LAWRENCE, Kan. — Following custom, Nebraska kicked Kansas into the loser’s bracket in the opening round of the Big Eight Conference football season Saturday. The 54-0 final score also was fairly commonplace.
But both camps were soured after this one, and Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne was moved in some unusually bitter remarks in the aftermath.
Kansas was used to such drubbings in a 12-year winless stretch against their northern antagonists.
What set the latest Kansas game apart from the previous 11 in the Cornhuskers’ continuing mastery was a non-scoring play in the final 40 seconds of the first half.
Nebraska had just taken a 33-0 lead, and Osborne attempted to return the tally to a sequence of sevens, following an earlier missed extra point kick, by ordering a two-point conversion try. Even though the attempt was botched when quarterback Jeff Quinn was dumped for a loss, a sellout crowd of 52,500, less an estimated 13,000 Nebraska followers, booed the visitors off the field at the half.
There were some heated exchanges in the remaining time, and the Jayhawks were assessed a personal foul penalty.
Following the final Husker touchdown in the last 45 seconds, the 4-1 Huskers were snubbed by the 1-3-1 Jayhawks. Some KU players as well as Coach Don Fambrough refused to observe the traditional postgame handshake ritual.
The Kansans were obviously miffed, and Osborne said later that Jayhawk tempers “might have got out of hand” in the second half.
Fambrough brushed off the incident, saying he was “surprised” Nebraska went for the two points with the fat lead, “but you’ll have to ask Osborne about that.”
Osborne was asked, by a Kansas City wire service reporter, in the first question of the post-game interview.
Uncharacteristically, Osborne got his ire up. “Why did we go for the two points?” he shot back. “The reason is, you’re trying to win a football game. I heard a lot of things coming off the field, and I’m pretty upset,” he said, his voice rising.
“The biggest sign of disrespect is if you take a team for granted at 33-0. Evidently they didn’t think they could win. By golly, if you’ve got respect for people, you play to win. This really tees me off.
“I know if a team came into our place and they were leading 33-0, they would go for two points. I felt they had a good team. You don’t want to lose 34-33 or 35-33. We’ll hear that we tried to run it up, but we were trying to win the football game. The second team was in from the middle of the third quarter. When a travel squad is limited to 55 players, you have to play everyone. We only passed on third-and-long situations.”
Osborne added: “I love to play good teams that have a little class. We don’t feel we got treated that way today. We were treated like second-class citizens.”
Jayhawk wide receiver David Verser said the two-point attempt “made everybody on our team mad. They were just trying to pour it on. Yeah, the polls…”
After venting his feelings, Osborne answered one more perfunctory question. Then he asked, “Any more questions?” None coming immediately, Osborne abruptly wheeled and disappeared into the locker room.
There wasn’t much more he could say in the way of analysis anyway.
The Huskers never looked back after sophomore Ricky Simmons returned the opening kickoff 77 yards, and I-back Craig Johnson scored the opening touchdown from the 10 with 2:46 elapsed.
Kansas valiantly fired back with its most serious threat, a 14-play ground drive that died out at the Nebraska 12 when celebrated rookie Kerwin Bell was stopped for no gain on fourth down. Kansas was later stopped on downs at the Nebraska 35 and 42.
The Huskers, missing the rapier runs of Jarvis Redwine, the national rushing leader who sat out with sore ribs, turned to the hammer, Craig Johnson, for 109 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns.
Then another Craig, given name of Roger, drew the Jayhawks’ attention with 86 yards on 20 carries and three touchdowns.
For diversion, quarterback Jeff Quinn blended in 10 completions in 14 attempts for 124 yards and touchdown pitches of 31 and 8 yards to his roommate, John Noonan.
With the Husker I-backs pounding the flanks, fullback Andra Franklin opened up the middle with his busiest and finest afternoon of the season — 63 yards on 11 carries and a 3-yard touchdown.
After a 7-0 tussle through the opening quarter, Nebraska bludgeoned the Jayhawks with 26 points in the second quarter and scored on five straight possessions in the second and third quarters.
Bell, the California freshman who was recruited by Nebraska and most of the rest of the country, skittered for 29 yards on eight carries in the Jayhawks’ opening drive, and he ignited a brief KU threat in the third quarter with runs of 11 and 22 yards. But the Husker defense held Bell to a relatively harmless 69 yards on 18 carries.
While attempting to rally with the pass, Kansas starting quarterback Steve Smith was limited to four completions in 12 attempts for 58 yards, and his replacement, freshman Frank Seurer, hit only two of 11 and saw reserve monster back Kris Van Norman return an interception 30 yards to the Jayhawk 10 to set up Craig’s final touchdown.
