Lincoln—After watching his Nebraska football team “waller”—that’s what he called it, and it’s similar to wallow—through the first half against Miami Saturday, coach Tom Osborne had a little halftime talk about “wanting to.”
So the Cornhuskers came out with more “want-to” and a new quarterback and turned a 9-7 halftime deficit into a 31-16 triumph that was actually more lopsided than that.
Nebraska went to the dressing room leading the Hurricanes by 32-30 in plays from scrimmage and 125 to 95 in total yards. When they went in at the end, they had healthy margins of 84 to 62 in plays and 399 yards to 201. And Miami’s total included 16 snaps and 80 yards for a consolation touchdown after the Husker regulars had retired.
En route, I-back John O’Leary limp-legged and bulldozed his way to the best afternoon of rushing in his three years in a Husker suit. His 21 carries netted 106 yards and three touchdowns.
O’Leary’s best previous day was 100 yards against Kansas State in 1973.
So Nebraska closed out its non-conference schedule with a 4-0 record, and Miami headed home at 0-3 carrying the knowledge that it is probably the best 0-3 team in the country.
There was nothing flukey about Miami’s halftime lead, produced by three Chris Dennis field goals. The Hurricanes were simply playing the Huskers to a standoff man against man.
“Frankly, they confused us a little defensively,” Osborne said. “We thought they would give us a few more gimmick defenses. But they played straight football. They tried to beat us man-on-man, and they did a pretty good job for a while.”
Then he demonstrated some coaching want-to. He gambled by changing quarterbacks, going from senior Terry Luck, who had directed four straight wins without losing, to Vince Ferragami, a junior who had looked good as a mop-up man.
Gamble No. 2 came when he elected to receive the kickoff to open the second half, sending his offense directly into a 15-mile-an-hour south wind that had been such a factor in the chess game for field position in the first half.
“I felt we were just sitting on our tails and not doing anything,” Osborne said. “I wanted to put the burden on our offense. If it backfired, there was a good chance the momentum would have shifted to Miami pretty quickly.
“Another factor was that we would have the wind in the fourth quarter which we wanted if it went right down to the wire.”
After Ferragamo’s first two plays netted one yard, it appeared Osborne’s backfire fears might be realized. But then he dumped a pass over the middle to Tony Davis, the gritty fullback who had made a career of giving the Huskers offensive spark when they needed it most.
That was the first of six straight completions for Ferragamo, and it led to the first of four straight scoring drives that turned off the tension for 76,231 Memorial Stadium fans.
Ferragamo, who had transferred from California and carried the burden of a big buildup, drew a mighty ovation from the stands when his No. 15 entered the huddle. He earned every bit of it.
When he gave way to Randy Garcia in the last quarter, he had completed eight of nine passes for 127 yards and a 40-yard touchdown to Bobby Thomas for the final N.U. score.
But back when it was a game…
Former Nebraska coaches Carl Selmer and Jimmy Walden, who had given Oklahoma a severe testing the week before, showed a team that had no apparent fall-off.
With quarterback Kary Baker passing and Tim Morgan causing the Blackshirts problems with dive plays, the Hurricanes moved with relative ease to get within range of field goals of 49 and 24 yards by Dennis for a 6-0 lead in the first stanza.
First, Mike Fultz and Jim Wightman held Baker to no gain. Then it was Pillen and Wightman dropping Morgan at the four. Then Pillen and monster back Wonder Monds broke through on a blitz to nail Baker for a 4-yard loss, and Dennis was summoned.
“I want to give Miami a lot of credit,” said Husker defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. “Any time you’re leading Nebraska 9-6 at the half, you’ve got a good team. Their coaches really had them ready.”
“They got some yards, but inside the 10 afre the most important yards in football. That was the mark of a good defense on that stand there at the six. Some teams will fold inside the 10.”
