HONOLULU — Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne wanted unity, and he got it.
When practice started in August, he said his biggest concern was how the Cornhuskers would come together as a team.
After finishing an 11-1 regular season with a 37-14 victory over Hawaii Saturday night, Osborne said unity has been a Husker strength.
“That’s probably been our strong suit, that they’ve hung together and kept plugging away,” Osborne said. “I think I would have felt somewhat similar if we had not beaten Hawaii. It was a great effort.”
The Cornhuskers rallied for 30 points in the fourth quarter after trailing 10-0 at the half and 16-7 after three quarters.
“It might have been as fine a game as we’ve had all year because they had to play together.” Osborne said. “A lot of people are going to say we came over here and went to sleep and almost got beat.
“I don’t feel that way. I think we played a very good football team, and had to play great football to overcome what happened to us. As far as I’m concerned, this was as good a win as we had all year.”
Nebraska was 9-3 last year, but got off to a slow start. Osborne said the 1981 Huskers didn’t come together until the fourth game. They didn’t have that problem this year.
Osborne praised the players for their behavior during their five-day stay in Hawaii.
“I’m really pleased with their general character,” he said. “You bring a lot of people over here and things can happen. We haven’t had a problem.”
Osborne said people asked him after the game if the Huskers were flat in the first half against Hawaii.
“I didn’t feel that way,” he said. “In watching the replays, my feelings have been born out. We came out and played hard.”
Osborne said they practiced hard, and it showed in the game.
“I think we responded to the challenge of playing this team the week after Oklahoma about as well as we could hope for,” he said. “You see so many teams play a big game, and they don’t play worth a darn the next week.”
Osborne said the Husker defense came through once again against Hawaii.
“The defense really played well,” he said. “They really only drove for one touchdown on us.”
The Huskers had Sunday and Monday free in Honolulu before returning home. They will arrive in Lincoln Tuesday morning.
Osborne said the coaching staff will be on the road recruiting, and the players won’t begin formal practices for the Orange Bowl game against LSU until final exams end Dec. 17.
Several theories could be used to explain what happened to Hawaii Saturday night.
Linebacker Steve McWhirter echoed Coach Osborne’s theory.
“There’s just something special about this team,” said McWhirter, a senior from Fairfield, Iowa.
The Cornhuskers needed quarterback Turner Gill, turnovers, a bigger and stronger stable of athletes and some intangibles to pull out the victory at Aloha Stadium.
The score doesn’t tell the story. This was a Honolulu lulu.
Hawaii, a 28-point underdog according to local oddsmakers, led third-ranked Nebraska 10-0 at the half, and 16-7 entering the fourth quarter.
Nebraska avoided an upset with 30 points in the final period. The Huskers got 17 of those points in an elapsed time of just 1:37. They came on a 23-yard field goal by Kevin Seibel, an 18-yard run by Gill and a 6-yard run by Roger Craig. The touchdowns were set up by turnovers. Cornerback Allen Lyday got one when he forced a fumble and recovered it himself, and safety Bret Clark got the other with an interception.
Gill, Nebraska’s junior quarterback, was a catalyst. He didn’t play in the first half because of muscle spasms in his back that developed in warmups. He spent most of the first half in the locker room with trainers trying to loosen the muscles. He was finally ready to play at the start of the second half.
“I think he made a difference in our confidence,” Osborne said. “I’m not saying we couldn’t have won it with the other two guys, but it gave everybody a lift with Turner in there playing.”
Senior Bruce Mathison started instead of Gill, and junior Nate Mason played in the final minutes of the first half.
Nebraska moved the ball with Mathison and Mason at the controls.
“Everything they tried seemed to work, and every big play we had to have seemed to backfire in some way,” Osborne said.
The Huskers’ problems in the first half were mistakes, a couple of turnovers and Hawaii quarterback Bernard Quarles.
The Rainbow senior scored the game’s first touchdown with a 4-yard run after completing 63 yards worth of passes on a 71-yard drive. “Their quarterback was hot on that first series,” McWhirter said.
Mason directed Nebraska into scoring position in the last minute of the first half. The Huskers got nothing when Kevin Siebel missed a 29-yard field goal attempt on the last play of the half.
The Cornhuskers had not been held scoreless in the first half since last year’s 6-0 victory over Missouri.
Osborne said he told his players at halftime that he didn’t think they had been playing badly.
“I tried to fire them up a bit,” he said. “I usually try to give them a little shot in the arm. I don’t think that had much effect.”
Lyday said Osborne did make an impression on the players.
“One thing that got everybody up for the second half was Coach Osborne,” he said. “You could tell in his eyes he was really disappointed. He told us their fans were laughing at us. I think that hurts us more than anything, that their fans would laugh at us and tell us that we’re no good.”
The Rainbows and their fans had one more laugh early in the second half. It came when Grant Campbell’s punt was blocked by Kent Kafentzis and the ball was downed at the Husker 10.
Nebraska was fortunate that Hawaii didn’t capitalize with more than Lee Larsen’s 27-yard field goal. His kick with 9:12 left in the third quarter hiked the Rainbow lead to 13-0.
“The key series of the game from a defensive standpoint was right after they blocked our punt,” said George Darlington, Nebraska’s defensive ends coach. “We forced them to settle for a field goal. That really gave us an opportunity to stay close.”
At that point, it was time for the Cornhuskers to show their mettle.
“Ninety percent of the teams in the United States would have folded,” Darlington said.
The Huskers started their comeback with an 80-yard drive in eight plays. Irving Fryar scored the touchdown on a 31-yard run. Fryar also wrapped up the 30-point final quarter with a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Hawaii followed Fryar’s first touchdown with a drive to Larsen’s third field goal, a 42-yarder that put Nebraska behind 16-7 with 1:58 left in the third quarter.
“I wasn’t particularly confident” at that point, Osborne said. “I thought we could win it. I thought we were doing the things we had to do. But I knew the margin for error was drawing down. If we made another turnover or two, it would have finished us.
It was the Rainbows who made the turnovers after Seibel’s 23-yard field goal made it 16-10 early in the fourth quarter. Gill kept alive that drive with a 36-yard pass to Todd Brown on third-and-16 from the Husker 14. He also had a 20-yard run on third-and-4 from the Hawaii 44.
Two plays after the field goal, Lyday forced the fumble on a run by Hawaii’s Anthony Edgar and recovered at the Rainbows’ 18. On the next play, Gill scored on an 18-yard bootleg. Seibel’s extra point gave Nebraska its first lead at 17-16 with 11:27 left.
Hawaii, which enjoyed some success in stopping the Cornhuskers early in the game, had no luck in the fourth quarter. Nebraska gained 200 yards rushing in the final period.
“I think we wore them down a little bit,” Osborne said. “They were just running short of people.”
“I noticed a lot of their guys were leaving the game,” Lyday said. “One thing we pride ourselves on is to go out and play a physical game. We kept hitting them hard and we eventually got our breaks.”
Hawaii was still in contention when it trailed 24-16, and marched deep into Nebraska territory. But the Rainbows failed in their chance to apply some pressure when Larsen missed a 32-yard field goal.
Craig enjoyed his best day this season with 127 yards on 18 carries.
|Yards per carry||2.8||7.3|
Nebraska is 5-1 all-time against Hawaii.
|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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