Lincoln — Nebraska treated Colorado in customary fashion Saturday.
More importantly for Cornhusker players who had lost twice in their first four games and heard boos from some disgruntled fans along the way, the 59-0 trampling of the Buffaloes was a refreshing change of pace after four difficult games to open the season.
“We needed a game like this to get our confidence up,” said center Dave Rimington. “We had fun playing again. It was almost like last year out there today.”
The Husker fun included an NCAA record 42 first downs, 719 yards in total offense, a school-record tying four touchdown passes by sophomore quarterback Turner Gill and a deserved shutout for the defense.
For Colorado, it was a typical day of suffering against Nebraska. The Buffs have now lost 14 games in a row to the Cornhuskers and 19 in the last 20 years.
Since 1967, when Colorado last beat Nebraska, the Buffaloes have been outscored by a total of 353 points. That averages to 25.3 per game.
The crowd of 76,168 that turned out for the Big Eight Conference opener for both teams saw Colorado get blanked for the first time since LSU administered a 44-0 whipping to the Buffs in 1979.
Another rout over the Buffs isn’t what Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne had in mind at all in his pregame calculations.
“I’m surprised,” said Osborne. “I really thought this would be a four quarter ballgame. I thought we would probably win it, but I thought it might be seven, 10 points, maybe 14. And if we didn’t play well we’d get beat.”
The possibility that Nebraska might lose this game never was in doubt as the Huskers scored on their first three possessions, nine of their first 11 and nine of 13 for the game.
By the time the fourth quarter arrived Osborne was trying not to score and didn’t. All 59 points came in the first three periods, 14 in the first, 24 in the second and 21 in the third.
“In the fourth quarter I was trying to do anything that wouldn’t score,” Osborne said. “We were going to execute our offense, but it was hard to call a play that wouldn’t gain five yards.”
There was somewhat of a symmetry to the way the Huskers piled up their points. They scored the first three times they had the ball in each half and in between struck for a quick 17 points in the final 2:08 of the second quarter.
Mike Rozier, making his first start at I-back, fullback Phil Bates and split end Todd Brown scored two touchdowns each.
Gill’s first two scoring passes were to wide-open backs. He hit Anthony Steels with a 15-yarder in the first quarter after executing a quality fake and connected with Bates on a 9-yarder in the second quarter.
The second two were bombs to Brown, a 45-yarder in the second quarter on the first play after a Jeff Krejci interception and a 38-yarder in the third quarter.
Gill, making his first start, completed nine of 14 passes for 178 yards. The passing performance was easily the best of the season by the Huskers, who had been averaging just 76 yards per game.
“Turner Gill played a great ballgame,” said Osborne. “He threw very well. His passing was very sharp.”
Osborne also was pleased with the way Gill directed the show. “He’s got a much better command of the offense. He’s really coming on. He had his head in the game.”
Osborne followed his plan of using Mark Mauer in the second quarter. The Huskers also moved the ball with Mauer directing the way, but the drive was stopped when a long halfback pass by Rozier was overthrown in the end zone, Mauer threw incomplete and Mauer fumbled a snap by Rimington.
Rimington said the fumble was his fault. “I made a check call in the line and snapped it a count early,” he said.
That snap will be remembered as one of the few Husker mistakes of the day.
Missing were the turnovers that had plagued the four previous offensive efforts.
Nebraska, which had 18 turnovers in the first four games, lost only one fumble against Colorado. That didn’t come until 5:29 remained in the game on a Tim Brungardt fumble.
“As long as we didn’t have any turnovers I knew we were capable of scoring this many points,” said Gill. “That was one of the biggest things today. If we don’t do that (accumulate turnovers) we can score this many points every week.”
One certainty for next week, when Nebraska takes its 3-2 overall record and 1-0 Big Eight mark to Kansas State, is that Gill will be the starter.
“He’s going to start,” said Osborne. “I’d like to keep playing two at least part of the time.”
The offensive showing was obviously pleasing to Osborne, but he started his postgame remarks with praise for the defense.
The shutout was the Huskers’ first since a 35-0 win over Iowa State last November. Colorado, averaging 375 yards per game in total offense, was held to 146.
“I really had a lot of respect for their offense particularly,” said Osborne. “They moved the ball well against everybody they played, except UCLA shut them down a little bit. I was really impressed with our defense today.”
The Colorado passing game, which had been averaging 209 yards per game, wasn’t a factor. The Buffs completed 4 of 17 for 39 yards.
Two Randy Essington throws were intercepted by Krejci and both set up Husker scores.
Krejci’s first theft came on the second play of the game. It gave Nebraska possession on the Colorado 37.
The Huskers drove for their first score in eight plays with Rozier doing the honors on a 3-yard dive into the end zone.
Rozier fumbled in the air, but made a quick move to get the recovery himself.
Krejci’s second interception was a big play as the Huskers struck for their 17 quick points at the end of the half.
