re going to look like a fool if you miss. The safety was coming up to stop the run a lot, and Larry just ran right by him.”
After the short-range scoring drives, Nebraska showed off its ball-control offense on a 84-yard march that started with the wind and carried over into the second quarter with Humm completing three passes for 45 yards to Davis and Bobby Thomas before scoring himself on a quarterback sneak.
But the breeze and a regrouped Webfoot defense slowed the blitz after the score had reached 30-0 until sophomore kicker Al Everett unveiled another Husker offensive threat with a 45-yard field goal that sailed into the wind and cleared the crossbar with one second left in the half.
Starting the second half like a rerun of the first, the Huskers scored twice quickly, with Davis getting his first touchdown as a fullback and Brad Jenkins showing that when things are going well, even fumbles bounce right.
Moran picked up 37 yards on two carries, and fumbled the ball into the end zone on the second one, much to Jenkins delight. The sophomore tight end from Fort Collins, Colo., outlegged Moran and tackle Dennis Pavelka for the six points.
From then on, the lower units joined in the fun, with sophomores Dave Gillespie and Gary Higgs scoring from the five and 17 to widen the Huskers’ whopping statistical edge.
When the damage was totaled. Nebraska had 472 yards in total offense — 333 in rushes by 12 backs and Humm, the only quarterback to connect, completed eight of 12 passes — another was dropped — for 139 yards.
The leading receiver was fullback Davis, who turned four receptions into 52 yards gained.
“I guess I’m not in as good a shape as I thought I was.” Tony cracked. “I’m going to have to run some extra laps to get in shape for running those pass routes.”
The Ducks, operating their new veer-T offense, gained 191 yards, having fair success by completing nine of 16 passes for 113 yards. Reynolds, a 1,000 yard rusher last year, was held to 41.
But Nebraska’s defense ferocity is reflected in 15 plays that resulted in 52 yards in losses. Middle guard John Lee, fitting perfectly into the Husker tradition of excellence in the nose position, tied with Pruitt and end Bob Martin for most tackles with eight and with Martin for most tackles for losses, three.
Reserve linebacker John Starkebaum played his usual sterling backup role with six stops, and newcomer Dave Butterfield led the secondary players with four tackles.
The defense had been billed as suspect because of its inexperience, but Capt. Ruud said he “wasn’t surprised. I think we’re going to have a fantastic team.
“John Lee and Mike Fultz (sophomore tackle) really came through, but we knew they would. I never felt concerned.”
Was Nebraska that good or was Oregon that bad?
“It’s still too early to tell,” Humm said. “But it was a lot of fun out there, and we know we’re a team.”
The Huskers will seek more of an answer Saturday against Wisconsin in Madison.
|Yards per carry||1.7||5.9|
Nebraska is 6-2 all-time against Oregon.
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 26|
|Iowa State||Nov. 9|
|Kansas State||Nov. 16|
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