BOULDER, Colo. — Nebraska chalked up a victory for the run Saturday in a clash of philosophies.
Nebraska chose the ground and Mike Rozier responded with a career high 212 yards rushing and scored two crucial touchdowns.
Colorado took to the air and Randy Essington, the junior quarterback, came through with 361 yards passing and a batch of Buffalo records.
The result of this run-pass duel was an offensive explosion that was much more suspenseful and dramatic than seventh-rated Nebraska’s 40-14 victory margin would lead you to believe.
“The difference between winning 40-14 and having the ball game go down to the wire wasn’t very much,” Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne said. “It could have easily been 28-26 or 28-21.”
Essington was the reason this game wasn’t over at the half, as many Colorado-Nebraska games have been in the past.
The Cornhuskers had to survive his 51 attempts and 24 completions to secure their 15th straight victory over the Buffaloes. All of Essington’s statistics were Colorado records.
He did most of his damage in the third quarter when he aroused the Colorado fans in the Folsom Field crowd of 53,022 with 156 yards through the air. The Buffaloes outscored the Cornhuskers 14-0 in the third period to make a contest of a game that had been 20-0 at the half.
“I told them at the half this isn’t over,” Osborne said. “When you have a lot of psychological buildup, which they had, I figured it wouldn’t be a deal where they would just throw in the towel.”
Colorado Coach Bill McCartney pointed the Buffaloes to this game as his team’s biggest of the year, and the Buffaloes played Nebraska tougher than they have in a long time.
“I thought we should have beaten them,” Essington said. “I don’t think they could compete with UCLA."
UCLA beat the Buffs 34-6 last Saturday.
Colorado, 1-4, finished with 442 yards in total offense, and ran for 81 against the Cornhuskers.
Nebraska, 4-1, had 446 rushing and 68 passing for a total of 514 yards.
“We really do have a good football team,” said Charlie McBride, Nebraska’s defensive coordinator. “I just think the throwing game is starting to take over a little bit in college football.”
Colorado’s comeback produced a 37-yard touchdown pass from Essington to Richard Johnson, and a 24-yard touchdown run up the middle by Johnson with 22 seconds left in the third quarter.
“No. 2 (Johnson) was a thorn in our side all day,” said McBride.
Nebraska responded to the Buffs’ challenge with a 91-yard touchdown drive. Rozier started it with a 16-yard run, and ended it by taking a swing pass from Turner Gill 6 yards for the touchdown.
A 10-yard run by Roger Craig and a 12-yard pass from Gill to Ricky Simmons were the other long gainers on the drive. The most important short gainer was Rozier’s run of 4 yards on fourth-and-1 from the 9.
Rozier started to wonder if fate was against the Cornhuskers when Colorado made it 20-14.
“I was a little nervous,” he said. “They said they were going to beat us, and I thought that was going to be the turning point. I’m sure everybody was a little nervous on the sidelines.”
The real turning point was the 91-yard drive, and two big plays by linebacker Steve Damkroger that were yet to come.
On the first play after Rozier scored the 26-14 touchdown, Damkroger intercepted an Essington pass that was tipped by linebacker Mike Knox, and returned it to the Husker 11.
On the next play, Rozier ran up the middle 11 yards for his second touchdown with 8:09 remaining in the game to give the Huskers a 33-14 lead.
In the span of just 17 seconds, Rozier’s two touchdowns turned a game that was building toward a tense finish to one more comfortable for the Cornhuskers.
“Those two interceptions pretty well iced it for us,” Osborne said.
Damkroger got them both. His second came on Colorado’s possession following Rozier’s second touchdown. He picked off the pass at the Colorado 48 and returned it 14 yards. The two interceptions were the first of his career. On both, he showed some bullish running form.
“I’m thinking about playing fullback,” said Damkroger. He was a fullback-linebacker at Lincoln Northeast. His brother Maury played fullback for Nebraska.
“Actually, I’m not that good a runner,” Damkroger said. “I was just happy to catch the ball.”
The second interception led to Nebraska’s final touchdown, a 1-yard run by Jeff Smith.
It was no surprise that Colorado went to the air against the Cornhuskers. Penn State beat Nebraska 27-24 two weeks ago with Todd Blackledge passing for 295 yards.
“Did I ever expect them to throw!” McBride said. “They didn’t do anything I didn’t expect.”
Colorado’s strategy was apparent from the start. The Buffs’ first play of the game was a 13-yard pass from Essington to Dave Hestera.
Essington caused plenty of problems for the Huskers through the first quarter, but the first 15 minutes ended with the Huskers leading 7-0.
The Buffaloes outgained Nebraska, the nation’s total offense leader, 121 yards to 120 in the first quarter. Essington contributed in that advantage by completing 8 of 16 passes for 84 yards.
Colorado drove into Husker territory on its first two possessions, but came away with nothing to show for its efforts as Tom Field missed field goals from 49 yards and 32 yards.
Nebraska set its running theme for the game on its first possession by marching 68 yards to a 3-yard touchdown by Doug Wilkening, who is from Littleton, Colo.
Rozier carried the first six plays of the drive for 36 yards, and was given the ball 11 times on the 14-play drive.
By halftime, Rozier had 120 yards on 20 carries. He carried 32 times in the game. Rozier’s previous best game was 179 yards against Kansas last year.
“I didn’t know he had that many yards,” said Husker quarterback Turner Gill. “It was a tough 200 yards. He didn’t break any 80 or 60-yarders. That’s a big compliment to him and the offensive line.”
Rozier said he had some problems early in the game because the field was slick.
“He was complaining about the footing the first quarter and he was twinkle-toeing around a little bit,” said Mike Corgan, Nebraska running back coach. “Then he got organized and went after it pretty well.”
The Huskers’ Craig, who missed last week’s game with Auburn, gained a season-high 67 yards, and scored the Huskers’ second touchdown in the second quarter on a 1-yard run.
Not many 1-yard runs could be more impressive. Craig was hit first in the backfield at about the 3, and bounced outside. He was hit again at about the 1, and backed his way into the end zone.
Craig’s touchdown completed an 80-yard drive in 13 plays, again all the yardage came on the ground.
Corgan said Nebraska’s game plan wasn’t necessarily to run as much as the Huskers did.
“We just wanted to do what we could do,” Corgan said. “We wanted to run at them. I think we did that pretty well to start with. We tapered off a little.”
In running at the Buffs, Nebraska was attacking their defensive strength.
“The thing Colorado had done previously is that they played the run well,” Osborne said. “We were able to do that some today, which was pleasing.”
Nebraska’s running success helped the Huskers to an average of 5.8 yards per play.
Essington’s passing contributed most to the Buff’s average of six yards per play. Entering the game, Nebraska was the national leader with an average of six yards per play.
Nebraska had its best success putting pressure on Essington in the second quarter when he went through a streak of nine straight incompletions.
Defensive end Bill Weber had the biggest play against Essington when he sacked him just before half and forced a fumble that Knox recovered at the Colorado 14 for a 12-yard Buff loss.
Nebraska took advantage with Kevin Seibel’s 31-yard field goal on the last play of the half. Seibel kicked two field goals in the final minute. His first was a 26-yarder with 51 seconds left.
The Nebraska victory ended a three-game road trip. The Huskers return home next Saturday to play Kansas State.
“I don’t care who we play,” McBride said. “I just want to go home.”
|Yards per carry||3.5||6.1|
Nebraska is 49-20 all-time against Colorado.
|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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