IOWA CITY, Iowa — It was the toughest of days for Mark Mauer, who had hoped his debut as the University of Nebraska quarterback would go more smoothly.
It was just as tough a day for Roger Craig, who had been a high school hero in the eastern part of this state as a running back for Davenport Central High School.
Nebraska playing Iowa at Kinnick Stadium was supposed to be a day of triumph for Craig, the Huskers’ junior I-back, and his teammates.
The Huskers were ranked sixth and seventh in preseason polls, favored by 17 points over the Hawkeyes and had beaten the same team 57-0 last season in Lincoln.
It was a tough day for Nebraska because Iowa, which has suffered through countless tough days in a span of 19 straight losing seasons, outplayed the Huskers for most of 60 minutes Saturday and ended a 10-7 winner.
“It’s tearing me up inside,” said Craig, who was held to 74 yards on 19 carries by an inspired Iowa defensive team. Eight of the Hawkeye starters held that same status last year when the Huskers drilled them for 564 yards and eight touchdowns.
Mauer was equally crestfallen. “I just can’t shake it,” Mauer said of the feeling of failure.
Craig was most upset about the two fumbles he lost. Fumbles and pass interceptions were the most haunting errors made by the offense. Nebraska fumbled five times, losing three, and had two passes intercepted. Mauer threw one and Nate Mason the other.
“I can say this,” said Craig. “In the future I’m not going to worry about scoring. I’m just going to concentrate on holding onto the ball. My goal now is not to fumble anymore. It’s a terrible feeling.”
The biggest fumble recovery for Iowa was made by tackle Mark Bortz with 2:51 left in the game. It was big because Nebraska’s offense was eating up chunks of yards in its bid to repeat its comeback of 1979 here.
In that game the Huskers rallied from a 21-7 deficit to win 24-21.
This time the Huskers were denied to the delight of the record Nile Kinnick Stadium turnout of 60,160. Nebraska started the fateful drive at its 16 with 4:29 left in the game. Mauer completed a 19-yard pass to Anthony Steels, Craig ran for 13 yards, Mike Rozier for 5 and Craig again for 13 to give the Huskers a first down on the Hawk 34.
The drive ended when Mauer pulled away from center Dave Rimington’s snap without the ball and Bortz smothered it.
“I had a lot of bad plays today,” said Mauer, the fifth-year quarterback who was making his first start.
“That fumble at the end hurt,” said Mauer. “I think I was just too anxious as I pulled away from the center. I wanted to score.”
The play thwarted by the fumble was a repeat call of the one that fullback Phil Bates took 22 yards on Nebraska’s preceding possession.
That drive ended with a 37-yard missed field goal by Kevin Seibel, another of the Huskers who had to call it a tough day. Seibel had the distance but was wide on the kick that would have tied the game. He also missed a 47-yarder in the first half.
Hawk coach Hayden Fry called beating the Huskers “the biggest win since I’ve been here.”
It was the Hawkeyes’ first win of major significance since they beat Penn State 7-6 on the road in 1976.
For Nebraska, the loss continued a string of failures in its last four road openers. The Huskers fell 20-17 at UCLA in 1972, were held to a 6-6 tie at LSU in 1976 and lost 20-3 at Alabama in 1978.
Iowa put a chink in Nebraska’s mastery of Big Ten Conference teams in the coaching eras of Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne. Devaney teams were 11-0 against Big Ten teams and Osborne is now 10-2.
Osborne credited Iowa for “playing very well. They played emotional football. They hit well. They tackled well. I was impressed particularly with their front people. Their defensive line and their linebackers played awfully well.”
The Hawkeye defenders played well enough to limit the normally potent Nebraska offense to 231 yards. Last year Nebraska ranked second in the nation with a total offense average of 501 yards per game.
The Huskers did outgain Iowa 231-202.
“We didn’t execute offensively very well at all,” Osborne said. “We’ve been fearful of that because we’re inexperienced at the positions where the players handle the football.”
“We have some good football players there and it’s certainly nobody’s fault. It’s probably my fault for not preparing them better to play in a game like this.”
The Huskers’ first misfortune in the game came on their first possession.They gained a quick first down, but the drive was thwarted on a bad pitch by Mauer to Craig that resulted in a 10-yard loss.
Then junior college transfer Grant Campbell’s first punt for Nebraska was partially blocked by Iowa defensive back Lou King. The 20-yard punt carried to the Husker 44.
From there it took Iowa only seven plays to score on Eddie Phillips’ 2-yard leap over the Husker defense. The touchdown was the first surrendered by Nebraska in the first quarter since Kansas State scored in November of 1979.
Iowa improved its lead to 10-0 when Lou Olejniczak kicked a 35-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter.
Nebraska’s defense had its backs to the wall for much of the first half. Iowa didn’t have to start a drive on its own half of the field until its fourth possession.
It took over at the 44 after Campbell’s punt at the 24 on its second drive when Bortz recovered Craig’s fumble and started its third possession at the 43 after Brad Webb intercepted a Mauer pass.
Iowa didn’t score after Craig’s fumble because Reggie Roby missed a 42-yard field goal.
But Roby was a thorn in the Huskers’ side with his booming punting. He averaged 55.8 yards on five punts and had a best of 62 yards.
Unlike Iowa, Nebraska didn’t get any field position breaks in the first half. The Huskers didn’t even cross midfield until the fourth play of a drive that started with 5:21 left in the half. Nate Mason’s 11-yard pass to Jamie Williams helped the Huskers cross the 50 to the 44.
The drive ended in Seibel’s first missed field goal.
“In the first half due to our ineptitude and their moving the ball on our defense we had very little field position,” said Osborne.
“The discouraging part from a defensive standpoint was that they ran the ball right at us and controlled it for long periods of time. In the third quarter we let them control the ball for seven or eight minutes when we really needed it badly.”
Iowa didn’t score after taking the second-half kickoff but controlled the ball for 7:33 on its best sustained drive of the game.
Nebraska also went through the third quarter without scoring — which Nebraska hasn’t done since the 1974 Sugar Bowl. Nebraska entered the fourth quarter of that game trailing 10-0 — the same advantage Iowa held Saturday — before rallying to beat Florida 13-10.
Nebraska finally scored against Iowa with 11:42 remaining in the game on a 1-yard run by Craig. The Huskers had only to go 33 yards for the score after cornerback Rodney Lewis recovered a fumble by Phillips.
Nebraska had two opportunities to pull out a victory after Mauer lost his fumble.
Three plays after Mauer fumbled, Iowa’s Phil Blatcher fumbled and Nebraska cornerback Allen Lyday recovered to give the Huskers the ball at the Hawk 41 with 2:04 left.
Iowa stopped the threat as Mauer threw two incompletions. Craig was held to two yards, then Mauer threw incomplete again. Nebraska’s last possession started at the Husker 22 following a 53-yard punt by Roby with 55 seconds remaining.
When a pass by quarterback Nate Mason was intercepted by King with 39 seconds left, a thunderous roar started to build from the long suffering Hawkeye fans, most of whom spent the remaining seconds on their feet with hands held high as if they were officials signaling a score.
Forty-five minutes after the game ended, one of those fans lingered in the middle of the field.
He wore cutoff jeans, no shirt and tennis shoes and carried a bag some fans use to conceal wine in the stadium.
|Yards per carry||3.3||3.1|
Nebraska is 29-17 all-time against Iowa.
|Florida State||Sept. 19|
|Penn State||Sept. 26|
|Kansas State||Oct. 17|
|Oklahoma State||Nov. 7|
|Iowa State||Nov. 14|
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