The Huskers, coming off an 18-14 upset loss to Florida State, dominated with 389 yards rushing and a 520-212 edge in total yards.
“Turn around and look at Henry,” Johnson said when asked why the Huskers rebounded so furiously. "That fired us up.”
The Omaha senior pointed in the direction of defensive tackle Henry Waechter, whose freshly-shaved head was covered by a baseball cap. Fellow tackle David Clark, whose head was shaved last spring, did the honors last Thursday.
Why? “It’s the Big Eight,” said Waechter, who led the linemen with seven tackles and contributed two of the six Husker quarterback sacks. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime shot. David suggested it, and I thought about it. Maybe I should have thought about it a little more.”
Of greater significance were the favorable bounces of the football, unlike the Florida State game in which four Husker lost fumbles and two interceptions were telling.
Against the Jayhawks, Nebraska fumbled six times. The Huskers retrieved the first five before John McCarroll claimed a wild pitch by Husker reserve quarterback Mark Mauer at the KU 5 late in the game.
“That (recovering five of six fumbles) helped a lot. If we wouldn’t have recovered the fumbles, it would have made it a lot tougher,” Osborne said.
Johnson, who had 73 yards on 13 carries and touchdowns from the 10 and 1 by halftime, laughed when he was informed that his 109 yards represented his poorest outing against KU. He had gained 330 yards and scored five touchdowns in relief in two previous games.
“Maybe I didn’t get to play enough in the third and fourth quarters,” Johnson quipped. “That’s no problem. I got to start, and we played well. We played hard all four quarters. We fumbled a lot, but we didn’t turn the ball over.”
Craig, who scored three of the last four touchdowns from the 1, 1 and 2, said, “After Ricky (Simmons) ran back that first kickoff, we were really fired up. We want the Big Eight (championship) bad. We wanted to blow them off the field. Florida State is over with.”
Quinn said the ill feelings on the field “didn’t matter. A lot of emotion showed out there, but we didn’t retaliate. It didn’t detract from the game. We were just going to play our game and keep our cool. We did that pretty well.”
Quinn was at his collected best on two rapid touchdown drives late in the second quarter. Working with a 21-0 lead, Quinn completed passes to split end Todd Brown and tight end Jeff Finn, sneaked to a first down on fourth down, hit wingback Anthony Steels for 13 yards while scrambling, then finished up with a 31-yard touchdown pass to split end Noonan.
In the huddle before the touchdown, Quinn said he told his roomie: “Just make a good move; it’ll be there.”
The Huskers managed the clock beautifully before the touchdown that preceded the controversial two-point conversion call. Twice, the Huskers called time out with Kansas in possession before forcing a punt.
Returner Dave Liegl, who had earlier returned one 23 yards, fought the tide with no blockers because of a 10-man rush and bounced off two tackles to make it out of bounds at the KU 38 with 58 seconds left.
The Huskers needed only 18 seconds. Quinn passed 29 yards down the left sideline to wingback Tim McCrady on first down. Then Craig ran an option eight yards to the one before sailing upside-down into the end zone.
Nebraska opened the second half with a 12-play, 85-yard march that ended with Quinn hitting Noonan on an eight-yard slant pass from the right. “He read the coverage real well,” Quinn said. “They were in a man-to-man coverage, so he was supposed to run a slant. He made a great catch.”
Junior cornerback Rodney Lewis, who started his first game in place of veteran Andy Means, said: “We got off to a slow start. We were too intense. Bell was a pretty quick back, and they popped a few things, but, basically, we shut ‘em down.”
Means, who spent the first two days of the week on crutches with a sprained knee, entered the game in the first quarter when cornerback Ric Lindquist reinjured an ankle.
“Kansas was moving the ball on us a little more than I thought they would, but they abandoned their running game when they got behind, and then we got them with blitzes.
“But,” Means said, “You’ve got to give credit to the offense. They controlled the ball and didn’t give the Kansas offense a chance to do what it wanted.”
Nebraska ran 87 offensive plays and averaged six yards per play to the Jayhawks’ 66 plays and 3.2-yard average.
|Yards per carry||2.9||5.6|
Nebraska is 91-23 all-time against Kansas.
|Penn State||Sept. 27|
|Florida State||Oct. 4|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 18|
|Kansas State||Nov. 8|
|Iowa State||Nov. 15|
|Mississippi State||Dec. 27|
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