LINCOLN — Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne didn’t know whether to laugh or cry after Saturday’s 7-0 victory over Colorado.
What tickled him was the Huskers’ first shutout of the season, especially against a team averaging 27.7 points and 398.7 yards a game.
But a sometimes sad show by his offense-averaging a national-best 46 points a game, but limited to 296 yards and one touchdown-has Osborne on guard in looking at next Saturday’s Big Eight championship game at Oklahoma.
“This is a funny team,” he said. “We think we’ve got a good offense. Our stats are very good. But we’ve had two games where we’ve been shut down pretty good. It’s hard to figure.
“We played well overall. But I’m hoping we’ve got a better game in us next week.”
Colorado defensive tackle Cole Hayes said the Huskers will need a better game to beat Oklahoma-much better.
“I wasn’t as impressed with Nebraska’s offensive line as Oklahoma’s,” Hayes said. “I think Oklahoma has the ability to run it up on them.”
Nobody ran up anything Saturday in front of 76,359 fans at Memorial Stadium.
The only touchdown came with 4:35 left in the third quarter when Nebraska chugged 59 yards in nine plays.
I-back Ken Clark, who gained 165 yards in 28 carries and moved into fourth on NU’s single-season rushing chart with 1,330 yards, capped the drive from the 2.
And that score was a chore. The Huskers needed a 10-yard run from Clark on fourth and two at the CU 17 to keep the drive alive.
What caused most of the excitement Saturday were the scoring chances that slipped away.
Nebraska had nothing to do with stopping Colorado’s best scoring threat.
Midway through the second quarter on third and three from the NU 43, CU backup tailback J.J. Flannigan squirted up the middle on a sprint draw, juked around NU cornerback Lorenzo Hicks and ran free toward the goal line.
But Flannigan fumbled the ball and had to stop to recover it at the NU 19.
“The good Lord was looking over us on that one because he just flat dropped it,” NU defensive coordinator Charlie McBride said.
“That, as it ends up, was really the game. So we were very, very fortunate.”
A holding penalty and a 19-yard loss on a reverse-snuffed by outside linebackers Jeff Mills and Broderick Thomas-pushed Colorado back to the NU 43 and forced a punt.
Nebraska gave the ball right back at its 39 when fullback Bryan Carpenter caught a pass from quarterback Steve Taylor, then fumbled into the arms of CU cornerback Keith Pontiflet.
But two plays later, Colorado returned the favor.
Starting tailback Eric Bieniemy, in his first carry since leaving in the first quarter with a sore hamstring, broke free for a 12-yard gain. But NU free safety Tim Jackson hopped out of the pile at the Husker 12 holding the football.
Did the nation’s fifth-leading rusher fumble?
Not really, Jackson said.
“I just took it,” he said. “He had it tucked away pretty good. But I just took it.”
Jackson said he didn’t notice Bieniemy’s complaints to the officials.
“I looked at the ref and he said, ‘This way’-pointing for us-so I was out of there. I didn’t want to give them a chance to complain.”
Colorado again forced a punt and used Flannigan’s 23-yard gain to set up Ken Culbertson’s 47-yard field-goal attempt on the final play of the half. The kick, into a 31-mph northwest wind, was long enough but wide left, leaving the game scoreless.
It was the second time in three weeks Nebraska went to the locker room at halftime with a zero. The Huskers trailed Missouri 6-0 at half on Oct. 29.
And you have to go back to Nebraska’s 6-0 victory over Missouri in 1981 to find a 0-0 game at halftime involving Nebraska.
Osborne said Colorado did nothing out of the ordinary on defense.
“They just seemed to play tough,” he said. “They tackled hard and they were strong kids.
“I thought we would move the ball better than we did. I’m disappointed we didn’t have more yards and points. The wind was a factor, but you can’t blame it all on that.”
The Huskers missed a chance to ice the game in the fourth quarter.
On the possession after Clark’s touchdown, NU moved from its 13 to the CU 28.
From there, Taylor scrambled left and bolted down the east sideline to the 3. But defensive end Lamarr Gray stripped the ball loose and nose tackle Tom Reinhardt recovered for Colorado.
