LINCOLN — Nebraska Finally faced a tough test, But it wasn't UCLA.
Mike Rozier invented a new way to score a 2-yard touchdown.
And Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne reluctantly took home the game ball from his 100th coaching victory- a 42-10 romp past UCLA that makes you wonder if the Cornhuskers will face a close encounter of any kind this season.
Ho-hum. Just another day in the life of the nation's best football team? Not really.
In the one, Nebraska identified the team that is most likely to beat Nebraska in 1983. It's Nebraska, The Huskers fumbled six times and lost four in the first half. They solved that problem, but had to bounce back from a 10-0 deficit to win.
And Rozier wowed 76,510 spectators with what may have been his greatest run. For sure, it was his best 2-yarder.
"That's the finest 2-yard run I've ever seen," Osborne said.
It was a beauty, And it came at a time when it really was needed. The Huskers led by just 14-10 when Rozier took a third-down pitch from quarterback Turner Gill.
Rozier started to his left, but decided that direction was the Pitts. UCLA's Ron Pitts was waiting for him in the Husker backfield. Rozier changed directions and backtracked to the 18.
UCLA tackle Frank Batchkoff had a shot at him as Rozier cut back toward the goal lie, but he joined several. Bruins scattered in Rozier's path to the end zone.
Officially, it was a 2-yarder but Rozier may have run 60 to get it.
"He's inhuman," Said Nebraska linebacker Mark Daum. "I saw him turn back and said, 'Oh, no! He's going to take a 15 yard loss.' He plain outran everybody."
Osborne liked the outcome, but wasn't so sure he would have congratulated Rozier if he hadn't made it to the end zone. He said he would have preferred that Rozier cut inside Pitts.
"Obviously, if he didn't get in he would have had to answer a few things on the sideline," Osborne said, smiling. "But he's a phenomenal athlete."
Rozier finished with 159 yards on 26 carries and scored two touchdowns. His first was a 5-yarder with 5:01 left in the second quarter that gave Nebraska a 14-10 lead. It brought the Huskers back from the first deficit they have faced this season.
The low point of the game for Rozier was a fumble. It came with 50 seconds left in the first half with Nebraska in position to score an almost certain touchdown.
The Huskers had just gotten a break. Scott Livingston boomed a 60-yard punt that UCLA's Lupe Sanchez fumbled and Nebraska's Shane Swanson recovered at the Bruins 32.
Four plays later with Nebraska at the 2, Rozier was hit before getting to the goal line and fumbled all the way through the end zone. UCLA got the ball at the 20 on a touchback.
"At halftime I honestly felt it was a 50-50 game," Osborne said. "because we figured that turnover right at the end of the half would give them a big lift."
Nebraska's other turnovers in the first half, all on the Huskers first three possessions.
A fumble by Gill that UCLA linebacker Neal Dellocono recovered at the Bruins 29. Gill had gained 12 yards on the play and Rozier 17 and 13 on the preceding two.
Another fumble by Gill, this one a snap from center Mark Tarynowicz that UCLA's Jeff Chaffin recovered at the UCLA 42. On the preceding play Rozier had a 24-yard touchdown wiped out by a holding penalty.
Fullback Mark Schellen's fumble that UCLA Don Rogers recovered at the UCLA 33.
The Bruins scored after the second two turnovers on Frank Cephous' 1-yard run with 4:39 left in the first quarter and John Lee's 37-yard field goal with 12:52 left in the second quarter.
At this point, with the Huskers moving easily against the Bruins defense, it was apparent that Nebraska's No.1 enemy this season may be the fumble.
Nebraska fumbled nine times in the 44-6 opening win over Penn state, but lost only one. In four games, the Huskers have fumbled 20 times and lost eight.
If the Huskers lose this season, it most likely will be by their own doing.
"That's the way I feel," Gill said. "I have confidence that we can move the ball on anyone in the country. The whole thing is let's take care of the football."
Osborne said he couldn't explain the fumbles, but figured Gill's might have been partly due to his back problem this week. Gill missed practice Thursday because of spasms.
"It might have taken away from his concentration a little bit," Osborne said.
Gill said he couldn't blame his back.
