Quarterback Travis Turner scored two touchdowns and passed for another to lead the Huskers... This 16-yard run to the Colorado 45 in the third quarter help set up Nebraska's first touchdown. "We knew we could get the job done," he said. Phil Johnson/World-Herald
Boulder, Colo.—Nebraska spent time Saturday at Folsom Field. It seemed like Folsom Prison.
The Cornhuskers needed a great escape.
Colorado, a 29½ point underdog, kept Nebraska in shackles for three quarters before the Cornhuskers broke free for three fourth-quarter touchdowns and a 24-7 victory on a gray, 34-degree day.
“I was obviously very relieved we were able to come back like we did.” Nebraska coach Tom Osborne said. “I would have been very happy with a 10-7 win the way Colorado played.”
The Buffaloes played well enough to lead 7-3 after three quarters. They didn’t look like a 1-6 team, which they are. They didn’t look like a team that ranks near the bottom nationally in several statistical categories, which they do.
Colorado looked like a team with a strong desire to end a 16-game losing streak to the Cornhuskers, which it almost did. Colorado’s fans in the crowd of 52,124—the ninth-largest ever at Folsom Field—sensed upset.
Osborne felt queasy. He had the flu Saturday, but it was Colorado that caused most of his misery.
It didn’t matter to Osborne that most people expected a big Nebraska victory.
“I’m just glad to get this one over with,” he said. “I think a lot of fans and maybe some media people thought it would be a joke. I didn’t think it would be. I felt the same way before this game as I did before the Syracuse game, and that was pretty nervous.”
Osborne felt better late Saturday because this game didn’t become a repeat of the Huskers’ 17-9 loss to Syracuse just four weeks ago.
In the end, it was Colorado that remained in bondage, not the Huskers. Nebraska left town with its record at 6-1 overall and 3-0 in the Big Eight. The Huskers are still on track for a fourth straight Big Eight championship and trip to the Orange Bowl.
For Colorado, nothing changed. The Buffaloes have now lost to Nebraska 17 straight years and 22 of the last 23.
This looked like it might be the Buffs’ best chance for a breakthrough.
“If ever there was a day when we had a chance, it was today,” said Colorado coach Bill McCartney.
The chance started to slip away when Husker quarterback Travis Turner gave Nebraska its first lead of 10-7 when he scored on a 1-yard sneak with 14:21 left in the fourth quarter.
“The big thing is when we went ahead 10-7,” said Nebraska safety Bret Clark. “I felt there was no way they were going to score on us again.”
Colorado’s chances slipped a little more when Clark intercepted a Steve Vogel pass—his second of the second half—and returned it 11 yards to the Colorado 29.
The interception set up Turner’s second touchdown of the game, a 3-yard run on an option to give the Huskers a 17-7 lead with 9:23 left.
Turner, who lived in Colorado before moving to Scottsbluff, Neb., as a ninth grader, finished off the Buffs with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Brian Hiemer with 4:45 remaining.
Wear Black Jerseys
“I was a Buffalo fan for years, back when they wore the black jerseys,” Turner said. “I’ve been to a lot of games at Folsom Field. It was kind of fun playing here and contributing something.”
Colorado wore black jerseys for the first time since 1980. McCartney made the switch from the Buffaloes’ normal blue home jerseys just for the Nebraska game.
McCartney hoped it might give the Buffaloes an emotional lift.
It’s hard to envision a 29½ point underdog playing with more emotion.
“You’ve got to give their players and coaches a lot of credit for a great emotional effort,” Osborne said. “I was afraid we might have another Syracuse on our hands.”
Maybe the black jerseys worked. Maybe Nebraska just came out flat.
Whatever happened, it seemed to take forever for the Huskers to shake the pesky Buffs.
It didn’t help Nebraska to lose two fumbles to the Buffaloes in the first half.
The Huskers hoped to take away some of Colorado’s emotion with a good start. It didn’t happen.
Instead, Nebraska made it easier for the Buffaloes to stay fired up. The Husker faults were an inability to take advantage of good field position in the first quarter and the fumbles.
Nebraska started three straight first-quarter drives in Colorado territory and came up with nothing.
The Huskers failed to capitalize on a big opportunity when fullback Tom Rathman fumbled, and Colorado’s Kent Davis recovered at the CU 6-yard line.
A few minutes later, I-back Doug DuBose fumbled after a hit by Buff linebacker Barry Remington. CU linebacker Dan McMillen recovered at the Colorado 37.