The Buffaloes used a 43-yard pass from Sal Aunese to tight end John Perak-the CU quarterback’s only completion in 11 attempts-to move to the NU 46.
But five plays later, on fourth and one from the NU 27, Aunese fumbled the center snap and Flannigan recovered for a 3-yard loss, turning the ball over on downs with 9:43 to play.
Colorado got the ball back once more and moved to its 43. But on fourth and four, Aunese’s pass to wingback Mike Pritchard fell incomplete.
Nebraska, now 10-1 overall and 6-0 in the Big Eight, ran out the clock from there to set up the showdown with 9-1 and 6-0 Oklahoma, a 16-7 winner Saturday over Missouri. Colorado slipped to 7-3 and 3-3.Defense Pleases McBride
Nebraska’s late defensive stands left McBride smiling.
“After a game like this, I’m probably as proud of these guys as I’ve ever been since I’ve been at Nebraska,” he said. “They hung in there and didn’t submit.”
Colorado finished with 236 total yards. Flannigan, who entered the game with 238 yards for the season, bolted for 133 yards on 27 carries, making him the first CU back to crack the 100-yard mark against Nebraska since James Mayberry rushed for 113 yards in 1977.
“There were a few times where Colorado moved the ball that I worried,” McBride said. “But our kids weren’t going to be denied. That’s important going into a game like next week.
“These guys today were good. They are big and physical and ran the ball right at us. We’ll see a big, physical team next week, too.”
Nebraska gave up 131 yards rushing the first half. Much of it came on Colorado’s sprint draw play, on which the tailback waits at his spot while the quarterback “sprints” back to hand him the ball.
“They were cutting it back and our strongside linebacker was overrunning it,” McBride said. “We talked about it at halftime, and once we got our middle guard and our linebacker-LeRoy Etienne-straightened out, we did all right.”
Etienne, who overran four attempted tackles in the first half, said he was too excited about making his final Memorial Stadium appearance. He was one of 32 seniors introduced individually before the game.
“I was pumped up, and it worked against me the first half,” he said. “But I finally settled down and played some ball.
“We should have no problem beating Oklahoma if the defense plays the way we did today. Now, that’s not a prediction or anything. Make sure you don’t say it was.”
Colorado gained just 62 yards rushing the second half and 105 overall. Nebraska rebounded from a 91-yard first half to gain 205 the second half.
One of NU’s bright spots on offense came on the fourth-down conversion that kept the Huskers’ touchdown drive alive in the third quarter.
Osborne said he called a pitch play for Clark’s 10-yard run, but left the decision on which way to go up to Taylor.
“You leave it in the quarterback’s hands, and I think he made a good decision,” Osborne said. “You want him to look at their secondary and pick the least dangerous way to go.”
Taylor, who has struggled against Colorado before, had trouble breaking free again.
The senior rushed 12 times for 40 yards and completed just 2 of 9 passes for 18 yards. In three games against Colorado, Taylor has rushed 43 times for 121 yards (a 2.8-yard average) and has completed 10 of 34 passes (29.4 percent) for 123 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.
Nebraska moved into Colorado territory on its first two possessions. The first was thanks to wingback Dana Brinson’s 41-yard return of the opening kickoff.
But it wasn’t until seven possessions later the Huskers made it into CU turf again.
“I don’t think we blocked poorly today,” Osborne said. “Against Missouri, we did block poorly. Colorado just played good defense.”
Osborne said Colorado’s designation of Nebraska as its big rival might have contributed to the closeness of the game.
“They point for this game and played very emotional football,” he said. “I’m not saying we played badly. But we were not necessarily at the emotional pitch Colorado may have been at.”
Saturday’s game at Oklahoma, set for a 2:40 p.m. CST kickoff on CBS-TV, will mark the 27th consecutive year one of the two Big Reds will claim a share of the Big Eight championship.
“We’re looking forward to Oklahoma,” Osborne said. “We’ll just have to see what we can do against them. It should be a great game.”
|Yards per carry||3.8||5.1|
Nebraska is 49-20 all-time against Colorado.
|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 21 games on Nov. 12. See them all »
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