LINCOLN — Whoever said the best defense is a good offense made a Memorial Stadium full of believers on a gorgeous football Saturday afternoon.
The best way to stop the precision passing and rollout running of Utah State quarterback Eric Hipple, the University of Nebraska discovered, was to chain him to the bench. The Cornhuskers, therefore, broke from a frustrating 14-14 halftime tie by playing keepaway the second half and opened the season successfully, 35-14.
Along the way, the bulk of the 75,953 in attendance at the 100th consecutive home sellouts discovered that:
— New Husker quarterback Jeff Quinn can, indeed, run the team. And run. And run. And run. The junior from Ord, Neb., provided a delightful new element to the Husker offenses that have been cloned by Coach Tom Osborne. Quinn’s options and scrambling accounted for most of his 112 yards on 19 carries.
— The mystery of the retooled offensive line was solved in grand style. The linemen chewed enough holes in the Aggie front to allow their backfield friends to rush for 455 yards. They pass-blocked well enough for Quinn to complete half of his 12 passes for 96 yards, which included a 43-yard touchdown pass to Junior Miller and did not include a 57-yard touchdown pass to Tim Smith which was nullified by penalty.
— Senior I-back I.M. Hipp is as nimble and powerful as ever after logging the 10th 100 yards-plus outing of his career. Hipp hot-footed for 167 yards on 26 carries and scored on runs of 9, 1, and 3 yards.
— Jarvis Redwine, Hipp’s understudy, came as advertised: fleet to the outside, worth 91 yards on 10 carries in his long-awaited debut.
But there were anxious moments aplenty while the home folks stewed and Osborne fumed through the first half.
Nebraska’s vaunted Blackshirt line tried desperately to reach the elusive Hipple, who harried the secondary with 13 completions in 21 attempts for 158 yards and one touchdown before intermission.
Utah State went up 6-0 following a muffed punt catch by Husker Dave Liegl before the home offense got a chance. Moments later, Hipp lost a fumble to snuff the Huskers’ first attempt at a drive.
Utah State launched 41 offensive plays to the Huskers’ 31 in those first two quarters.
The solution was simple: Keep Hipple and his crew on the bench.
After a halftime chewing by Osborne, the Huskers parlayed clock-eating touchdown drives of 71 and 84 yards, the second score coming on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Utah State was allowed but three offensive plays in the third quarter. The defense by then was rejuvenated and threw up a magnificent goal-line stand in the fourth quarter while the Aggies were still in contention at 28-14.
Nebraska overcame the 10-play halftime deficit to finish with 81 offensive plays to Utah State’s 60.
“We did a good job of controlling the ball. We always plan to do that, but we had those penalties and fumbles,” Osborne said.
“The things we were concerned about (quarterback and offensive line) may not be too bad, but where we thought we were strong (defense), I’m not so sure about.
“I don’t think we had a good defensive game, but we have to look at the fact that their (Aggies) offense is the best part of their game.
“At the half, I got on them a little bit. I wasn’t real happy with a 14-14 tie, and I’m still not happy. We won’t beat many people playing like that. But it was a learning game. I hope we profit from it,” he said.
Quinn acknowledged that Osborne “was pretty upset” at halftime. “He mentioned very strongly that he didn’t want to be 0-1 and have to regroup next week.”
With the second-half dominance, the Huskers were able to celebrate an opening victory for the first time since 1975. Mention of those recent opening-game-miseries had become a source of increasing irritation to Osborne.
“I still can’t believe I ran for that many yards,” Quinn said. “I had some doubts before the game. I didn’t have any idea what it would be like. I was happy with it. It’s just a good feeling being part of this team.”
In his first start, Quinn became the first Husker quarterback to surpass 100 yards since Denny Claridge gained 108 in the 1964 Orange Bowl.
The Huskers might have known Utah State would be no patsy when their pom pom girl, Sally Pearson of Fremont, fell and broke her arm the day before, and a wheel fell off the Big Red Machine, a miniature automobile on the sideline, just before kickoff.
The upstart Aggies punctured the Blackshirts in the first 2-½ minutes when tailback Rick Parros swept 19 yards to a reverse field touchdown. Husker fortunes improved when Steve Steinke missed an extra point, breaking a string of 66 straight since his sophomore year in high school. The nation’s top returning field goal kicker nailed the left upright.
Nebraska, however, announced its ball-control intentions by taking a 7-6 lead at the quarter with a 77-yard drive in 11 plays, all on the ground.
Hipp scored from the 9 on a sweep to his left and left linebackers Elwood Threlfall and Perry Drake grasping air with a shifty move.
