LINCOLN — Many thought it would be a yawner, one of those let’s-leave-at halftime-to-beat-the-rush type of games.
But Nebraska’s 38-7 win over New Mexico hardly was that kind of mismatch, and most in Saturday’s crowd of 75,902 at Memorial Stadium stayed until the end.
The Huskers, favored by 45 1/2 points, led only 14-7 at halftime.
It wasn’t until a controversial third-period play wiped out an apparent New Mexico touchdown that Nebraska finally began to out muscle the Lobos.
Nebraska, now 3-1, led 21-7 when New Mexico quarterback Ned James hit halfback Terance Mathis with a pass near the sideline. Mathis threaded his way through Nebraska’s secondary for what appeared to be a 79-yard touchdown that would have cut the NU lead to 21-14. But an official ruled that Mathis had stepped out of bounds before catching the ball, nullifying the play, and New Mexico’s touchdown instead turned into a lost down.
“It would have made things interesting,” said Tom Osborne, Nebraska’s head coach. “That was a potentially devastating penalty for them.”
In this case, the play wasn’t ruled a penalty, but an incomplete pass.
New Mexico seemed to lose much of its game-long tenacity after that setback and the 10th-ranked Huskers wore down the Lobos in the fourth quarter.
New Mexico coach Joe Lee Dunn heatedly questioned the official’s call, but to no avail. Dunn, too, realized the emotional letdown was something his team couldn’t afford.
“They said he ran out of bounds and then came back inbounds,” Dunn said. “But Terance said he got pushed out of bounds, and in college football you can do that.
“All of a sudden, it just kills you. Your spirits are high because you just scored and, boom, it takes a lot out of you.”
The 140th straight sellout crowd at Memorial Stadium watched as the underdog Lobos stunned the Huskers on the game’s opening drive.
New Mexico’s run-and-shoot offense, a helter-skelter type attack that emphasizes short, sprint-out passes, put together a seven-play, 83-yard drive, capped by fullback Willie Turral’s 29-yard touchdown run up the middle.
The Huskers tied it at 7-7 with 6:03 left in the first quarter on McCathorn Clayton’s 1-yard touchdown run set up by fullback Tom Rathman’s 23-yard run. Nebraska took a 14-7 lead with 58 seconds left in the half on Clayton’s 2-yard keeper.
Between scores, Nebraska wallowed in its own mistakes. The Huskers fumbled six times in the first half, losing two. Dale Klein missed a 27-yard field goal try. And the New Mexico defense stuffed I-back Paul Miles on a fourth-and-two play at the Lobos’ 14. Miles’ fumble, which the Lobos recovered at the New Mexico 1 in the second quarter, stopped another Nebraska drive.
Nebraska opens its Big Eight season this week at unbeaten Oklahoma State. The Huskers were flat against a New Mexico team that had won just once in three tries this season.
“There’s two ways to look at it,” Osborne said. “One is that we were able to win and probably were not real emotionally ready to play.
“ And I guess that’s something of a tribute, to be able to have enough talent, enough tenacity and enough staying power. I don’t think we panicked, but we obviously didn’t have the emotional buildup and were not quite as ready to play.
“I’m really pleased we were still able to go ahead and win the game by a fairly comfortable margin. I guess the disappointing thing is that we weren’t a little bit sharper. I’ll have to give a lot of credit to New Mexico. Defensively, they did some things we had not anticipated completely.”
What the Lobos did was gamble with all-out blitzes. New Mexico’s stunting, go-for-broke defensive strategy, which forced eight fumbles, recovered of which the Lobos recovered, disrupted Nebraska’s offensive timing, particularly in the first half.
Nebraska finished the game with 499 total yards, including 365 on the ground. Most of that came in the second half when Nebraska’s muscle and manpower finally wore down the Lobos. And for the third straight game, the NU defense intercepted four passes.
Miles, replacing injured starter Doug DuBose at I-back, rushed for a career high 189 yards on 25 carries and scored on a 59-yard run.
Miles’ touchdown sprint came on the fourth play of the second half and finally forged some breathing room for the Huskers. DuBose, recovering from a strained knee, didn’t suit up.
After that, New Mexico simply hung on. It wasn’t until the touchdown turned-incomplete pass play that the Lobos finally were out of it.
James replaced starting quarterback Billy Rucker after Rucker went out with a concussion, one of four Lobos to suffer concussions in the game. James gave the Nebraska defense fits with his scrambling and passing. He hit 12 of 27 passes for 182 yards and three interceptions, but he always threatened to make a big play and kept the Huskers on edge.
New Mexico’s offense gained 379 total yards in the game, but had five turnovers.
The real story, though, was New Mexico’s gutty play despite being an almost-prohibitive underdog. The Lobos’ offense often fooled the Huskers with gimmicks counter draw plays, men in motion and offensive formations with no running backs behind the quarterback. New Mexico’s gambling defensive tactics surprised Nebraska, too.
Nebraska upped its lead to 24-7 in the third quarter when freshman Chris Drennan drilled a 42-yard field goal into the 15-mph breeze. The ball hit the crossbar, but bounced over.
Travis Turner, in for Clayton, hit tight end Tom Banderas with a 14-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to make it 31-7. Fullback Ken Kaelin got Nebraska’s last touchdown on a 14-yard run with 3:13 left in the game.
The Huskers, who entered the contest with a per-game average of 5 completions in 13 attempts for 98 yards, hit 7 of 13 passes for 134 yards against New Mexico. Clayton had 4 completions in 9 attempts for 91 yards. Turner hit 2 of 3 passes for 38 yards, including the touchdown strike to Banderas.
It was a costly win for Nebraska. Defensive end Gregg Reeves went out of the game in the second half with what Osborne said was a dislocated shoulder and possible fracture of his arm. Nebraska already was shorthanded at that position after starter Brad Smith had surgery on his hand this week and couldn’t play. Brad Tyrer, Smith’s backup, pulled a hamstring in Thursday’s practice and didn’t suit up against New Mexico.
Clayton, too, limped off the field in the third quarter with a twisted ankle and never returned to the game. The injury is not believed serious, although Clayton’s status for the Oklahoma State game was not known.
Nebraska’s defense repeatedly pressured James and sacked him seven times. Defensive end Tony Holloway had three of those sacks and defensive tackle Jim Skow had two. Nebraska finished with nine sacks in the game and only James’ quick feet kept it from being more.
The Huskers’ four interceptions were mostly the result of a relentless assault on James by interior linemen Skow, Chris Spachman and Danny Noonan. Reeves, Brian Washington, Mike Carl and Guy Rozier intercepted passes for Nebraska.
“I’ll be interested in the reaction,” Osborne said. “Some people feel as though we lost, but like I said all week, a 46-point spread is ridiculous.
“Thirty-eight to seven is 38 to seven. I hope people are happy with that. We have to give New Mexico credit. I think they probably played their best football of the year and I think we played our worst game in some areas.”
|Yards per carry||3.4||5.8|
Nebraska is 1-0 all-time against New Mexico.
|Florida State||Sept. 7|
|New Mexico||Oct. 5|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 12|
|Kansas State||Nov. 2|
|Iowa State||Nov. 9|
Nebraska has played 16 games on Oct. 5. See them all »
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