Lincoln — Nebraska rolled out its Orange Bowl Express Saturday to sidetrack Kansas’ passing attack and to secure a boxcar full of records.
And a Jan. 2 bowl date in Miami.
The Huskers’ 67-13 victory — their 11th of the season and 21st straight — was engineered by the record-smashing performance of I-back Mike Rozier and an emotional, new-look Nebraska defense.
Rozier rolled over the Jayhawks for four touchdowns and 285 yards — jumping four spots to 10th place on the NCAA all-time career rushing list. And, at the same time, the defense regained some lost confidence with some clutch interceptions to ground the KU passing game.
The nation’s top Heisman Trophy candidate, Rozier was one of 19 seniors who played their final home game in Memorial Stadium before 76,503 fans and a regional television audience.
By the time Rozier trotted to the sidelines for the last time in the third quarter, he and the Huskers had covered a lot of ground:
— Rozier had smashed NU, Big Eight Conference and NCAA rushing and touchdown records.
— Nebraska had clinched at least a tie for the Big Eight title.
— Two Orange Bowl officials were waiting to go on record with the news that they “unofficially” wanted Rozier and his Husker teammates to represent the Big Eight in the 50th annual Orange Bowl Jan. 2.
Bowl invitations officially cannot be extended until 6 p.m. Nov. 19.
Oklahoma and Missouri, both winners Saturday, each have one Big Eight loss. The league would end in a three-way tie if Missouri beat Kansas Saturday and Oklahoma upset Nebraska Nov. 26 at Norman, Okla.
But Harper Davidson and John Ludwig, members of the Orange Bowl’s selection committee, announced after the game Saturday that the committee had decided that in case of a tie, the team with the best overall record would receive the bid.
Because Missouri and Oklahoma are both 7-3 and Nebraska can finish no worse than 11-1, their announcement was clear.
“I guess reading between the lines, and you don’t have to read real hard, we have the Orange Bowl bid,” Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne said. “And we’re really pleased about that.”
A win at Oklahoma would give Nebraska its third consecutive Big Eight title and its third straight unbeaten season in the league.
At least two factors played a part in the Orange Bowl committee’s decision: Nebraska’s No. 1 ranking and Mike Rozier.
Rozier made his last home performance his best as he rambled through the record books. ABC-TV, broadcasting the game from Lincoln, named him Nebraska’s most valuable player.
Rozier set the Nebraska single-game rushing record with 285 yards, breaking Rick Berns’ 255 set in 1978. It is the record Rozier had often said he most wanted.
“I got it,” Rozier said. “I finally got the record I wanted. And I’m pretty happy about it.”
It wasn’t the only record smashed by Rozier, who carried 31 times Saturday, 10 times more than his average this season:
— His 1,943 rushing yards this season set a Nebraska and Big Eight record. It snapped his own NU record of 1,689 yards set last year and the league mark of 1,877 set by Oklahoma State’s Ernest Anderson last season.
— His four touchdowns against KU gave him 28 rushing touchdowns this season, breaking the NCAA record of 26 by Penn State’s Lydell Mitchell in 1971.
— He has now scored 168 points this season to break the NU and Big Eight marks of 157 by Husker All-American Bobby Reynolds in 1950.
It was a record day in general for the Cornhuskers:
— The 67 points Saturday boosted Nebraska’s season score to 596 points in 11 games to break the NCAA record of 560 by Brigham Young University in 12 games in 1980.
— The 73 extra points by kicking assures Nebraska of a per-game average of at least 6.1, which would break the NCAA mark of 5.9 set by San Diego State in 1969.
— The 79 touchdowns rushing and passing assure Nebraska of a per-game average of at least 6.6, which would break the NCAA mark of 6.4 by Oklahoma in 1956.
— The 62 rushing touchdowns assure Nebraska of a per-game average of at least 5.2, which would break the NCAA record of 5.1 by Oklahoma set in 1956.
Rozier, whose career per-rush average is now 7.19 yards, tops the NCAA record average (for at least 500 carries) of 7.09 by Oklahoma’s Billy Sims, said he wasn’t aware of most of the records.
“If it comes around, it comes around,” Rozier said. “And they came around today.”
Rozier didn’t waste any time notifying the Jayhawks that he wasn’t going to let Berns’ record get away from him again.
On his third carry, Rozier broke loose over the left side and raced 49 yards for the first of his four first-half touchdowns. By halftime, Rozier had added touchdown runs of 11, 3, and 17 yards and had gained 230 yards on 26 carries. The Huskers led 41-0.
“It was amazing,” quarterback Turner Gill said. “He had 200 and some yards the first half. I didn’t know he had that much.”
Rozier did. This was one time the 5-11, 210-pounder said he was keeping track of his statistics.
“I was getting closer and closer,” Rozier said. “And I was getting happier and happier.”
When he got within 20 yards of Berns’ record in the third quarter, Rozier said he gathered his offensive line and told them he wanted “to go out and get it. I broke one, and I got it.”
