LINCOLN — Iowa resembled the Pittsburgh Steelers in uniform only Saturday. Nebraska opened its season by giving the Hawkeyes a steel belting.
For much of a warm and sunny day, the Cornhuskers hogged the road as they powered to a 42-7 victory. The Huskers had a blowout - but in this case, it was no accident.
“We just told them to go out and play hard, and give Iowa their due,” Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne said. “Last year was last year. This year was this year. We don’t play on the revenge thing at all.”
It was the last game in the series between the two teams, and the Cornhuskers obviously didn’t want Coach Hayden Fry to have the final say. The Hawks won once in the four game series - last year’s 10-7 upset at Iowa City.
Iowa, which started wearing uniforms similar to the Steelers when Fry was hired three seasons ago, soon found they wouldn’t be able to repeat last year’s win.
Nebraska marched 80 yards on its first possession, with fullback Doug Wilkening scoring on a 3-yard run. By halftime, the Huskers had opened a 28-0 lead and had out-yarded Iowa 250 to 1.
“I didn’t know that. That’s interesting,” said Charlie McBride, Nebraska’s defensive coordinator. “If we had that at the end of the game I’d feel a whole lot better, but I’m pretty happy.”
On the offensive side, Nebraska’s domination showed that the passing attack will be an integral part of the Husker repertoire. Nebraska gained more yards passing than rushing in the first half. 127 to 123. The Huskers finished with 160 yards passing and 343 rushing for the game.
The Cornhuskers also showed a new formation - called a weak set - that was mildly successful. The formation is designed to take best advantage of I-back Mike Rozier and Roger Craig, who played both fullback and I-back in a game for the first time.
Rozier was Nebraska’s leading rusher with 127 yards on 16 carries, while Craig had 57 on 15. Jeff Smith, who scored on an 80-yard run on his first carry of the game in the fourth quarter, finished with 87 on two attempts.
“Roger did pretty well,” said Mike Corgan, Husker running backs coach. “He had one or two misses, but any of them are allowed to do that.”
It wasn’t Nebraska’s new gimmick in the offense that overpowered the Hawkeyes. The Huskers showed enough talent to indicate they might live up to their fans’ high expectations.
“We can have a good team,” Osborne said. “The thing I was most pleased about was the play of the defense. Our secondary really did a good job.”
The Husker secondary had been Osborne’s biggest concern. Iowa passed for only 93 yards against a unit that returned only Allen Lyday with starting experience. (Last year’s team led the nation with a regular-season average of 101 passing yards allowed per game.)
Defensive coordinator McBride said he was pleased with the defense because Iowa coaches expected their offense to be better this season.
“It was a team pride thing,” McBride said. “That won for us on defense. Let’s face the facts. They embarrassed us last year.”
The Husker defenders took turns making tackles. Reserve linebacker Mike Knox led with six.
“Iowa ran only 19 plays in the first half, and didn’t get a first down until the final play before intermission. “I gave up the first down,” McBride said. “I put us in a prevent.”
The NU defense produced the final touchdown of the first half when end Wade Praeuner recovered a center snap that sailed over quarterback Chuck Long’s head into the end zone. The snap was from the Iowa 29-yard line.
Praeuner said his first thought when he scored the touchdown was survival. “I was worried I’d get buried,” he said.
End Tony Felici said the coaches prepared the defense well.
“In that first series especially, there were four or five plays on every play,” Felici said. “Everybody was right where they’re supposed to be. That was a good sign.”
Split end Todd Brown, who caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Gill in the fourth quarter, liked the passing game a lot.
“I loved it,” he said. “I think we’re certainly going to put the ball in the air. People can’t key so much on our running game. Now they have to worry about a whole lot of things.”
Wingback Irving Fryar was the leading receiver with six catches for 127 yards in his first college start. Fryar said he wasn’t surprised to see so many passes coming his way.
“Turner Gill and I were roommates the night before the game,” Fryar said. “We were talking and saying Coach Osborne might put the ball in the air more because he wasn’t sure if Turner’s leg would hold up to take all the pounding on options.”
Gill hadn’t played in a game since last November’s home finale against Iowa State when he suffered nerve damage to his leg.
Gill looked as sharp as he did last year as a sophomore star. He completed 9 of 16 passes for 144 yards and rushed 9 times for 40.
“Turner Gill had a good day,” Osborne said. “I think he can get sharper. There are some things he can do better.”
Gill’s best pass was a 41-yarder to Fryar for the Huskers’ second touchdown of the first quarter. It came from the weak-set formation.
“I’m just supposed to run a streak down the sideline,” Fryar said. “Turner Gill laid it right in there. I just caught it and ran it in the end zone.”
The weak set may have been a surprise to the Hawkeyes, but Nebraska did most of its damage with the pitch plays that have been the bread-and-butter of the I-formation.
“The weak set did pretty well,” Nebraska’s Corgan said. “It’s hard to compare it with the I-formation because those darn pitch plays were averaging about 15 yards per try.”
Boosting the average were a 52-yard run by Rozier and Smith’s 80-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Rozier could have scored, but he tripped over tight end Mitch Krenk, who had cleared a path to the end zone with the final block.
“It’s still Mike’s fault,” Corgan said with a smile.
The Husker performance did have some lapses, particularly in the third quarter.
“We kind of floundered in the third quarter,” Osborne said. “We were aware of the fact we might be a little flat in the second half. It’s hard when you go in 28-0 at the half, no matter what you say to them to keep an emotional edge.”
Iowa got its touchdown in the fourth quarter on quarterback Tom Grogan’s 4-yard run, to make it 28-7.
McBride said he didn’t mind losing the shutout. He was happy the defense achieved all of its goals.
“We wanted to hold them under 125 yards rushing, 150 passing and under 10 points,” he said.
The defense batted a thousand. So did the offense. It’s goals were 300 yards rushing, 150 passing and 35 points.
“Overall it was a pretty good first day,” said split end Brown. “We’ve got a long way to go to be great, but we’re on the right track.”
“Evidently Coach Osborne must have been pleased,” Felici said. “He gave us Sunday off.”
|Yards per carry||2.6||6.1|
Nebraska is 29-17 all-time against Iowa.
|New Mexico State||Sept. 18|
|Penn State||Sept. 25|
|Kansas State||Oct. 16|
|Oklahoma State||Nov. 6|
|Iowa State||Nov. 13|
Nebraska has played 9 games on Sept. 11. See them all »
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