LAWRENCE, Kan. — Criticism of Nebraska’s Blackshirts this season has made them defensive.
Saturday, they were extremely defensive. They were at their defensive best in a 52-0 whipping of Kansas.
“I could tell when they came in the locker room by looking at their faces they thought they must have done something good,” said Charlie McBride, NU’s defensive coordinator.
A Memorial Stadium crowd of 50,190, which included about 21,000 Nebraskans, watched the Cornhuskers claim their 14th straight victory from Kansas.
Six of those Nebraska wins have been shutouts and seven have produced 50 points or more.
But none of the Husker defenses in the recent past have been maligned as much as this one.
This was the day of the defense in Nebraska’s year of offense. For the first time this season, the defense had more impressive statistics than the offense.
Kansas managed just 6 net yards rushing (with 80 yards in losses) and 63 passing for a total of 69 against the Blackshirts.
“It was one of our better defensive efforts,” said Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne.
The Husker offense clicked for 546 total yards - including 426 rushing - but it took some time before it started to operate on all cylinders.
Unfortunately for Kansas, the time arrived a little into the second half and the Cornhuskers quickly turned a game that was 17-0 at halftime into a rout.
“It was a strange kind of game,” said NU quarterback Turner Gill. “We weren’t up. It was hard to get up for Kansas. In the first half, we were just going through the motions.”
Nebraska came back to score in the first three times it had the ball in the second half, and then added an exclamation point to its victory with a showcase punt return of 65 yards by Kansan Jeff Smith.
Junior I-back Mike Rozier, who didn’t start for the second straight week because he’s recovering from a hip pointer, had two of the third-quarter touchdown on runs of 25 and 27 yards. Rozier finished with 123 yards on 16 carries.
Smith, Nebraska’s third-team I-back from Wichita, hiked the Husker lead to 45-0 in the fourth quarter with his punt return for a touchdown.
Smith’s return was the Huskers’ first of the year for a touchdown, and the first ever on a punt by Kansas’ Bucky Scribner. Nebraska tight end Jamie Williams said he enjoyed watching Smith’s play as much as spectator.
“Every time that guy catches the ball back there, I turn into a fan,” Williams said. “He’s just Mr. Excitement. If he gets a crack, it can all be over. They gave him a crack, and it was all over.”
Smith got a crack and an impressive block by Wade Praeuner on Scribner, the last player with a shot at Smith. Praeuner drove Scribner back about 10 yards with his block to escort Smith into the end zone.
“I got a great block from Wade Praeuner,” Smith said.
The victory improved Nebraska’s record to 7-1 overall and 4-0 in the Big Eight Conference. It came in a manner that could be a boost for the defense as the Cornhuskers make their stretch run in the league race.
“This could be a big thing for us,” McBride said.
McBride said the defense has improved and learned things each week.
“Pretty soon, the confidence is going to be there,” McBride said. “I think we’ve got a good chance to be a helluva defense before it’s over.”
Kansas played without quarterback Frank Seurer and running back Kerwin Bell, who are both injured, but NU monster Kris Van Norman said their absence didn’t diminish the defense’s accomplishments.
“People have been saying all year that we haven’t been playing well,” Van Norman said. “We proved something today with the shutout. We didn’t even let them get close enough for an attempt at a field goal.”
Kansas didn’t get into Nebraska territory until the first play of the fourth quarter, and it wasn’t the defense’s fault.
It happened when Smith was thrown for a 3-yard loss as the Huskers tried for a first down on fourth and 2 from the Kansas 48.
Kansas quarterback Mike Bohn then threw an incomplete pass and was tackled for a 2-yard loss on the only two plays of the game that Jayhawks initiated from Husker territory.
Osborne said he didn’t punt because he thought Nebraska would pick up the first down, and there wasn’t much to lose because the Huskers were ahead 38-0 at the time.
Osborne went for a first down five times on fourth down instead of punting or kicking a field goal.
The first fourth-down call worked for the Huskers’ first touchdown, an 18-yard run by fullback Mark Moravec with 8:56 left in the first quarter.
“We have a good offense,” Osborne said. “We think we’ve got a very good percentage of making 3, 4 and 5 yards when we have to. We like to hang onto the football.”
One fourth-down play that didn’t work was a pass from Gill to Williams in the end zone on fourth and 4 from the 17 in the second quarter.
Nebraska took its 17-0 halftime lead by scoring twice in the second quarter on Kevin Seibel’s 33-yard field goal and a 12-yard pass from Gill to Williams, who was wide open in the end zone.
Gill set a Big Eight accuracy record two weeks ago when he completed 11 of 12 passes against Kansas State. He was almost as sharp against the Jayhawks, hitting 10 of 14 for 115 yards.
“Turner had a good day,” Osborne said. “They were coming with blitzes probably 75 to 80 percent of the time.”
Williams was Nebraska’s leading receiver with four catches for 63 yards. His best was a diving grab of a 33-yarder that led to Rozier’s second touchdown.
Roger Craig, who started at I-back, had his best day of the season with 82 yards on 14 carries before reinjuring his ankle in the third quarter.
Osborne praised the effort of the Jayhawks, who have now lost five straight games and have a 1-5-2 record.
“Kansas played us pretty hard, particularly in the first half,” Osborne said. “We felt at the half it was still a ballgame.”
Osborne said the Huskers’ ability to score right away in the second half broke the game open.
They did it on Rozier’s 25-yard run that capped a four-play, 56-yard drive.
The defense came up with a big assist in producing the next score. Cornerback Allen Lyday forced a Robert Mimbs’ fumble and recovered it himself at the KU 13. The Huskers scored in four plays on a 1-yard run by Smith to open a 31-0 lead.
Smith’s punt return was the next score.
Once again, the Cornhuskers had a decisive edge on its opponent in the kicking game. Nebraska returned eight KU punts for 129 yards.
Nebraska only had to punt once, and Grant Campbell’s 48-yarder was downed at the KU 2 by Todd Brown.
“One thing we really tried to emphasize with our players was that we really wanted to try to win the kicking game because that’s probably the strongest part of Kansas’ football team,” Osborne said.
McBride said he was disappointed that the Huskers got off to a slow start.
“Both offensively and defensively, it looked like we were kind of unemotional,” McBride said.
Nebraska’s next defensive assignment is Oklahoma State and Ernest Anderson, the nation’s leading rusher, next Saturday in Lincoln. Anderson gained 227 yards in Oklahoma State’s win over Missouri Saturday.
The game will offer a matchup between Anderson and Nebraska’s Rozier, the nation’s No. 3 rusher.
“Any time you get a back in Rozier’s category, you better get them strapped up,” McBride said. “We’re going to really have to be on our toes.”
|Yards per carry||0.2||6.3|
Nebraska is 91-23 all-time against Kansas.
|New Mexico State||Sept. 18|
|Penn State||Sept. 25|
|Kansas State||Oct. 16|
|Oklahoma State||Nov. 6|
|Iowa State||Nov. 13|
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