Nebraska, having never played Nevada-Las Vegas in football before, might never want to play the Rebels again after what happened Saturday.
No, the ninth-ranked Huskers didn’t lose. They won 48-6 before a 158th straight Memorial Stadium sellout crowd of 76,398.
But the way they won-with eight penalties, a missed fourth-down conversion, a blocked extra point, a missed field goal and a nearly non-existent pulse rate-bothered NU Coach Tom Osborne.
“It’s kind of a no-win situation,” Osborne said. “No matter what you do, it’s expected. And there is a lot of downside risk.
“If you lose a game like that or have somebody come really close, it’s a disaster or just like a loss.”
Nebraska’s fourth victory in five games wasn’t a disaster, but it wasn’t worth shouting about, either.
Many expected Nevada-Las Vegas, just in its 11th year of Division 1-A football, to take its paycheck of $300,000, an equal number of lumps and crawl home. The Rebels were 1-2 entering the game, with their only victory by eight points over winless Ohio University.
But UNLV held Nebraska scoreless through the game’s first 12 minutes, and trailed just 20-0 at halftime. Nebraska needed three big plays in the kicking game to accomplish that, including Mike Croel’s blocked punt that Cartier Walker returned 34 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.
All the pregame predictions of 50-, 60-and 70-point victories didn’t help, Osborne said.
“No matter how conscientious you are as a player,” he said, “you absorb some of that. They went out a little bit like they were playing our scouting team.”
NU defensive tackle Willie Griffin agreed.
“I hate to say it,” he said, “but it was hard to keep our heads in it.”
But though Osborne praised UNLV’s effort, Griffin said he didn’t see much to get fired up about.
“UNLV didn’t act like they wanted to win,” he said. “They just wanted to come in and get out.”
Griffin said quarterback Charles Price was one Rebel more interested in damage-control than victory, especially under the pass rush of Griffin and Broderick Thomas.
“He tried to talk to Broderick and be our friend,” Griffin said. “One time he told Broderick, ‘Don’t hurt me.’ What a wuss.
“He’s no friend of mine. I didn’t talk to him. I talk with my helmet and shoulder pads.”
Griffin and Thomas scared Price bad enough on the first possession of the third quarter that he lost the football.
Thomas flushed Price from the pocket, forced a fumble and Griffin recovered at the Rebel 6.
Three plays later, Husker I-back Ken Clark scored the second of his three touchdowns on a 5-yard run. Steve Taylor’s two-point conversion pass to tight end Monte Kratzaenstein put the Huskers up 28-0.
“We had a couple of cheap touchdowns,” Osborne said. “Really, the number of times we drove the ball down the field and looked like ourselves weren’t many.”
The Nebraska of old finally showed through in the end.
After the post-fumble touchdown, the offense put together a 59-yard drive. Clark capped it with a 1-yard run for a 35-0 lead.
Fourth-quarter touchdown drives of 75 and 85 yards by NU’s Nos. 2 and 3 offenses helped push the final score closer to what most had predicted. Fullback Bryan Carpenter’s 27-yard TD run and freshman I-back Scott Baldwin’s 2-yarder finished the scoring.
Osborne paused during his postgame press conference to remark, “I’m looking real hard to find some improvement.”
It might have come on defense.
Through three quarters, UNLV snapped the ball in NU territory only twice. The Huskers lost their shutout in the fourth quarter when the Rebels’ Jim Cook hammered field goals of 53 and 54 yards, the second one breaking his own school record of 53 set last week.
“We finally put together a whole game,” Griffin said. “We didn’t let them get in the end zone and we stopped the big plays.”
UNLV gained 178 total yards, but only 61 the second half.
The review of Nebraska’s offense was bleaker, though the Huskers finished with 500 total yards and no turnovers.
“I don’t think our offense played very well,” Osborne said. “Fortunately, we took care of the ball.
“If we had gone out and laid the ball down five or six times, we might have had a hard time winning.”
Nebraska’s problem with slow starts returned in the first half.
Not even UNLV’s onside kick failure on the opening kickoff could jump start the NU offense.
The Huskers lost 12 yards on their first three plays, sliding back into their own territory before punting.
UNLV promptly rolled to two first downs before a penalty helped stop the drive at the Rebel 44.
A 15-yard clipping penalty that wiped out Clark’s 10-yard run stopped Nebraska on its second possession.
“Last week, we played the whole game without an offensive penalty,” Osborne said. “Today, I’m guessing we had 50 or 60 yards against the offense alone.”
Good guess. It was seven penalties for 55 yards.
The Huskers forced another UNLV punt, and Dana Brinson returned Tony Rhynes’ 53-yard kick 18 yards to the UNLV 44.
Back-to-back illegal procedure penalties knocked Nebraska out of Nevada-Las Vegas territory again. Clark bolted for 25 yards, but the Huskers lost 10 more on a holding penalty.
Taylor then ran 20 yards on a quarterback draw and Clark 11 to set up Clark’s 2-yard touchdown run. Gregg Barrios’ extra point put Nebraska up 7-0 with 2:06 left in the first quarter.
Nebraska moved into UNLV territory on its next drive, but faltered when Taylor, from the 31, missed wide-open tight end Todd Millikan at the goal line. Barrios tried a 46-yard field goal, but it drifted wide right.
The Husker defense held again and then took matters into its own hands.
Outside linebacker Croel raced in from the left side to block Rhynes’ punt. The ball bounced toward the UNLV sideline, but cornerback Walker scooped it up and ran 34 yards for a touchdown. Barrios’ PAT made it 14-0 with 10:56 left in the second quarter.
‘’That was probably the biggest play of the game, in my opinion,” UNLV Coach Wayne Nunnely said. “That gave them a quick six points and hurt us because it gave them the momentum back.”
The NU punt return team made its mark again when wingback Richard Bell returned a Rhynes kick 29 yards to set up the offense at the UNLV 33.
Four plays later, Terry Rodgers scampered 20 yards for a touchdown to make it 20-0 with 8:11 left in the half.
A holding penalty helped stop NU’s next drive. And in the third quarter, UNLV linebacker Jody Reinoehl clobbered Clark for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-one at the Rebel 23 to keep the score 35-0.
“We were missing some blocks,” Osborne said. “We had mental errors and went to sleep on some things.
“That happens in football. I’m not down on the team. But I was hoping we would keep moving in an upward arc.”
Getting up for this week’s game at Kansas won’t be much easier. The 0-4 Jayhawks, who haven’t won since last October, lost 42-29 Saturday to previously winless New Mexico State.
“It’s going to be rough to keep our heads in the game again next week,” Griffin said. “But a team like that can beat you.
“Kansas beat Oklahoma a few years ago, so you’ve got to be careful every week.”
|Yards per carry||2.5||6.8|
Nebraska is 1-0 all-time against UNLV.
|Texas A&M||Aug. 27|
|Utah State||Sept. 3|
|Arizona State||Sept. 24|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 15|
|Kansas State||Oct. 22|
|Iowa State||Nov. 5|
|Miami (FL)||Jan. 2|
Nebraska has played 17 games on Oct. 1. See them all »
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