#6 Nebraska 42
#18 Penn State 17

Sept. 29, 1979 • Memorial Stadium, Lincoln

1 2 3 4 T
Penn State 14 0 3 0 17
Nebraska 0 28 0 14 42

Huskers Roar Like Lions in Comeback; Players Give the Game Ball to Osborne

Nebraska's Junior Miller provides a problem for Mickey Urquhart, left, after taking a pass from Tim Holbrook. THE WORLD-HERALD

LINCOLN — Now if Nebraska’s Cornhuskers can only learn to leave a wakeup call …

By the time the Huskers rubbed the sleep from their eyes following a pre-noon kickoff Saturday, they found themselves trailing Penn State by 14-0 with only 12 minutes played. Such a rude awakening.

Fully roused, Nebraska unleashed a devastating assortment of offensive weaponry against a team that prides itself on its defense. The Husker Blackshirts dismantled the Nittany Lion offense so thoroughly that it produced only a meaningless field goal thereafter.

When it was over, a Memorial Stadium turnout of 76,151 and an ABC regional television audience had witnessed a shockingly one-sided 42-17 Husker victory over a venerable Eastern power that had been figured to play within a touchdown.

It was only the fourth time in 152 games that a Penn State team coached by Joe Paterno had given up more than 40 points.

After scant early success probing the middle, Nebraska turned to options and passing to wipe out the early deficit with a four-touchdown blitz in the second quarter. After Penn State staged a mild threat in the third quarter, the Huskers closed it out with two more scores in the fourth.

The outcome triggered the first full-blown locker room celebration in three wins for Nebraska and put Coach Tom Osborne one-up on Paterno, who has no equal in winning percentage for coaches who have survived longer than 10 seasons.

For such a rare achievement, Osborne was presented the game ball by his grateful players.

“We appreciate that he played a wide-open game,” said offensive captain Tim Smith. “Joe Paterno is a great coach, but we like to think our coach is a great one, too. It was a great victory for him and for the team.”

After the early stutters, the Huskers polished up an old and valued phase of the offense that had turned to rust lately — the forward pass. Against Utah State and Iowa, NU passing had averaged but 68 yards.

Against a youthful Penn State secondary, first-time starter Tim Hager completed 14 of 22 passes for 215 yards and touchdown passes of 11 and 70 yards to tight end Junior Miller. In the late going, Jeff Quinn, the former starter, completed his only pass.

The final statistical reading: Nebraska 298 rushing, 232 passing, 530 total yards; Penn State 60 rushing, 123 passing, 183 total.

“Before the game, I thought if we got 400 yards and about 24 points, I would have been real pleased. At the end of the first quarter, I wasn’t sure if we’d get 40 yards,” Osborne said. “We sure weren’t kicking them out of there. The key was mixing it up and keeping them off balance.”

Paterno admitted: “We have some problems in our secondary, and the mismatches out there pointed that out. They hit those long passes, and we were forced to play their game.”

Split end Smith, held to three receptions in two games, caught five passes for 107 yards, and Miller gained 81 on two catches.

It wasn’t as if the Huskers were inexperienced at giving the opponent a running start. They had allowed early-rising Utah State and Iowa to score first and had practiced overcoming a two-touchdown lead against Iowa the week before.

Risky Business

But this was Penn State, a team that had led the nation in rushing and total defense the year before. Risky business spotting such a team such a lead.

“One thing we have going for us is that they (players) seem to feel we can come back. They weren’t panicky. But I had some bad feelings in my stomach because I didn’t think we could run very well on them,” Osborne said.

Not to worry, coach.

The Huskers, who had lost eight fumbles in two games, abandoned that part of the offense, except for a fumbled pitchout on the first series of the third quarter that led to Herb Menhardt’s 35-yard field goal.

Jarvis Redwine, who came off the bench in relief of I.M. Hipp used his speed to the outside to account for 124 yards — his first outing over 100 yards in two years at Oregon State and three games at Nebraska. Fullback Andra Franklin worked the middle for 63 yards and a touchdown when the Lions became corner-conscious. Reserve fullbacks Tim Wurth and Jim Kotera also scored up the middle, and Hipp went inside and out for 50 yards.

“We tried to feel them out a little bit in the first quarter, and we found some things we could do. Then we started taking them apart a little,” Osborne said.

End Uncovered

Mostly, Osborne discovered Penn State was vulnerable to option pitches on the flanks, and the tight end was left uncovered when motion went the opposite way.

Those weaknesses showed up dramatically in the second-quarter spree.

“There was a great deal of difference between this team (Nebraska) and the one last week,” Osborne said. “The big difference was intensity. We played like Iowa did on defense.

“After the Iowa game (24-21 NU escape), I had some very strong doubts. This game erased some of them. I feel we can play with about anybody now.”

The Huskers, fifth- and sixth-ranked in the national polls, kept their record unmarred while the 18th-ranked Lions lost for the second straight week. The Huskers, buoyed by Saturday’s developments, permitted themselves an upward glance for the first time.

“We don’t have any control over the ratings,” Smith said, “but if we win all our games, we'll sure be in the thick of it.”

Osborne wasn’t ready to think in terms of national championships, but he said, “I feel real good about our team right now.”

Said Linebacker Coach John Melton: “We were due. We finally put it all together.”

After the first 12 minutes.

Dayle Tate, Penn State’s rookie junior quarterback, completed four of his first five passes and triggered an 82-yard touchdown drive on the second series.

The Husker secondary “was out of position,” Osborne said, when Tate passed 40 yards up the middle to tight end Brad Scovill and came back after a running play with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Scovill.

