LINCOLN — Irving Fryar turned a Friday night vision into reality and the Nebraska football team wiped out a week-long bad memory with a return to the good times Saturday.
The Cornhuskers, driven by the memory of last week’s 10-7 opening loss at Iowa, were back in the winner’s circle again with a show of big-play ability that produced the final three touchdowns of a 34-14 win over Florida State.
Most pleasing to Coach Tom Osborne was evidence that the Husker ground game was back after a 150-yard performance at Iowa. Nebraska rolled up 464 yards on the Seminoles. I-back Roger Craig was responsible for 234 of those yards, including 94 on a fourth-quarter touchdown that ended the scoring.
“The thing I liked today is that we ran the football,” said Osborne. “We’re the kind of team that has to do that to be successful, and we ran pretty well. Last week we averaged three yards per carry. Today I don’t know what it was, but it had to be closer to five or six.”
Actually, the Husker total of 464 yards on 63 carries figured to an average of 7.4 yards per carry against the Seminoles.
Florida State was doing a decent imitation of its 1980 trip to Memorial Stadium when Fryar took one of the Seminoles’ most potent weapons — a Rohn Stark punt — and returned it 82 yards for a third-quarter score.
Then in what may go down as the shortest but most productive six seconds of this Nebraska football season the Huskers added another touchdown and were on their way to escaping the fate of becoming the first Nebraska team to open the season with back-to-back losses since 1957.
Florida State, which had rallied from a 14-3 halftime deficit to an 18-14 victory here last year, surrendered its second touchdown in six seconds when Greg Allen fumbled the kickoff following Fryar’s touchdown.
Freshman Mike Knox made the hit on Allen, the ball popped into the air and into the hands of junior defensive end Tony Felici, who took it 13 yards for a score. The Husker lead, which was only 10-7 at halftime, suddenly became a more comfortable 24-7 with 8:25 left in the third quarter.
Osborne said, “Obviously we felt we were at a crossroads this last week. We felt we had a good week of practice and responded pretty well. I think the thing we did today was play aggressively, which we didn’t do last week at Iowa.”
Aggressive is an accurate way to describe the decision Fryar made to leave his wall of blockers on his punt return.
It could also describe the hit Knox made on Allen and the way Felici seized his opportunity to score.
“That was indescribable,” said Felici, a junior defensive end from Omaha Central. “It’s a great feeling to hit the end zone and hear all those people cheering.”
Felici’s only thought when the ball popped into his hands “was to make sure I held on to it,” he said.
Fryar’s first thoughts of touchdown could be traced to Friday night when he went through his ritual of going to sleep with thoughts of returning punts for touchdowns on his mind.
“Every time I go back there I think I can return it all the way,” he said. “I think about that every night before a game. Before I go to sleep I get a picture in my mind of running down the sidelines for a touchdown.”
Fryar’s touchdown could be the start of big things to come from the Mt. Holly, N.J., sophomore if he lives up to his ambitions. “My goal is to be the No. 1 punt returner in the nation,” he said.
Stark averaged 51.1 yards on eight punts, but Osborne thought the Huskers had the best of it overall in the kicking game.
“We really emphasized this week that we had to win the kicking game” he said. “We felt we lost it (the Florida State game) last year on the kicking game and last week to Iowa partly because of the kicking game.”
“The punt returns really helped,” Osborne said. Allen Lyday had a 29-yard punt return in the first quarter to set up a drive that ended in a 24-yard field goal by Kevin Seibel and a 10-0 Husker lead.
“We did miss a field goal, but we got the fumble on the kickoff and our kick coverage was good. You have to say we came out ahead in that department (kicking) and about every phase of the game.”
Fryar lost the honors of turning in the longest score of the day when Craig bolted for his 94-yarder in the fourth quarter. The distance tied Craig Johnson’s school record for longest touchdown run.
Craig’s 234-yard day was the third best in Husker history behind Rick Berns’ 255-yard effort against Missouri in 1978 and I.M. Hipp’s 254 yards against Indiana in 1977.
Craig gave a preview of things to come when he broke a 37-yarder in the first quarter on Nebraska’s first touchdown drive.
“Roger really ran well today,” said Osborne. “He looked like Roger Craig.”
