Lincoln—Nebraska’s players and coaches knew they had played Saturday’s football game before, sometime, somewhere. It all seemed so similar.
The coaches remembered first. It wasn’t all that long ago: Oct. 12, 1974, in the same Memorial Stadium. That was the last day of the 10-21 swan dive against Missouri after going into the last 10 minutes leading 10-0.
In Saturday’s season-opening encounter with Louisiana State, it appeared for all the world that the spittin’, scratchin’ Bengals from the Bayou country and the Mizzou Tigers were the same breed of cat.
But Nebraska’s coaches had something going for them that they lacked last October—the Missouri game as a reminder.
And so it all turned out well for the bulk of the 76,259 in attendance. Their Huskers held on this time for a 10-7 win, and even the unsophisticated football fan had to recognize that he had seen two exceptional defenses.
Head coach Tom Osborne said he was “very satisfied” with the outcome. His defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, called LSU’s defense “maybe the second best in the country. We’re first.”
But that was after it was safely tucked away. As the sun started drifting over toward the west stadium, they had felt their shirt collars tightening after Terry Luck’s 5-yard pass to Bobby Thomas in the second quarter and Mike Coyle’s extra point and then 37-yard field goal in the third parlayed into a 10-0 lead.
That appeared to be enough cushion, just as it had against Missouri, based on what had gone before. But LSU promptly drove the ensuing kickoff 64 yards into the heart of the Blackshirt defense.
Osborne gathered his offensive team around him on the sidelines. “I told them to think of Missouri and not relax. I said we have to move the football, or at least hang onto it, or we’d be in trouble.”
Kiffin, who tends to be a bit more dramatic than Osborne, circled his defensive troops and simply kept repeating: “Missouri, Missouri, Missouri.”
“It looked just like the script written for the Missouri game. I couldn’t believe it,” Kiffin said.
The Blackshirts responded first after the offense failed to hold the ball for a first down. LSU was forced to punt right back.
The offense did its part by running nearly five minutes off the clock, down to 8½ minutes left in the game. But that drive was halted when I-back Dave Gillespie was stopped for a 2-yard deficit on fourth-and-one at the LSU 26.
Another exchange of punts, and the Tigers were set up for a final go at trying to imitate Missouri. 70 yards and 3:33 to go.
This sequence, in the finest Blackshirt tradition, followed: tailback Terry Robiskie was fleeing around right end, apparently going a long way, when end Bob Martin snagged him after three yards.
Then linebackers Clete Pillen and Percy Eichelberger teamed up to drop wingback Carl Otis Trimble for a yard loss on a sweep.
Lyons passed to split end Bruce Hemphill, who got there in a dead heat with monster back Wonder Monds for an incompletion.
With the following punt sailed LSU’s last chance.
Offensive guard Steve Lindquist and split end Chuck Malito made secure of that when Randy Lessman punted to Trimble in the last 36 seconds. Lindquist made the hit; Malito recovered the fumble.
“I knew it was getting late, and the recovery was important,” Malito said. “I looked up at the clock, and I thought there were two minutes and something left. I concentrate so much on my assignments that sometimes I don’t know if we’re in the third or fourth quarter until we change sides.”
“But it’s no accident when something like that happens. We work on it every day in practice. If you hustle, good things are going to happen.”
Nebraska ran out the clock after that, and Osborne went in to analyze the first outing for writers and broadcasters.
“The problem with this kind of game is that people tend to look at the point spread (about 14 points favoring Nebraska) or the form chart and act accordingly,” he said.
“But we felt that with seven key people out it’s got to affect your football team. And we felt after looking at the films that LSU would have as good a defense as we’ll face all year. And I mean that sincerely.”
Obviously Nebraska should have been familiar with such an alignment, but the Huskers have spent most of the fall blocking against a 4-3 setup.
“That forced us to throw more than we wanted and do some other things we didn’t want to do,” Osborne said. Luck completed eight of 20 passes for 81 yards and the lone touchdown.”
“If LSU plays defense all year like they did today, they’ll beat a lot of people. I think we played well, and we’ll get better every week.”
The most popular statistical comparisons came out as close as the score, Nebraska led by 138-119 in rushing yards, 81-78 in passing and 219-197 in total offense.
In the first half, Lessman pinned LSU on its two and five yard lines on downed punts.
And Thomas, getting his chance to return punts only because regular safety Jimmy Burrow had to sit out the opener, injected some lightning jabs into an otherwise body-punching affair.
The Bridgeport, Pa., junior, who had shown he was a good dancer but hadn’t gotten much yardage in his first two seasons, gave a preview in the first quarter by hauling one back to the Bengal 6-yard line, only to have it nullified by a clip.
His most impressive jaunt, however, came as the first half ended when Nebraska put up a 10-man rush trying to block a punt. Thomas, with no blockers, found a tiny hole in the coverage and broke it for 57 yards before he was stopped by punter Steve Jackson, the fastest Tiger.
“Bobby got in front of me and made a great block. I wish I could have got all the way after I got that far, but I made the wrong cut,” he said.
Eight plays later, on third-and-goal at the 5-yard line, Luck fired a bullet deep in the end zone to Thomas, who had beaten cornerback Clinton Burrell with a move to the inside.
LSU, which hindered its cause by losing four of five fumbles, helped Nebraska to its 10-0 lead in the third quarter when tailback Robiskie lost one to end Bob Martin, and Mike Coyle followed with a 37-yard field goal after earlier missing from the same distance.
Aside from its 64-yard touchdown drive, LSU’s offense was kept well in check by the Nebraska defense. The Tigers had penetrated to the N.U. 31 in the second quarter on a 340-yard sweep by Trimble and a personal foul, but the Blackshirts stopped that threat when sophomore linebacker James Wightman and middle guard John Lee drilled quarterback Bobby Mareau so hard the ball flew from his grasp and Monds caught it in mid-air.
LSU gave the Huskers little room to maneuver up the middle, but fullback Tony Davis was the leading rusher for both teams with 76 yards on 16 carries. A 26-yard burst in the second quarter helped give him 62 yards by halftime.
Clete Pillen and Wightman, the new linebackers, were the leading tacklers for Nebraska with 11 and 10, respectively. And John Lee, the senior middle guard, had perhaps his most auspicious afternoon with nine stops although he sat out part of the second half with injuries.
Lee and Butterfield, who also recovered a fumble, were out of the game on LSU’s touchdown drive. But they played after hearing the Missouri fight talk.
Osborne cited Lee, Butterfield, defensive end Dave Redding and center Tom Davis, who played nearly the entire game with a jammed neck while subbing for all-American Rik Bonness among “a lot of people who played with a lot of courage.”
“I guess we did. Next time it’ll be on the offense.”
That will come next Saturday when Indiana visits Lincoln.
|Yards per carry||2.9||2.4|
Nebraska is 5-0 all-time against LSU.
|Miami (FL)||Oct. 4|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 18|
|Kansas State||Nov. 8|
|Iowa State||Nov. 15|
|Arizona State||Dec. 26|
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