Bates hiked the lead to 28-0 with his touchdown catch at the 2:08 mark. Four plays later Krejci made his interception. On the next play Gill threw 45 yards to Brown, who was alone behind the Colorado secondary, for the score.
On its next possession, Colorado left the Huskers in position for another score when Essington passed incomplete on fourth down from the Buff 27.
Kevin Seibel provided it when he made a 37-yard field goal as time ran out in the half. The Huskers’ 38-0 lead at that point led to a standing ovation by fans as the teams left the field.
Nebraska also got a standing ovation at the quarter break when the teams changed ends of the field with the Huskers leading 14-0. On the first play of the second quarter Rozier ran 5 yards for a score and Seibel made the lead 21-0 with his conversion.
Seibel has now kicked a school-record 49 extra points without a miss. He is burying the old record of 35 by Mike Coyle in 1974-75.
The standing ovations were a different fan reaction than the Huskers received last week when boos were heard during a 17-3 win over Auburn.
Osborne was appreciative of the ovations but did talk about the fickle nature of fans.
“That’s nice,” he said, “but I guess if there is anything you learn in this business it’s that this is a week-to-week deal. We appreciate the fans being supportive. Most fans are. But again I’d like to emphasize how fast these things change. You are no better than your last performance.”
Nebraska’s total offense of 719 yards was far above this season’s average of 360.3 and the best by a Husker team since the school record of 799 was set in a 63-21 win over Kansas in 1978. The point total was also the best since that game.
The previous NCAA record for first downs was 40 set by Vanderbilt against Davidson in 1959. The Huskers’ previous school record was 35.
Gill’s four touchdown passes tied the school record set previously by Dave Humm against Kansas in 1972 and equaled by Vince Ferragamo against TCU in 1976.
“Offensively we executed a lot better today,” said Osborne. “They were a little bit soft though on defense, softer than I thought they would be.”
Osborne said a big reason for the offensive explosion was the play of the Husker line. “We really came off the ball well,” he said.
Gill seconded the salute to the line.
“It wasn’t a matter that they (the Buffaloes) weren’t any good,” said Gill. “We had a good game and the offensive line took control of it.”
Craig and Rozier led the parade of 13 Husker backs to take advantage of the big holes opened by the line. The two I-backs turned in almost twin performances.
Craig had 96 yards on 11 carries. Rozier had 95 yards on 11 carries. Each had 31-yard runs for their longest gains and both of those plays could have been touchdowns.
Rozier stepped out of bounds on his 31-yarder, but continued on his way 74 yards to the end zone without being tackled.
Craig’s 31-yarder ended with a fumble while running in the open. Craig suffered a leg cramp on the play that he said led to the fumble.
Nebraska turned in 24 plays against the Buffaloes that produced 10 yards or more.
At one point in the second quarter the Huskers were moving so well they put together first downs on five consecutive plays — an 11-yard run by Craig, a 14-yard pass from Gill to Steels, an 11-yard pass from Gill to Craig, a pass interference call on Colorado’s Ricky Bynum against Brown and a 16-yard gain by Steels on a reverse.
The thrust led to the Bates touchdown pass from Gill.
Gill’s 38-yard pass to Brown was the first score of the second half. The final Husker touchdowns came on a 9-yard run by Bates at the 9:23 mark and an 11-yarder by Mark Moravec to wrap up scoring with 3:25 left in the third period.
At that point Colorado had yet to enter Husker territory. The Buffs finally made it with 1:35 left in the third quarter on a 4-yard run by Richard Johnson to the NU 48.
Colorado’s only scoring threat was thwarted on a fourth-down pass from the 4 with 11:20 left in the game. The throw from Steve Vogel to Brad Parker was broken up by Husker Tim Holbrook.
The easy victory allowed Nebraska to use 75 players, 41 on offense and 31 on defense.
“I was very pleased to play more players,” said Osborne. “We needed a game like this. This is the first time in a long time I can remember going into the fifth game without having a chance to play the second-team players much at all. I’m pleased with the performance. This will give us a little more confidence and a little more momentum. We have a good football team.”
“It’s not over yet by a long way. I know how fast it can change. One loss and you're right back in the hole as far as everybody being on your back.”
Rimington said the Huskers’ ability to gain yardage in big chunks helped open up the offense.
“We had a lot of situations of second-and-short,” he said. “That opens it up a little more for trick plays when you get long yardage on first down.”
They used two new plays, a pass by Rozier and a wingback option. Rozier’s pass was thrown long into the end zone from the Colorado 42. The wingback option produced 17 yards in the third quarter. It started with a handoff to Irving Fryar, who swept the right end and pitched to Tim Brungardt. Fryar got credit for 4 yards and Brungardt 13 on the play.
|Yards per carry||2.7||7.3|
Nebraska is 49-20 all-time against Colorado.
|Florida State||Sept. 19|
|Penn State||Sept. 26|
|Kansas State||Oct. 17|
|Oklahoma State||Nov. 7|
|Iowa State||Nov. 14|
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