LAWRENCE, Kan. — The tone for Kansas was set Saturday before the Jayhawks’ football game with sixth-ranked Nebraska ever began.
Wide receiver Ronnie Caldwell, leading Kansas onto the field from the locker room, leaped through a paper banner, stumbled for about 10 yards and finally fell on all fours.
He and the rest of the Jayhawks never got off the ground thereafter.
Nebraska scored 14 points before KU snapped the ball, led 35-0 at halftime and raced on to a 70-0 win.
Backup quarterback Clete Blakeman, making his first varsity start in place of the bruised Steve Taylor, threw for three touchdowns, ran for another and accumulated 155 yards in total offense.
I-back Keith Jones, who underwent thumb surgery 13 days ago, ran for 117 yards and two touchdowns. And the defense did its part, holding Kansas to minus-21 yards rushing and 100 total yards.
An estimated crowd of 48,800 at Memorial Stadium about 3,000 short of capacity and about half Husker red watched Kansas absorb its worst loss in history, topping a 65-0 drubbing by Oklahoma in 1954.
NU’s win, in combination with Oklahoma’s 28-0 stuffing Saturday of Colorado, sets up a Big Eight Conference title showdown next week in Lincoln between the Sooners, 9-1 overall and 6-0 in the league, and the Huskers, 9-1 and 5-1.
“It’s for everything,” senior middle guard Danny Noonan said.
“The coaches say every week that, “This is the biggest game.’ But this one coming up really is.”
Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne called the Kansas game “the most important of the year” so far.
“It will hopefully put us into a major bowl somewhere,” he said.
“We have reasonable assurance that no matter what happens next week, we’ll go to a major bowl.
“But our players and coaches are more determined than ever to make it to the Orange Bowl, if at all possible. It will be a tough ballgame.”
The win, which guaranteed Nebraska’s 18th straight season with nine or more victories, also pushed the Huskers back into the national championship race.
Minnesota’s 20-17 upset Saturday of No. 2 Michigan should move NU, once ranked as high as third, into the top five with two weeks left in the regular season.
Osborne apologized after the game for inflicting 70 points of damage on Kansas, 3-7 overall and last in the Big Eight at 0-6.
“I’m really sorry about the score,” he said. “We didn’t try to humiliate Kansas in any way. We just blew some up the middle at the end that I didn’t think would go, and they did.”
What made it more embarrassing for Kansas was that Nebraska exploded without its season-long No. 1 quarterback Taylor and its No. 1 I-back from last week sophomore Tyreese Knox.
Osborne said Taylor indicated Friday that his bruised rib and lower back were still too sore for him to operate at full speed.
“He was available to play and would have played in a pinch,” Osborne said. “We thought Blakeman and McCathorn Clayton did very well in his place.”
Knox, who rushed for 126 yards in his first varsity start last week, and No. 3 tight end Willie Griffin were benched for missing practice earlier last week, Osborne said.
“It wasn’t anything malicious,” Osborne said. “They had some excuses, but they weren’t good enough.”
In their absences, tight end Tom Banderas and I-back Jon Kelley returned from injuries to shine.
Banderas, slowed all season by hamstring, groin and knee injuries, caught touchdown passes of 10 and 11 yards. Kelley, who hadn’t played in a month because of back problems, ran for fourth-quarter touchdowns of 15 and 32 yards.
But the comeback of Jones, with a cast protecting the damaged ligaments in his right thumb, brought the biggest relief to Osborne.
“I was really pleased to see Keith play,” he said. “It was kind of a nerve-wracking thing to leave Tyreese Knox at home.
“Keith ran well and didn’t fumble. That was a concern, wondering about how well he would handle the ball with a cast.”
Jones, the league’s leading rusher, had 109 yards by halftime, and carried the ball only twice the second half.
In relief of Jones, backup Jeff Wheeler scored his first varsity touchdown and gained 41 yards in six carries, Terry Rodgers raced 25 yards in three carries and Kelley gained 55 yards in four carries.
Nebraska’s depth, power and speed impressed Kansas for the most part.
“They are a great club,” said KU quarterback Kelly Donohoe, a native of O’Neill, Neb. “But I don’t think they are 70 points better than us. We got down by 14 early and couldn’t get the spirits back up.”
