LINCOLN — Saturday’s 60 minutes of football at Memorial Stadium turned into a rush hour. And almost all the traffic raced one way Nebraska’s.
The second-ranked Huskers rushed for 363 yards and six touchdowns and added another score passing in a 54-2 romp over Kansas.
Only a fourth-quarter punt blocked through the end zone for a safety deprived NU of its first shutout since last year’s game with KU.
The victory was 5-0 Nebraska’s 19th straight over 1-4 Kansas, dating back to 1968. In 11 of those, NU has scored more than 50 points.
The announced crowd count was 76,053 the 152nd straight sellout though a few hundred seats in the upper reaches of the end zones were empty at kickoff. The game-time temperature was 36 degrees. But no traces of Saturday morning’s one-hour snowburst were evident during the Big Eight Conference opener for both schools.
NU senior quarterback Clete Blakeman, making his second career start in place of the injured Steve Taylor, completed 6 of 12 passes for 100 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown to tight end Tom Banderas.
Blakeman started last year against Kansas, leading the Huskers to a 70-0 victory, KU’s worst loss ever.
Taylor stayed on the sidelines with a bruised left shoulder, while No. 1 I-back Keith Jones also sat out Saturday to rest a sprained ankle.
In his place, senior I-back Jon Kelley led all rushers with 62 yards in five carries, including a 52-yard fourth-quarter touchdown bolt. Sophomore I-back Ken Clark added 58 yards in eight carries, scoring on runs of 22 and 4 yards.
But Kelley and Clark were just two of 13 NU ballcarriers on a day when Coach Tom Osborne suited up about 110 players and used 104.
“We could be sharper,” Osborne said. “I don’t think it was just a tremendous performance. But it was pretty good under the circumstances.”
The circumstances were ripe for a letdown.
Nebraska was coming off three straight victories against powerful opponents then-No. 2 UCLA, then-No. 12 Arizona State and South Carolina, ranked 24th in the USA Today-CNN Top 25.
After a one-game breather, the Cornhuskers probably will undergo another serious test next Saturday when they play No. 19-ranked Oklahoma State at Stillwater. The undefeated Cowboys, 5-0, off to their best start since 1945, bounced Colorad 42-17 at Stillwater while the Huskers were pounding Kansas.
The Huskers concentrated long enough to stuff the Jayhawks on three downs to start the game, then scored on their first five possessions for a 27-0 halftime lead.
Nebraska led 17-0 before Kansas a 50-point underdog snapped the ball outside its own 24-yard line.
“I’m kind of glad that one’s over,” Osborne said. “It was a hard job to get everybody’s attention focused on the game.
“Yet I think they did a reasonably good job. That was one thing we hadn’t had to do yet was play a game where we were an overwhelming favorite.”
Nebraska was such a big favorite against Utah State this season that no point spread was listed. But Osborne said because that was NU’s season opener, he didn’t fear a letdown the way he did Saturday.
As it turned out, Osborne didn’t have to worry. The players said they won’t let up until their dream of a national championship is fulfilled.
“This was the first game in the Big Eight,” said offensive tackle Keven Lightner of Hastings, Neb. “We could have lost one of those earlier games and still gone to the Orange Bowl. But we had to win this one.
“I was all fired up at the beginning. As the game went on, I got a little relaxed because I felt we could do about anything we wanted with them. But we were ready.”
Defensive end Broderick Thomas, who fired up the defense with a team-high nine tackles and an interception, echoed Lightner.
“We had to be ready because Kansas did a good job,” Thomas said.
“They played hard and didn’t let up. We had to play four quarters.”
Thomas said his only regret was the crowd didn’t “play” four quarters.
“That was the only thing I didn’t like about the game,” said Thomas, who whipped the fans into a frenzy by waving his arms on the first defensive series of the third quarter.
“I thank the fans for showing up on a cold day. They did all right. But they could have done a better job. I wish they would be a lot louder and keep up the tempo.”
The Nebraska offense found its tempo immediately.
In the first quarter, Blakeman moved the Huskers 41 yards in six plays for a touchdown, 36 yards in six plays for a touchdown and 27 yards in nine plays for a field goal, all after short Kansas punts into the wind.
“We started well, and I think that was important,” Blakeman said. “I don’t want to say we let up after that.
“We were ready to go in for our third touchdown, but some penalties made us go for a field goal. But I was happy to get a quick start.”
Blakeman said Taylor, who stood on the sidelines in uniform but wearing a stocking cap instead of a helmet, provided encouragement.
“Steve and I talk throughout the game,” Blakeman said. “He’s really positive. And I try to do the same when he’s playing. We’re real supportive of each other.”
Blakeman completed 5 of 8 passes in the first half and might have been perfect with a little help from his receivers.
“I thought Blakeman played quite well,” Osborne said. “He had about three passes dropped.
“He threw well and ran reasonably well. We missed Steve Taylor’s speed. But Clete did a fine job.”
Lightner said Blakeman was solid in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage.
“The Kansas guys were talking a lot,” he said. “I don’t know if they were trying to taunt Clete or what. But he did well.”
NU’s 363 rushing yards were the lowest total this decade against Kansas, far below the Huskers’ 440.7-yard average against the Jayhawks.
But Lightner said the offense was almost pure vanilla.
About the only swirls came on back-to-back plays in the third quarter a deep pass after I-back Clark took a handoff and pitched back to Blakeman, and a reverse pitch to wingback Hendley Hawkins.
Pass interference on the first play gave NU 15 yards, then Hawkins followed with 12 more. That set up Blakeman’s TD toss to Banderas, making the score 34-0.
By that time, KU fans were chanting, “Wait ‘til basketball! Wait ‘til basketball!”
But the Husker reserves still had football on their minds, especially the defense.
“We really wanted that shutout,” freshman strong safety Reggie Cooper said. “The first unit gave us a pat and told us to hold them.
“The first team likes to see us do well, so they encourage us a lot. We figured if the first team could hold them, we could too.”
The reserve defense did its job, never allowing Kansas past the NU 30-yard line. Free safety Wendell Wooten, a former quarterback, intercepted the first pass of his NU career with 1:24 to play to halt KU’s only true scoring threat.
But about two minutes into the fourth quarter, the Kansas punt-return team spoiled the shutout.
Nebraska punted, but was penalized for having 12 men on the field.
On the replay from the NU 14, KU safety Clint Normore stormed in to block backup kicker Craig Schnitzler’s punt at the goal line.
The ball squirted out the side of the end zone for two points.
“That was a disappointment,” Osborne said. I think we had a mistake in our blocking. I’ll have to look at the film.”
But Osborne said he was glad all the backup units got to play, mistakes and all.
“We played two units in the first half, and started playing everybody in the fourth quarter,” he said.
“That’s good. We wanted to look at a lot of people. It lifts the morale of the football team.”
Osborne said the Huskers need to be in a good frame of mind to handle Oklahoma State this week.
“I think we’ll have a tremendous ballgame,” Osborne said.
“Oklahoma State has been moving the ball with a great deal of consistency against everybody they’ve played. “The talk before was the best teams were going to be Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado and Oklahoma State. But I think that was reversed today. Oklahoma State won convincingly, and that will be a good game.”
|Yards per carry||1.9||6.3|
Nebraska is 91-23 all-time against Kansas.
|Utah State||Sept. 5|
|Arizona State||Sept. 26|
|South Carolina||Oct. 3|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 17|
|Kansas State||Oct. 24|
|Iowa State||Nov. 7|
|Florida State||Jan. 1|
Nebraska has played 17 games on Oct. 10. See them all »
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