AUBURN, Ala. — Nebraska’s ball-hogging offense and a defense that became stubborn in the second half were a lethal combination for Auburn Saturday.
The Tigers, ranked 17th and 20th, had hoped to prove their status as a national power against the eighth-ranked Cornhuskers. A noisy crowd of 73,900 - only 2,500 from Nebraska - showed up at Jordan-Hare Stadium in a celebrating mood.
Nebraska’s 41-7 victory put a damper on the big party Auburn fans had hoped for.
“We’re still going to have a party,” said David Housel, Auburn’s sports information director. “It will probably be more like a wake.” It was Auburn’s first loss in four games.
“The maturity and pride of the Nebraska football team showed on the field,” said Auburn Coach Pat Dye.
Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne was most pleased with what the NU defense showed in the second half. And while Auburn’s offense sputtered, the Huskers padded their eight-of-10 third-down conversions in the first half to 14 of 18 for the game.
After nearly matching Nebraska’s offensive effectiveness in the first half, the Tigers gained only 33 yards rushing in the second half.
“It was really important from the confidence standpoint,” Osborne said. “Our defense really needed this. They really kind of came of age today.”
Auburn had only 86 yards of total offense in the second half after getting 201 in the first 30 minutes. The Tigers, who had ranked No. 3 nationally in rushing offense, gained 189 on the ground - 166 under their average of 335.
Nebraska, the national leader in rushing and total offense, gained 504 yards - 342 rushing and 162 passing.
Perhaps, the Nebraska offense’s greatest contribution to the victory was ball control. The Cornhuskers kept it for 36 minutes, 44 seconds to 23 minutes, 16 seconds for Auburn.
“Our offense was so dominating,” said Charlie McBride., Nebraska’s defensive coordinator. “They just wore their defense down. It was just a matter of time.”
McBride said Nebraska’s defensive problem against Auburn was the same one it always faces against Oklahoma’s wishbone.
“The kids got adjusted to the bone,” McBride said. “That’s the whole thing to it. It takes time. It was just like Oklahoma last year on their first three plays. It was like a track meet.”
Auburn showed its explosive potential on its first play from scrimmage after Nebraska took a 7-0 lead. Auburn halfback Lionel James took a pitch 71 yards to the Husker end zone. The play was called back to the Husker 40 where James stepped out of bounds.
McBride said the wishbone always presents problems because only a few teams run it, and it’s difficult for a scout team to duplicate in practice.
“You don’t ever see it like it really is until the game,” McBride said. “All those young kids had never played against it before. They were just so hesitant in the first half. They were in the right places. They just weren’t aggressive enough. We just told them at the half to go ahead and go.”
McBride said that aggressiveness in the second half was a key, and it also helped to limit what the defense was trying to do.
“We only went with three defenses,” he said. “Two were blitzes on the outside that forced their outside game, and the other was just a straight, odd-front coverage.”
The defense made two big plays in the third quarter when the Cornhusker lead was only 21-7.
The first followed a fumble on an Auburn punt by Husker Dave Burke that the Tigers recovered on the 13. On the next play, Husker defensive end Bill Weber recovered an Auburn fumble to end the threat.
On Auburn’s next possession, the Tigers faced a fourth-and-one at the Nebraska 35. Quarterback Randy Campbell made a bad pitch out of bounds for an eight-yard loss. Campbell was pressured by defensive tackle Rob Stuckey.
The biggest offensive play of the game probably was Turner Gill’s 58-yard touchdown pass to split end Todd Brown. It put the Huskers ahead 14-7 with 3:32 left in the half.
“We needed that one,” Brown said. “It came at a crucial time. It kind of took the wind out of their sails.”
The play was crucial because it came when it appeared a good Husker march had just been thwarted. Nebraska was in a third-and-22 situation at its own 42, just after Brown had been called for a 15-yard penalty for offensive pass interference.
Brown said the penalty resulted because the crowd noise prevented him from hearing an audible that changed the play from a run to a pass.
"I blocked four or fives times down the field,” Brown said. “I thought Mike Rozier was running the ball.”
Osborne said he called the long pass to Brown because it would be just like a punt if it was intercepted. The Huskers’ hope on the play was for Auburn cornerback David King to fall for Brown’s fake.
“We noticed on the films that their cornerbacks had gotten beaten two or three times on a hook and go.”
That’s the pattern Brown ran.
“I try to freeze the cornerback with the fake,” Brown said. “He took it all the way.”
