LINCOLN — A few mental blunders, a handful of execution errors and a couple of ill-advised emotional outbursts aside, the University of Nebraska opened its football season with no-sweat authority Saturday.
Overmatched Utah, trampled by 55-9, obliged a horde of Cornhuskers and a well-pleased 75,526 spectators by valiantly resisting the inevitable before wearing out in the face of near-record rushing by 16 Husker backs.
Jarvis Redwine, the former game-leg, turned loose his well-oiled wheels for 179 yards — second-highest total in a marvelous two-year Husker career — and scored three touchdowns, including his longest ever of 67 yards.
So much for the worries about his much-publicized right knee after five straight sub-100 yard outings.
With Redwine retiring after his third touchdown 5:16 into the third quarter, Old Dependable, senior Craig Johnson, stepped in with a 45-yard sprint and 68 yards on seven carries.
Then, with the Utes back on their heels, high-stepping Roger Craig turned loose his sophomore enthusiasm five times for 69 yards and the final two touchdowns from the 1 and 28.
When the totals were in, the top three I-backs accounted for 316 of 545 rushing yards that came up five shy of the school record against Kansas in 1977. Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne said of the hefty I-back figure: “That’s the plan.”
Quarterback Jeff Quinn blended in 127 yards worth of passes while the Huskers built a 672-293 advantage in total offense.
“The offense really did it to them,” said Husker middle guard Curt Hineline, who was enjoying his first start as a senior. “The defense didn’t play much. We didn’t work up much of a sweat. We (Blackshirts) only played 15 plays in the first half and six in the second before they put in the second group, and we were more or less done. That makes it more fun for everybody."
Utah, losing for the second time in two games, was hanging within threatening distance at 21-3 at intermission and had claimed an Anthony Steels fumble at the N.U. 24 on the second-half kickoff. Two plays later, linebacker Kim Baker made what Defensive Coordinator Lance Van Zandt called “the key play” when he intercepted a Ricky Hardin pass.
The Huskers quickly charged to two more touchdowns; Redwine, Quinn and friends departed and the rest of the roster paraded onto the field. The 85 Nebraska participants included five quarterbacks, the final one freshman Turner Gill.
While the Utes’ defense failed to brake the Husker runners, their offense achieved the consolation of a field goal against the Blackshirts and a 77-yard touchdown drive against the reserves in the fourth quarter.
Osborne said, “Overall, we played pretty well, but we made some first-game mistakes.”
Veteran linebacker Brent Williams said the defense “played awful sloppy. We missed way too many tackles. The coaches will find an awful lot to talk about tomorrow.”
Van Zandt admitted his team “will have to tackle better, but you’re danged right, it was a sweet way to open, 55-9. I’d rather open with a game like that than an Alabama.”
Nebraska opened with scoring drives of 67, 81 and 80 yards on three of its first four possessions and duplicated the pace in the second half on drives of 77, 42 (following a 24-yard punt return by Dave Liegl) and 70 yards.
With the Huskers handcuffing Utah’s all-time leading rusher, Tony Lindsay, with 25 yards on seven carries, the best threats the visitors could muster were screen passes in the flat, which produced the bulk of Del Rodgers’ 63 yards on four receptions, and quick slants over the middle.
“They (Utes) had some backs with running ability. They did a nice job of picking up yards and executed the screens real well. We blitzed and sometimes guessed wrong,” Osborne said.
In an aside, Osborne admitted he helped Van Zandt out by calling the defensive alignment once, “and I think they went about 25 yards, so I quit calling the defenses,” he said.
Osborne, playing the perfectionist, lamented “some lapses” by the second defense, and he said the offense “kind of wallowed around the last three minutes of the first half. But it was a hard-hitting game. Utah was a little stirred up.
“I told their coach (Wayne Howard) after the game that they’ll win a lot of games. I think they’ll be in the upper division of the WAC (Western Athletic Conference) if they don’t get demoralized.”
The Huskers had near-misses when Quinn overthrew Tim McCrady and John Noonan, who were open deep, and penalties snuffed threats that carried to the Utah 9 in the third quarter and the 5 on the final drive. An apparent 33-yard touchdown pass from Quinn to tight end Jeff Finn also was nullified by a penalty.
Quinn later underthrew McCrady, who came down with the ball for a 49-yard gain to the Utah 3, despite a pass interference flag, to set up the fourth touchdown, by fullback Andra Franklin. “I wish he’d underthrown the other one,” McCrady said.
Osborne was more disturbed by the scoring opportunity that was lost from the 9 in the third quarter when wingback Steels was ejected for throwing a punch at Utah’s preseason All-American cornerback Jeff Griffin. Californian Eddie Neil was wide with a 41-yard field goal attempt.
Nebraska also was penalized for a late hit on Ute Rodgers’ 8-yard touchdown sweep in the fourth quarter. A two-point conversion pass failed following the touchdown.
But most of the conversation was upbeat in the post-game analysis. The veterans had performed as expected, sophomore kicker Kevin Seibel was cheered for his end zone kickoffs, one of which cleared the south crossbar, and youngsters Ricky Simmons and Craig created excitement with runs of 27 and 28 yards, respectively, in a fourth-quarter drive.
Still, it was Redwine who made the loudest noise, and he was equally deft in avoiding reporters afterward. He lingered in the training room, where X-rays showed no serious damage to a sore elbow, and attempted to steer inquirers toward his teammates.
So productive were the I-backs, that Quinn, who rushed for 112 yards in his starting debut against Utah State last year, contributed only 14 yards rushing. He completed 8 of 13 passes for 127 yards.
“The I-Backs are really amazing,” Quinn said. “It’s easier on me. We need three I-backs to play the I-formation. I don’t mind running, but I’m older and a little wiser. I’ll give it up a little more now.”
Ute leader Lindsay’s top gain was 11 yards on the first play, and quarterback Hardin’s first pass completion, 31 yards to Floyd Hodge in the second series, was his longest. The latter play set up a 42-yard field goal by Gilbert Alvarez to cut the early lead to 7-3.
Redwine answered on the next series by taking an option pitch from Quinn to his left and winning a footrace with James Wilson to the end zone 67 yards away.
Redwine had his 100 yards on the seventh carry early in the second quarter, and he had 147 on 13 carries at the half. His 179 total was his sixth game over 100 yards, but it was short of the 206 he logged against Colorado last year.
Redwine’s second touchdown was an eight-yard sweep, during which he sidestepped two defenders, in the second quarter, and on the third, he ran over a tackler to complete a six-yard run.
Utah perked up briefly in the third quarter when Hardin completed three passes after Neil’s missed field goal, but one play after Hardin completed a fourth-down pass to Jim Teahan from the Ute 48, Husker cornerback Ric Lindquist made a diving interception at the Husker 30.
From there, Craig Johnson cut loose for his 45-yard gain, and fullback Jim Kotera capped the drive with a 4-yard touchdown.
Husker defensive tackle David Clark, who retired early with a strained knee, said his crew “had a good day. I was proud.”
Linebacker Williams said, “I know we can play a lot better than that. We’re going to look better next week.”
Van Zandt, the defensive chief, checked out the numerous bumps and bruises in the training room and said, “We’re going to need everybody we can get next week.”
He referred to the Memorial Stadium visit by Iowa, which extended the Huskers to the fullest before losing 24-21 in Iowa City last year.
|Yards per carry||3.9||8.0|
Nebraska is 4-0 all-time against Utah.
|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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