"On one of them I had the ball way out where I shouldn't have, and the other was just a fumbled snap," he said.
In the end the fumbles didn't detract much from another remarkable performance.
Osborne said Gill was hurting. It didn't show, as Gill completed 8 of 10 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. He didn't have an interception, running his Nebraska-record streak to 121 without one. And he rushed 14 times for 79 yards.
"He is one tough guy. He is very tough football player," Osborne said. "Basically they all are. If we didn't have a real physical football team I wouldn't feel as good about it as I do."
Osborne couldn't help but feel good about the way his team played after the fumble problem was eliminated.
The Huskers entered the game with a point-per-minute scoring average, 61.3 per game. But they were even better than that when they got hot against the Bruins.
The explosion started with Nark Schellen's 11 yard touchdown with 7:27 left in the first half. Nebraska scored all 42 points in a span of 28 minutes and 28 seconds that ended when cornerback Dave Burke took a pass interception 31 yards for a touchdown with 8:59 left in the game.
Overall, Nebraska rushed for 577 yards and passed for 123 for a total of 600. Its nation-leading averages are now 437 yards rushing, 617.8 total yards and 56.5 scoring.
The interception was a change in fortune for Burke, who had two previous pickoffs wiped out by penalties: one against UCLA and one against Minnesota. He showed he was former I-Back with his twisting run to the end zone.
Burke said he was most pleased about the way the Husker defense played overall.
"We did a great job," he said. "It was the best we've played so far, especially in the second half. We did a good job of adjusting and disguising our zones."
The Husker defense held the Bruins to 292 total yards- 137 rushing and 195 passing. UCLA had passed for 335 against Arizona State last week.
"It's going to prove to a lot of people that defense isn't the weak spot on this team," Daum said.
"The defense needed a game like this, where the offense was dropping the ball. We kept our poise and played ball. Anytime you hold a team like UCLA to 20 points when you've had four or five turnovers, it's a good job."
Osborne praised the whole team for not falling victim to adversity.
"I'm very pleased we were able to hang in there and play like we did," Osborne said. "I knew one of these days was coming. I just hoped we might be able to overcome it."
The Huskers started to make their move with drives of 79 and 69 yards in the second quarter. The first took 12 plays and led to Schellen's touchdown, the second just three with Rozier scoring from the 5.
The big play was a 56-yard pass from Gill to Irving Fryar that carried to the 5. It was Nebraska's longest play of the day and helped Fryar to a 100-yard day on six catches.
With 415 yards on 16 receptions in four games, Fryar now has 69 more yards than he gained catching passes all of last season.
Fryar didn't score Saturday, Gill's touchdown pass was a 9-yarder in the third quarter to fullback Tom Rathman for the first score of his career.
The Huskers fourth-quarter touchdown were Burke's interception and an 8-yard run by Jeff Smith, Nebraska's second-leading rusher with 84 yards on 14 carries.
Nebraska could have added another touchdown at the end. Paul Miles, who gained 73 yards on eight attempts, put the Huskers in position with a 9-yard run to the 2.
The Husker fans were yelling for another score, but Osborne instructed quarterback Craig Sundberg to kneel down after the last snap of the game.
The Husker coach left the field to a rousing ovation from fans in the south end zone in honor of his 100th victory. Inside the locker room, he was presented with the game ball.
Later, he met with the press, he down-played his role in win No. 100 and the previous 99.
"I'm pleased with the win," Osborne said. "Everybody looks at me and says 'What is this guy, some kind of weirdo?' " Osborne said. "I'm pleased to have won 100 games, but I haven't won them. I have never won a game, and that's my sincere feeling because I don't play. The players win the games."
Osborne's players will try for win No. 101 here next Saturday against Syracuse after lowering UCLA's records to 0-2-1.
"I really don't get my enjoyment out of football from 100 wins," he said. "My main enjoyment comes from other things. Some time when you've got a lot of time we'll talk about it."
|Yards per carry||2.5||5.8|
Nebraska is 7-6 all-time against UCLA.
|Penn State||Aug. 29|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 8|
|Kansas State||Oct. 29|
|Iowa State||Nov. 5|
|Miami (FL)||Jan. 2|
Nebraska has played 12 games on Sept. 24. See them all »
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