It took just six minutes for the Huskers to jump to that 14-0 lead.
For the third straight game, Nebraska took the opening kickoff and scored a touchdown as Blakeman led the Huskers 80 yards in 14 plays.
Jones’ 21-yard burst moved NU into KU territory for the first time at the 46, then the Huskers used gains of 5, 4, 6, 7, 3, 4, 6 and 9 yards before Jones scored from the 2. Dale Klein’s extra point made it 7-0 with 9:21 left in the first quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, NU backup defensive end Jon Marco drilled KU return man Scott Schriner, forcing a fumble that Jeff Jamrog recovered for Nebraska at the KU 20.
On the first play, Jones jetted around left end for the touchdown, Klein converted and Nebraska led 14-0 in points and 15 to 0 in plays from scrimmage.
When Kansas did get the ball, things didn’t improve much.
On the Jayhawks’ first three plays, tailback Mike Rogers gained nothing, fullback Arnold Snell was thrown for a 1-yard loss and Snell was dumped for a minus-4 after catching Donohoe’s swing pass.
After the punt, not even a first-play holding penalty could stop Nebraska, which drove 68 yards in nine plays for its third touchdown.
Blakeman passed 16 yards to Todd Millikan and 13 to Rod Smith on consecutive plays, then Jones ran 7 yards on a fourth and two at the KU 34 to keep the drive alive.
Two plays later, Blakeman hit Dana Brinson in the flat. The sophomore wingback swivel-hipped past KU cornerback Milt Garner and raced 19 yards into the end zone. Klein’s PAT pushed Nebraska up 21-0 just 13 minutes into the game.
Osborne praised Blakeman’s performance with some qualification.
“The thing you have to remember is today was an easier day to play quarterback than last week,” Osborne said. “When you’re blowing people off the line and I’m not taking anything away from Clete it helps.
“A lot of times the quarterback looks as good as the people around him are playing. Everybody played pretty well. And Clete really played a fine game.”
KU made its initial first down on an 11-yard pass from Donohoe to Willie Vaughn on the next possession late in the first quarter. But the Jayhawks didn’t threaten until the Nebraska lead grew to 35-0.
After Brinson’s 12-yard punt return to the Kansas 33, Nebraska scored in three plays midway through the second quarter.
Fullback Micah Heibel stormed 22 yards, Blakeman gained 1 and then Banderas made a lunging, one-handed catch in the back corner of the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown from Blakeman to make it 28-0.
With Clayton at quarterback, NU scored on its next possession, marching 43 yards in nine plays. Clayton gained 30 yards in four carries before Wheeler scored on a 1-yard run. That increased Nebraska’s lead to 35-0 with 2:17 left in the half. Kansas, using Snell’s 25-yard run and an 18-yard pass from Donohoe to Vaughn, moved to the Nebraska 18.
But with 31 seconds to play, Caldwell bobbled a Donohoe pass into the hands of NU linebacker Marc Munford to end the threat.
In the third quarter, Blakeman led Nebraska to touchdowns on its first two possessions. He scored one himself on a 29-yard run and hit Banderas for another from 11 yards out.
Clayton came on the next series to run for an 27-yard touchdown, making the score 56-0 with 3:58 left in the third quarter.
Kelley’s two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and Klein’s ninth and 10th extra points a career best made the final 70-0.
Osborne said the margin of victory wasn’t the key Saturday.
“We don’t worry about the magnitude,” he said. “We wanted to look good and play well.”
The Huskers did that by:
— playing their first turnover-free game in 18 contests, dating back to last year’s win over Oregon.
— tackling Kansas for losses 15 times for 100 yards.
— racking up season highs in total offense (587, the best since gaining 639 vs. Kansas last year) and rushing offense (490, the best since 498 vs. Kansas last year).
“I was happy we got untracked offensively,” Osborne said. “We had a game two weeks ago in the snow against Kansas State and couldn’t do much. And last week, we battled 40-mph winds at Iowa State.
“It’s been awhile since we had a big day offensively. That was important that we get things together there.”
|Yards per carry||-1.0||6.9|
Nebraska is 91-23 all-time against Kansas.
|Florida State||Sept. 6|
|South Carolina||Oct. 4|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 11|
|Kansas State||Nov. 1|
|Iowa State||Nov. 8|
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