Nebraska’s first touchdown came following a break, or outstanding defense, depending on the viewpoint, in the second quarter. Baker had passed complete to Jim Pinkston when Pillen smacked the receiver and the ball flew into the arms of tackle George Mills. Wightman recovered at the Miami 25 when mills failed to hold it.
That was when the Huskers gave their first indication of what was to come. I-back John O’Leary carried four times and Davis once to knock it in the end zone. O’Leary followed the blocks of Davis and guard Rick Costanzo the last three yards.
Baker and MOrgan did the major damage again while hiking the ball to the Nebraska two before that down-deep defense held again and Dennis made it No. 3 from 18 yards.
“It could just as easily have been three touchdowns in tead of three field goals,” said Husker defensive end Bob Martin, who responded to Bob Martin day in his native David City by leading the Huskers with six unassisted tackles.
“They drove the ball on us a lot and scored some points, which is a credit to their team. But we played conservative ball.”
“We had some second thoughts, wondering if we were playing as well as we can. But we knew the offense would come around. We have a lot of confidence in each other.”
“We just played football the second half,” Kiffin said. “We weren’t in there much on defense. The offense controlled the clock for us.”
“We just ran our basic offense the first half, and it didn’t go,” Osborne said. “Sometimes if you don’t establish your basic offense, you’re lost. Oklahoma never did against them last week, but they got by with it.”
“If anything, we were too intense in the first half. I think we might have been up a little higher than any game we’ve played. We just laid the ball on the ground (fumbled) and did a lot of dumb things the first half. We were beating ourselves.”
But the second half was another game. Ferragamo drove his team 71 yards in 10 plays to the second touchdown that put the Huskers ahead to stay.
O’Leary got it from eight yards away—the hard way. He was held up in the back about halfway home, but pulled loose to score, then survived the pummeling administered by Davis in the end zone.
Ferragamo kept his perfect pitching record intact in the next drive thanks to superb catches by wingback Curtis Craig and tight end Larry Mushinskie, but that one fizzled two yards from the goal when the Huskers were assessed five yards for delay of game on fourth down and changed signals from a running attempt at the touchdown to Mike Coyle’s 24-yard field goal.
Coyle also kicked four points after touchdown to run his success string to 13 for the year.
Then came the crusher after the Huskers took a 17-9 lead into the fourth quarter.
It was a clock-eating, bone-bruising 60-yard march that took 18 plays, only two of which were passes. The Huskers made first downs on third-and-eight, third-and-three and fourth-and-one.
It was a fitting play with which to surpass 2,000 yards during his career and put him in the exclusive company of Bobby Reynolds and Jeff Kinney. Kinney finished with 2,420 in 1971 and Reynolds 2,196 in 1952.
O’Leary took it in from the six for his third touchdown, and Ferragamo topped off the offense’s half with a 40-yard pass-run strike to Thomas, whose only challenger was the west sideline. But he stayed in bounds and romped in.
Both teams turned to reserves after that, and miami quarterback George Mason passed his team downfield 80 yards to set up Don Martin’s 1-yard consolation touchdown in the last 2:16.
That made the final 31-17 look a lot better than 38-9, which is what it would have been if Kent Smith’s interception return for an apparent touchdown hadn’t been wiped out by a roughing-the-passer penalty.
So Nebraska will take a perfect record into Saturday’s Big Eight opener against Kansas in Lincoln.
Said Osborne: “We’re where we want to be right now (4-0). But we still have to be a better team to win the Big Eight.
“We see a little daylight at the end of the tunnel now, but we’re going to have to be real good right quick.”
He was referring to the stunning 41-7 Kansas victory over Wisconsin Saturday.
“There are no easy games left,” he said.
|Yards per carry||2.4||3.2|
Nebraska is 6-6 all-time against Miami (FL).
|Miami (FL)||Oct. 4|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 18|
|Kansas State||Nov. 8|
|Iowa State||Nov. 15|
|Arizona State||Dec. 26|
Nebraska has played 18 games on Oct. 4. See them all »
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