“I would have been satisfied without the yards as long as we played hard as a team,” Hipp said as he received treatment for a badly swollen hand. “I’m happy that we controlled the ball the whole third quarter. I think we showed people we have the line and the quarterback.”
“I love the line: I’ve loved ‘em all along.”
Hipple’s passing was at its deadly best in the second quarter. He completed 10 of 12, including a 42-yard bomb to Ken Thompson over Andy Means and a 2-point conversion to tight end Ken Brown to gain the 14-14 tie.
But it might have been worse for the Huskers if not for the precise punting of Tim Smith and downfield coverage. Smith pinned the Utags to their 3 when Anthony Steels led a six-man scramble for the bouncing ball.
Nebraska regained possession on the Aggie 43 following a punt, and Quinn followed with the touchdown pass to Miller. The massive tight end, who caught four passes for 73 yards, caught Quinn’s short pitch following a superb fake into the middle, cut between two defenders at the 30 and shook off Kevin Brady at the 10.
Late in the second quarter, guard John Havekost caught a Smith punt in the air on the Aggie 1-yard line, which is legal since no receiver was in the area.
Hipple simply hitched up, completed four passes and ran for 28 yards to drive his team to the Husker 28. On third down, Hipple was the victim of a rare sack — for 10 yards by Kerry Weinmaster — and Steinke missed on a 55-yard field goal attempt.
“That kid (Hipple) was fast," Nebraska middle guard Oudious Lee said. “If he’d been less mobile, we’d have been all over him. It wasn’t the line; it was the quarterback.”
Osborne tossed a bouquet at Hipple with: “In terms of a guy who can run and throw he’s right at the top of the heap. I can’t think of one better.”
But the Huskers opened the second half by running 5:34 off the clock with 14 straight running plays. A 15-yard run by Hipp put the ball on the 1, and Hipp scored from there after two unsuccessful sneaks by Quinn. “He was over both times,” Hipp insisted.
Utah State was forced to punt without a first down on its only possession of the third quarter, and the Huskers came right back with 12 running plays and a seven-yard pass to Miller on third-and-five. Hipp made it 28-14 on the first play of the fourth quarter. Elapsed time of the drive: 6:37.
En route, however, there were a couple of detours. Instead of the 57-yard touchdown pass to Smith, Nebraska had to overcome a holding penalty. On fourth-and-two from midfield, Osborne ignored the fans’ plea to go for it and ordered a punt. Utah State, however, was caught with 12 men on the field, and the Huskers retained possession.
The Blackshirts’ shining moment came after Hipple had passed his team to a first down on the Husker 4. Three running plays netted three yards, and the ball changed hands after Hipple threw one into the AstroTurf with L.C. Cole and Brent Williams hanging on him.
“Nobody could have scored on us in that goal-line stand,” middle guard Lee said. “We knew when they got down there, they would have to run, and they couldn’t run except for those draw plays.”
“With the goal-line stand and the shutout the second half, I’m not totally disappointed with the defense,” Osborne said. “But there are some things we’re going to have to look at. I can’t fault the linemen. They (Aggies) go to four quick receivers, and you can’t go with more than four rushers, but we lost containment so many times.
“Utah State used a lot of sets and motion. That’s one of the reasons we had so much trouble getting to Hipple. We had to continually check out the defenses we called. They did a good job of keeping us off balance.”
With Quinn going to the sideline to an ovation in the final moments, senior Tim Hager came on to direct a final touchdown. Tim Wurth concluded the 42-yard sortie from the 1. Another touchdown bid in the fourth quarter was thwarted by a Redwine fumble at the Aggie 10.
“I still think our timing needs to improve, but overall, I think we did pretty well,” offensive tackle Mark Goodspeed said after his first start. “It was a good confidence-builder and a good conditioner.”
The opener included perfection in Dean Sukup’s first game as the regular extra point kicker and a pair of kickoffs to the back of the end zone by freshman kicker Kevin Seibel.
Hipple, who was forced out by a lame shoulder late in the game, finished with 18 completions in 28 attempts for 219 yards. “Nebraska has a good pass defense; it just has a few holes in it,” he said.
Osborne said the Huskers might have passed more often, “but we were getting so many 7- and 8-yard gains. When you do that, you hate to pass. We will throw.
“But obviously this team today wasn’t an easy opener.”
|Yards per carry||4.3||6.7|
Nebraska is 8-0 all-time against Utah State.
|Utah State||Sept. 15|
|Penn State||Sept. 29|
|New Mexico State||Oct. 6|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 20|
|Kansas State||Nov. 10|
|Iowa State||Nov. 17|
Nebraska has played 6 games on Sept. 15. See them all »
©2019 BH Media Group