Rozier’s broke a 44-isolation play for a 9-yard gain with 4:48 left in the period to break the mark. He added runs of 10 and 18 yards before he retired for the day.
“I’d like to make note of Mike Rozier’s records,” Osborne said. “I knew that he personally wanted to get the single-game rushing record. He’d mentioned it a couple of times.
“And I think it happened in a natural way. I don’t think we had to force the issue any. And we didn’t have to risk getting him hurt late in the fourth quarter.”
Osborne said he was delighted with every member of the Husker squad, which became only the fifth team in 95 years of Nebraska football to win at least 11 games.
“I think we might have played our best overall game,” Osborne said. “When you look at 60 minutes of offense, defense, the whole works, I suspect we played about as well as we’ve played at any time.”
The play of the Husker defense, Osborne said, was especially encouraging. The top defensive unit had struggled in recent weeks, giving up three fourth-quarter scores to Kansas State and 29 points to Iowa State.
“I was pleased to see the defense play well,” Osborne said. “Maybe we won’t get quite so much help in coaching the defense this week. We had all the ‘defensive coaches’ come out of the woodwork last week. Now they can relax and go back to the offense.”
The Husker defenders intercepted Kansas quarterback Frank Seurer three times in the first half to provide a boost to the offense and to their own confidence.
“I think we needed a game like this,” safety Bret Clark said. “I think the big difference was that our line was putting a lot of pressure on him. If you give him time to throw, he can just pick you apart.”
Seurer ended up hitting 14 of 36 passes for 249 yards. Reserve Mike Orth added 71 yards, with most of it coming against Husker reserves in the fourth quarter.
Clark, defensive end Scott Strasburger and cornerback David Burke each intercepted a pass against Seurer in the first half.
“The ball was a little slick out there and a little hard to throw,” Seurer said.
Aiding the Huskers’ success, Clark said, was the crowd’s vocal support and a new defensive tactic that added quickness to the Nebraska lineup on obvious passing downs.
The change saw Strasburger move from end to linebacker. Sophomore linebacker Tony Holloway came in the game, and Wade Praeuner filled Strasburger’s defensive end spot.
“We only used it about four times,” Clark said. “It gave us a little faster defensive team. And I don’t think they completed a pass when we were in that defense.”
Rozier and the defense weren’t the entire show. Jeff Smith, the Husker junior destined to replace Rozier at I-back next year, had his biggest day as a Husker.
Smith rushed for 72 yards on six carries, caught a 68-yard touchdown pass and returned a punt 63 yards for another score.
“I was glad to see Jeff have a big day,” Osborne said. “He’s had one coming. It seems like things haven’t fallen into place for him the last three or four weeks.”
Gill said Coach Osborne wasn’t overjoyed with him on the 68-yard scoring pass to Smith. When Gill returned to the sideline, he said, Osborne wanted to know why he threw the bomb instead of short pass.
“I told him all the other receivers were covered,” Gill said, smiling. “He said, ‘What are you trying to do to me?’ And he smiled.”
Nebraska’s other scores came on a 6-yard run by fullback Mark Schellen, a 9-yard run by quarterback Craig Sundberg, a 78-yard run by monster back Dan Casterline, who recovered a punt blocked by fellow monster back Guy Rozier, Mike’s brother.
Osborne said he would give the Huskers Sunday and Monday off before regrouping to prepare for the Oklahoma game. Though the Orange Bowl bid is secure, win or lose, Osborne said he thinks the team’s goal of a national championship will keep the Huskers from a letdown against Oklahoma.
Miami, a 17-16 winner over Florida State Saturday night, looks like the team Nebraska will face in the Orange Bowl, but Osborne said he wishes the Huskers would play someone other than the hometown Hurricanes.
“I think Miami is a great football team,” Osborne said. “And I think it’s an advantage if you’re staying at home and playing at home.
“But these guys (on the Orange Bowl committee) have got to do what’s right for them, and I understand that. So whatever happens, we’ll go with it.”
Osborne said he thought the 15th straight win over the 3-6-1 Jayhawks was an appropriate way for the 19 seniors to end their home careers. Asked if he had any feelings about losing players the caliber of Gill, Rozier, wingback Irving Fryar and offensive guard Dean Steinkuhler, Osborne pointed out that he still has two games to coach the seniors.
“But I really appreciate these guys and have grown very close to them over the years,” Osborne said.
Gill, who has a 28-1 record as Nebraska’s starting quarterback and who has never lost a game he started at Memorial Stadium, said the emotions of playing his last home game will take time to set in.
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” Gill said. “It’s all inside me and will come out sooner or later.
“But it’s going to be a sad feeling for me to never go through that tunnel again, step on the field and play for Nebraska again here at home.”
|Yards per carry||3.6||8.6|
Nebraska is 91-23 all-time against Kansas.
|Penn State||Aug. 29|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 8|
|Kansas State||Oct. 29|
|Iowa State||Nov. 5|
|Miami (FL)||Jan. 2|
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