“The turnovers hurt,” Osborne said. “They served to fire people up. It was kind of reminiscent of the Syracuse game. We had a chance, not to put it away, but to at least jump off to a good lead.”
The lead went instead to Colorado. Following DuBose’s fumble, the Buffaloes drove 63 yards in nine plays to the game’s first touchdown.
Colorado quarterback Steve Vogel hit split end Loy Alexander with a 16-yard scoring pass on the first play of the second quarter.
The drive stayed alive when Brian Washington, a Husker freshman, was called for pass interference against Alexander in the end zone on third-and-10 from the 37.
Nebraska continued to be stymied in the second quarter, although Husker I-back Jeff Smith started to show his early-season running form.
‘Smith Gains 165’
Smith, bothered since the UCLA game by a sprained ankle, gained 99 yards on 22 carries in the first half and finished with a game-high 165 on 35 attempts.
Nebraska finally scored its first points when sophomore Dale Klein kicked a 38-yard field goal with 2:16 left in the half. Klein missed a 48-yard attempt on Nebraska’s previous possession.
Clark made the first big play for Nebraska in the second half. Colorado marched into Cornhuskers territory on its first possession of the third quarter, but Clark stopped the drive when he intercepted a Vogel pass at the NU 6 and returned it 23 yards to the Buff 29.
“The thing the defense did well is we managed to come up with some turnovers there in the second half,” Osborne said. “That was really important to us. The defense held us in there until we were able to get untracked.”
The Husker defense played well most of the game. Colorado gained just 137 total yards, 84 passing and 53 rushing.
Nebraska rushed for 372 and passed for 80 for a total of 452. The Huskers got their 80 passing on seven completions in 11 attempts. Vogel passed for just four more yards on 24 more attempts. He completed 10 of 35 for 84 yards.
“I thought our linebackers and secondary played super pass coverage,” said Nebraska defensive coordinator Charlie McBride.
Clark made the only interceptions. The Huskers dropped chances for some others.
“We dropped three or four that hurt us,” McBride said. “But as long as they weren’t caught I don’t care. One of these days we’ll get all of them and we’ll have about six.”
For the third straight game, Turner and Craig Sundberg both played quarterback for the Huskers. Sundberg played the second quarter and one series in the third quarter.
Turner returned to the game for the drive that ended in Nebraska’s go-ahead touchdown. It started on the Husker 21 with 4:20 left in the third quarter.
The Huskers seemed to pick up momentum and Colorado lost some of its emotion after back-to-back injuries early in the drive.
Colorado strong safety Mickey Pruitt severely sprained his neck on the second play of the drive. Play was stopped almost 10 minutes before Pruitt was removed from the field on a stretcher.
On the next play, Colorado lost linebacker Alan Chrite with a mild concussion.
“I think it took a little bit out of them when those two guys got hurt,” Nebraska’s Turner said.
Turner scrambled for 13 yards on the play that Chrite got hurt. Turner added a 16-yard run on the dive. He finished the game with 48 yards on eight carries.
The Huskers avoided disaster right before scoring when Rathman fumbled and recovered himself at the 2-yard line. Two plays later, Turner put the Huskers ahead with a sneak behind center mark Traynowicz and guard Greg Orton.
Osborne credited Colorado for being well prepared.
“They did a few things on defense that gave us some problems for quite awhile,” Osborne said. “I think more than adjusting well, we may have worn them down a little bit.”
Turner said the Huskers needed to be patient when things didn’t go well early.
“It just took some time for our offensive line to get adjusted and for us to hang on to the ball,” Turner said. “We finally controlled a drive and stuck it in the end zone. I think it took a little bit out of them when we did that.”
After taking the lead, it didn’t take long for the Huskers to score again. Clark’s second interception gave Nebraska the ball at the CU 29 with 11:02 left in the game.
TD Called Back
Turner made it 17-7 with his 3-yard touchdown run with 9:23 left.
The Huskers’ last touchdown came on a 10-play, 58-yard drive. Turner wrapped it up with his 11-yard touchdown to Hiemer.
Nebraska nearly scored once more. Freshman I-back Keith Jones had a 12-yard touchdown nullified by a clipping penalty with 38 seconds left.
Jones finished with 53 yards on three carries. DuBose ran 10 times for 52 yards in support of Smith.
Smith’s return to form was a welcome sight for the Huskers, who return to Lincoln next Saturday to play Kansas State.
“It was up to me to play,” Smith said. “And I thought I was ready. It had really progressed a lot since Wednesday. I really felt good out there.”