Nebraska’s good fortune on the play was typical of the day it had on third down. In addition to the 14 of 18 third down conversions, the Huskers also made first downs on two fourth-down plays.
“It just shows we can get first downs in a pressure situation,” Gill said.
Osborne credited Gill for the Huskers’ success on third downs.
“He read things well,” Osborne said. “They blitzed us. They came after us a lot on third down. He reads the hot receivers well. He has just enough maneuverability that he’s hard to get to.”
Gill provided a lot of the spark to the Nebraska offense that was without veteran running back Roger Craig, who didn’t make the trip because of his thigh injury.
The Huskers also lost wingback Irving Fryar, the Big Eight’s leading pass receiver, when he sprained his ankle in the second quarter.
Gill completed 10 of 19 passes for 162 yards, and also caused problems for Auburn with his 50 yards rushing on options.
“I don’t know when a quarterback was so effective against us as Turner Gill was,” Auburn’s Dye said.
Gill wasn’t completely satisfied.
“I still have a long ways to go,” he said. “I think I can pass a lot better. I’m just glad for the team.”
The Huskers avoided becoming the second team in Osborne’s 10 years to lose consecutive games in the regular season.
Brown said the players weren’t concerned about that possibility.
“We didn’t think about the past,” he said. “We never want to think about what will happen if we lose.”
Nebraska, 3-1, played with more poise at the start of this game than it did last week at Penn State. The crowd conditions were similar.
Before the game, Auburn’s head cheerleader encouraged the fans to be as loud as possible.
“When Nebraska gets the football, we’ve got to make so much noise they don’t know what’s going on,” he said over the cheerleader’s p.a. system.
Nebraska didn’t use many audibles because of the noise, but otherwise it didn’t seem to be much of a problem.
Osborne stressed before the Huskers took the field that it would be important to score on the first possession.
“He told us before the game that if we go down and stick it in, the fans will cool it for awhile,” I-back Mike Rozier said.
Osborne probably phrased his comment in a less hip fashion, but he got the result he wanted.
Fullback Doug Wilkening scored a 15-yard touchdown on Nebraska’s opening drive - a 73-yarder in 13 plays.
The Huskers took the field for warmups without much show of emotion.
“We went out there and warmed up quietly and everything,” Rozier said. “Auburn probably thought we were going to lose, too.”
Brown described Nebraska’s approach to the game in terms of precision.
“We don’t yell and scream, or waste time like that,” he said. “We’re just like a machine. Do your job, get back in the huddle and do it again. After we scored touchdowns, nobody was yelling. We just went back to the sidelines and got ready to do it again.”
Rozier, who gained 88 yards on 24 carries, scored Nebraska’s first two touchdowns in the second half. One was a 2-yarder and the second a 12-yarder that he had to do most of the work on his own because half the offense missed an audible call.
“I just faked down on a couple of guys, and it was a touchdown after that,” Rozier said.
Nebraska’s final touchdowns in the fourth quarter came on a 41-yard run by Mark Schellen and a 13-yard run by Tim Brungardt.
Auburn got its only touchdown in the first quarter on a 4-yard run by freshman Bo Jackson to tie the game at 7-7.
Jackson, the leading rusher in the Southeastern Conference, was held to 18 yards on five carries. James was Auburn’s leading rusher with 69 yards on eight attempts.
Auburn hurt Nebraska with its pitches in the first half.
“We got hurt at first with their unbalanced line,” McBride said. “We made some adjustments. I figured they would come back to the weak side in the second half, and they did. We shut that down.”
McBride said the Huskers were playing defenses that were weak against the fullback. “But we thought the outside game was hurting us in the first half, so we put on more outside pressure in the second half.”
Auburn fullback Ron O’Neal gained 40 yards on eight carries. “I thought our linebackers did a great job on the fullback,” McBride said.
The Huskers wrapped up their nonconference schedule with the victory. They open Big Eight Conference play next week in Colorado.
“We’ve been in all situations you can have in a game,” Gill said. “We’ve been behind. We’ve been ahead. We had two runaway games. We got behind in one game, and this one was close. We can’t help but have confidence going into the Big Eight.”
|Yards per carry||4.0||5.0|
Nebraska is 3-1 all-time against Auburn.
|New Mexico State||Sept. 18|
|Penn State||Sept. 25|
|Kansas State||Oct. 16|
|Oklahoma State||Nov. 6|
|Iowa State||Nov. 13|
Nebraska has played 15 games on Oct. 2. See them all »
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