LINCOLN — A group of guys with plain-sounding names Taylor, Jones and Smith provided more than enough fancy footwork Saturday to help Nebraska step all over Utah State.
Steve Taylor rushed for a quarterback’s school-record 157 yards and two touchdowns, I-back Keith Jones ran for 118 yards and three touchdowns and Rod Smith ran a punt back 80 yards for a touchdown NU’s second of the day in the Huskers’ 56-12 season-opening victory.
A crowd of 75,910, the 149th straight sellout at Memorial Stadium, saw Nebraska crush the Aggies with a 35-point explosion in 14 minutes of the second and third quarters.
The touchdowns in that span covered 57, 44, 58, 13 and 80 yards to turn a 14-3 NU lead into a 49-6 advantage.
Perhaps in part, the outburst was in response to what the Huskers heard at halftime.
“I chewed them out at the half,” NU Coach Tom Osborne said. “I didn’t think we were playing very well.”
With Nebraska leading 28-3 at the time, Osborne didn’t pull what the players and coaches call his “red-face routine.”
“It was mild,” defensive end Broderick Thomas said. “I’ve seen worse.”
But the criticism was deserved, linebacker Doug Welniak said.
“He definitely had a right to get on us,” Welniak said. “We didn’t really look that good.
“To be No. 2 in the nation, you have to execute and show people that you deserve to be ranked that high.”
By the end of the game, Nebraska had piled up the numbers necessary to convince the pollsters they hadn’t made a mistake.
The Huskers’ 603 yards of total offense was the most since gaining 639 against Kansas in 1985. The 515 yards rushing was the most since gobbling up 538 against Iowa State in 1985.
Defensively, Nebraska used eight sacks to force Utah State into a hole in rushing at minus-1 yard. NU held Kansas to a minus-21 rushing last year.
But three lost fumbles, two interceptions and seven penalties for 75 yards led Osborne to describe the win as satisfactory.
“I wish we had been more crisp,” he said. “I felt the execution could have been a lot better.”
It showed marked improvement late in the second quarter with Nebraska leading 14-3.
Defensive tackle Neil Smith walloped USU quarterback Brent Synder for a 10-yard sack to force an Aggie punt.
NU wingback Dana Brinson got a running start with Herick Mandel’s 41-yard kick and ran it down the right sideline 57 yards for a touchdown, putting the Huskers up 21-3 with 3:09 left in the half.
Four plays later, the defense forced another punt, and Taylor went to work.
On a second and 10 from the USU 44, the junior from Fresno, Calif., rolled left, slipped a tackle from behind and scooted 44 yards for a touchdown with just 1:24 left in the half.
The second half started shakily for Nebraska as Jones fumbled the kickoff and USU’s Bobby Pierce recovered at the NU 21.
Six plays later, the Aggies appeared to score a touchdown as Snyder hit fullback Brett Payne wide-open at the goal line. But Payne never controlled the pass and lost it in a pile in the end zone. Dene Garner came on to kick a 26-yard field goal and make it 28-6.
But three straight lightning strikes jolted Utah State out of the game.
Taylor, optioning right on the next possession, kept the ball, ducked inside, shook what looked like a sure tackle and raced 58 yards for a touchdown. The run broke the 25-year-old school rushing record for quarterbacks, set by John Bordogna with 143 yards against Iowa State.
After three plays and a 32-yard punt, Nebraska rolled 39 yards in three plays to score. Jones capped it with a 13-yard sweep to make it 42-6 with 7:47 left in the third quarter.
The Huskers forced another punt and tied their own Big Eight record with the result.
Rod Smith, retreating to his 20, dropped the punt, pick it up on the bounce and ran 80 yards up the middle for a touchdown. Nebraska ran back two punts for touchdowns in 1984 against Kansas to set a league mark.
Clete Blakeman’s fourth-quarter 10-yard touchdown run for NU and Timo Tagaloa’s 50-yard touchdown catch from Russ Widerburg for Utah State capped the scoring.
The game looked like it might be a blowout from the beginning.
Nebraska needed just one play for its first first down of the season and one drive for its first touchdown.
On the first play from scrimmage after the opening kickoff went through the end zone, Taylor faked a handoff and hit Smith with a 15-yard pass.
Jones followed with a 13-yard burst off right tackle, then the Huskers settled in to grind out a touchdown.
Among the 10 remaining play, Taylor hit Smith for 9 yards and kept for 7 and 8 yards before Jones powered up the middle from a yard out for the touchdown. Chris Drennan added the first of his eight extra points to give NU a 7-0 lead 4:29 into the game.
While the Huskers’ first drive was spotless no bobbles, no incompletions, no penalties the second sputtered through all those problems, then was stopped by an interception.
Taylor completed his third straight pass, a 25-yarder to tight end Todd Millikan, to move NU to its own 42. After a pitchout bobbled out of bounds, fullback Micah Heibel and Taylor added 11-yard runs and Jones a 13-yarder to move the Huskers to Utah State’s 15.
An illegal procedure penalty pushed the Huskers back 5 yards. So on second and 15 at the 20, Taylor tried to hit Millikan over the middle.
The ball hit Millikan, but so did USU defensive back Chad Troxclair. The ball popped up and linebacker Jim Otto intercepted at the Aggie 9.
But the Husker defense continued to stuff Utah State’s offense, forcing a punt and limiting the Aggies to 9 total yards in the first quarter.
After an exchange of punts, Nebraska struck again early in the second quarter after.
Smith’s 21-yard punt return set the Huskers up at the USU 46.
Jones zipped for 5 and 8 yards, Heibel for 19 and Taylor for 13 before Jones rolled off right tackle for a 1-yard touchdown. Drennan’s PAT made it 14-0 with 13:43 left in the half.
But Utah State didn’t fold, even after NU middle guard Mike Murray sacked Snyder for a 7-yard loss on the first play after the touchdown.
Snyder bounced back to hit Kendal Smith for 18 yards and run for 12 yards before a roughing the passer penalty moved USU into NU territory for the first time at the 40 with 12:33 left in the half.
Snyder found Kendal Smith for 12 more yards before the Huskers stiffened. On third and 8 at the NU 25, backup defensive end Jon Marco’s diving pass breakup stopped the Aggies.
Garner tried a 42-yard field goal into a 17-mph wind. But it sailed wide left, preserving NU’s shutout.
But only for a few minutes. The Aggies moved right back into NU territory four plays later when Troxclair intercepted Blakeman and returned it 14 yards to the Nebraska 36.
Snyder’s 17-yard pass to Kendal Smith got USU to the NU 16. But three plays produced just 4 yards, bringing Garner on for a 29-yarder.
This time, he drilled it to cut the gap to 14-3 with 6:48 left in the second quarter.
|Yards per carry||-0.0||7.7|
Nebraska is 8-0 all-time against Utah State.
|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|
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