Penn State had not returned an interception for a touchdown in five years until Hager headed a pass toward Miller late in the first quarter. The Husker faithful thought cornerback Tim Wise’s timing was horrible, and the Lions thought it was wonderful when Wise stepped in front of Miller and sailed 30 yards uncontested to make it 14-0 after Menhardt’s kick.

“Other than that first drive, we really played well on defense,” Osborne said. After the interception, he said he never considered benching Hager.

“I wanted to give him a chance. Everybody throws a bad ball once in a while. I think Miller had his hands on it, but the guy (Wise) got a great break on the ball.

“Tim had a good game overall. This will help his confidence. Quinn has confidence, too. We’ll need both of them.”

Nebraska’s dominance of the second quarter was total. The defense limited the Nittany Lions to 16 plays and two first downs.

Osborne signaled to the followers that the feeling-out period was over when he had kickoff returner Kenny Brown pass across the field to Anthony Steels on the return following the second Lion touchdown. Dan Rocco foiled that ploy at the 15, but the Huskers promptly marched 85 yards in 13 plays.

Hager completed four passes on the comeback drive. A facemask penalty helped, and Hager hit Miller for the 11-yard touchdown between defenders Dan Blondi and Gene Gladys.

After the defense shut down the Lions on consecutive series, a huge cheer went up as the Blackshirts left the field. Before the clamor died out, Hager faked into the middle and fired deep to Miller, who completed the 70-yard jaunt while stiff-arming Mickey Urquhart, who had been moved from linebacker to cornerback the week before, at the 15.

’Like a Cat’

“We knew if we kept mixing it up, we could score a lot of points. We could explode at any time,” Miller said. “We were like a cat up against the all. We came out scratching and fighting. I felt that if they called that play, I’d be open.”

Fifty-eight seconds later, Nebraska took the lead at 21-14 after end Derrie Nelson recovered Matt Suhey’s fumble. On third-and-10 from the the 16, wingback Kenny Brown set sail on a reverse to his left. He cut inside a defender and made it to the corner of the end zone for the third touchdown in eight minutes.

Following a punt, the Huskers went to the lockers up 28-14 after four plays covered 42 yards. Fullback Franklin broke inside traps for 34 yards and the 5-yard touchdown.

“We didn’t want to sit on the lead. We wanted to play wide open the second half,” Osborne said.

But Penn State was given a reprieve early in the third quarter when Hipp couldn’t handle Hager’s wild pitch, and Lion linebacker Lance Mehl recovered on the Husker 25.

Tackles Rod Horn and Bill Barnett snuffed the threat with consecutive behind-the-line tackles, and Penn State settled for Menhardt’s field goal.

Sukup Misses

Nebraska was shut out in the third quarter, but a 47-yard pass from Hager to Smith highlighted a drive that carried from the Nebraska 3 to the Lion 9. From there, Sukup tried a 26-yard field goal and missed for the first time this season.

“I just missed it,” Sukup said. “I thought it would be important. I hope the offense plays like that all year.”

Before Hager retired in the last four minutes, he drove his team 69 yards to Wurth’s 7-yard touchdown to make it 35-17, and Quinn came on to finish up a 43-yard march capped by Kotera’s 2-yard run in the last two minutes.

Paterno finally turned to sophomore Terry Rakowski late in the third quarter while searching for an offense. Rakowski drove the Lions to the Husker 28 early in the fourth. But Penn State’s slim hopes at that point were buried with freshman tailback Curt Warner under a fourth-down screenpass pileup that included Barnett, Horn, Brent Williams and Kim Baker.

Backup middle guard Oudious Lee was the most conspicuous Husker lineman with five unassisted tackles, including two for losses, while linebackers Brent Williams and Kim Baker logged 16 tackles apiece.

’Off to the Races

“I didn’t know what to think for a while,” Baker said, “but a few things went our way, and we were off to the races. We’d had a few times when we played well, but this was our best total game.

Hipp, who had averaged 120 yards in the first two games, watched much of the game from the sideline with a sore foot still bothering him while Redwine enjoyed his finest afternoon.

“He told me he was worried because he wasn’t getting in the end zone,” Hipp said. “I told him to just keep running; the time will come when he’ll crack one. He did a real good job.”

“I’d come close to 100 yards before, but I’ve never got there,” Redwine said. Referring to Lion All-America tackles Bruce Clark and Matt Millen, Redwine said, “I really didn’t see them, the offensive line played so well.

“Anything is possible with this team. I think it’s a national championship team, but that’s a long way off.”

Respect for Paterno

Osborne didn't get swept away with euphoria. In fact, he was somewhat embarrassed about the outcome, due to his fondness for Paterno.

"I have a lot of respect for Joe. I feel closer to him than any other coach in the business. If there's anybody I don't want to beat, it's Joe Paterno. It's an honor to play against him," Osborne said.

But he wasn't about to turn down the game ball.


More coverage

World-Herald post-game coverage (PDF)

Box score (PDF)

Game stats

Opp NU
Penalties-Yards 3-25
Rush yards 60 298
Rush attempts 35 61
Yards per carry 1.7 4.9
Pass yards 123 232
Comp.-Att.-Int. 9-20-1 15-23-1
Yards/Att. 6.2 10.1
Yards/Comp. 13.7 15.5
Fumbles 1 1

Series history

Nebraska is 9-8 all-time against Penn State.

See all games »

1979 season (10-2)

Utah State Sept. 15
Iowa Sept. 22
Penn State Sept. 29
New Mexico State Oct. 6
Kansas Oct. 13
Oklahoma State Oct. 20
Colorado Oct. 27
Missouri Nov. 3
Kansas State Nov. 10
Iowa State Nov. 17
Oklahoma Nov. 24
Houston Jan. 1

This day in history

Nebraska has played 15 games on Sept. 29. See them all »

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