Backfield Coach Mike Corgan said “He played more like he should and can. He ran through people. Last week he was diddling around trying to find a crack to score.”
Nebraska showed in the first quarter that its problems against Iowa wouldn’t be repeated. The Huskers matched their rushing total of 150 yards against the Hawkeyes in the first quarter alone.
The first time the Huskers got the ball they marched 80 yards in 10 plays without throwing a pass.
Craig’s 37-yard run was the big gain, but quarterback Nate Mason was a major contributor to the drive with 23 yards on six carries. Mason, making his first start, got the first Nebraska touchdown when he kept around right end for 8 yards with 8:23 to play.
Mason was the first of four quarterbacks used by Osborne. Sophomore Turner Gill made his debut in the second quarter. Gill was the victim of misfortune when he fumbled and James Harris recovered for Florida State.
The play went into the statistics as a 16-yard loss for Gill and Florida State used the recovery at the Husker 23 to produce its first points.
On the next play, Husker safety Jeff Krejci was called for pass interference on a Rick Stockstill throw intended for Jessie Hester in the endzone. The penalty gave the Seminoles the ball at the 1. After a sneak for no gain by Stockstill, Ricky Williams scored to cut Nebraska’s lead to 10-7.
“I think our defense did a good job,” said Osborne. “Each team had one cheap touchdown. We had the pass interference that set up their first touchdown and then we picked up that fumble in the air.”
The Huskers took a 10-0 lead on their second possession of the first quarter when Seibel kicked a 24-yard field goal. Seibel later missed a 27-yard field goal in the third quarter.
Nebraska finished two-for-three on field goals when Eddie Neil’s 21-yarder with 13:47 left in the fourth quarter gave the Huskers a 27-7 lead.
Osborne made seven changes in his starting lineup following the loss at Iowa. He was bothered most by the play of the offensive line against the Hawkeyes and liked what he saw from that unit against Florida State.
“The offensive line played a lot better today,” said Osborne. “Florida State has a pretty good defense. I don’t know if they are the best we’re going to see, but they are pretty good. I was pleased with the overall performance.”
Center Dave Rimington said the Husker line “was more aggressive this week. We were under the gun for our performance last week. A lot of people were doubting us. Now people have a better idea of how good we can be.”
Nebraska, which was guilty of four turnovers against Iowa, had five against the Seminoles.
“We still had mistakes,” Osborne said. “In order to win next week we’ll have to play with the same type of intensity and make fewer mistakes.”
Nebraska’s opponent next week is Penn State, a team that Osborne said could be the best the Huskers play this year. Fifth-ranked Penn State was idle this week. Nebraska, now 1-1, should improve on its rankings of 17th and 19th before next week’s game.
“Other than Oklahoma they (the Nittany Lions) will probably be the best team we see all year,” said Osborne.
Osborne said he will probably start Mason at quarterback against Penn State.
“I thought Mason had a pretty good day,” said Osborne. “He had the one fumble, probably didn’t throw the ball great, but he ran the ball well and ran the team well.”
Mauer, the starter at Iowa last week, was inserted in the game after Florida State scored a fourth-quarter touchdown on a 3-yard pass from Stockstill to Dennis McKinnon with 8:22 left in the game. The touchdown reduced Nebraska’s lead to 27-14.
“I put Mauer in there when it was still a ballgame,” said Osborne. “We had the ball with first down at the 6. We had a lead but a turnover at that point would have been tough on Mark and tough on me. But I have confidence in the kid and I wanted him to play at sometime in the game.
“Turner did OK. He had the one turnover, but he’s a good player. I think next week we’ll probably go with Nate.”
Osborne was bothered most by Nebraska’s passing attack. The Huskers completed only three of eight for 71 yards.
“We’ve got to improve on that,” he said. “We had people running around open and didn’t hit them. We could have easily had another seven to 10 points if we had thrown the ball a little better.”
|Yards per carry||1.3||7.5|
Nebraska is 2-6 all-time against Florida State.
|Florida State||Sept. 19|
|Penn State||Sept. 26|
|Kansas State||Oct. 17|
|Oklahoma State||Nov. 7|
|Iowa State||Nov. 14|
Nebraska has played 10 games on Sept. 19. See them all »
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