LINCOLN — With Nebraska’s 47-16 beating of Arizona State Saturday night, the Huskers answered at least one question in the wake of their loss two weeks ago at UCLA.
Yes, the premier rushing offense of the 1980s can still move the ball on the ground.
For what might be the first time in 99 years of NU football, the Huskers had three individuals each run for 100 yards in a game. NU sports information officials said their records, complete through the 1946 season, indicated that no Husker teams previously had had three 100-yard rushers in a single game.
No. 1 I-back Ken Clark gained a career-high 122 yards in 22 carries, quarterback Steve Taylor 116 yards in 17 carries and No. 2 I-back Terry Rodgers a career-high 113 yards in 13 carries. Each also ran for a touchdown.
The Huskers have come close to having three 100-yard rushers in a game.
In 1987 against Iowa State, Keith Jones gained 240 yards, Tyreese Knox 118 and Taylor 96. In 1985 against Florida State, Doug DuBose gained 129 yards, Tom Rathman 113 and McCathorn Clayton 97. And in 1983 against Minnesota, Mike Rozier rushed for 196 yards, Turner Gill for 100 and Irving Fryar for 92.
But Saturday’s effort before a crowd of 76,312 at Memorial Stadium may have been a first.
It definitely was a first this season. Nebraska had not had a 100-yard rusher in its first three games and, stretching back to last season, just one in its past six games.
Nebraska, 3-1 and ranked Nos. 10 and 11, needed all 441 of its season-high rushing yards to shake off 2-1 Arizona State.
The Sun Devils, 22-point underdogs, led 13-9 after the first quarter and stuffed Nebraska twice on fourth-down plays in the third quarter to hang close at 30-16 entering the final 15 minutes.
But a 17-point fourth quarter let Nebraska turn it into a rout.
“We played acceptable football,” said NU Coach Tom Osborne, who earned the 150th victory of his 16-year career. “Defensively, I was not real happy at some of the first-half situations. We gave up too many big plays.
“And I was not happy with the offense in the third quarter. There were two or three scoring opportunities we frittered away.
“But overall, it was a satisfying win.”
The victory also marked the return of the big play for Nebraska.
The Huskers, whose longest offensive or special-teams score this season was 22 yards, got a 75-yard punt-return touchdown from Dana Brinson to turn an uncomfortable 16-13 lead into a bearable 23-13 advantage with 11 minutes left in the second quarter.
“We haven’t really had any good returns,” said Brinson, whose 5.2-yard return average before Saturday was barely half of his career average of 10.2 yards.
“For this week, we put plenty more emphasis on it. And it worked out well. I think the punt return gave the team some inspiration.”
Many wondered if inspiration would be lacking after the first-quarter shellacking at UCLA.
But NU free safety Tim Jackson, who intercepted two passes, said the Huskers were ready to rebound.
“This felt really good,” he said. “It was like redemption. We had two weeks to think about the UCLA game, and this put it out of our mind.”
Osborne said in his mind, he still wonders about his team.
“We’re not there yet,” he said. “We have the potential to be a good football team.
“We’re a decent team. But to be a great team and the kind of team I envision, we have to get better. We should have put that thing away early and we didn’t.”
Early, as in the third quarter.
With Nebraska in front 30-16 at halftime, the teams played giveaway to start the period.
ASU quarterback Daniel Ford, after a short drop to throw, squirted through three tacklers up the middle for 40 yards. But cornerback Lorenzo Hicks forced a fumble from behind and strong safety Reggie Cooper recovered at the NU 43.
But Nebraska gave it right back.
On second and seven from the ASU 24, Taylor sent Todd Millikan to the end zone and looped a pass to the wide-open tight end. But the throw was soft enough to allow ASU free safety Nathan LaDuke to scramble back and intercept it for a touchback.
Arizona State then stopped Nebraska on fourth down on the Huskers’ next two possessions.
Taylor tried to keep a drive alive on fourth and four at the ASU 26, but was spun down a yard short.
Jackson put the Huskers in scoring position again with a 55-yard return to the ASU 32 of his second interception of the game.
But on the first play of the fourth quarter, Clark was stopped inches from a touchdown on fourth and goal from the 1, keeping the score 30-16.
The next play, though, the Nebraska defense scored.
Outside linebacker Jon Marco and middle guard Mike Murray smothered ASU tailback Bruce Perkins in the end zone for a safety, putting NU up 32-16 with 14:05 to play.
Arizona State nearly recovered the ensuing free kick when punter Mike Schuh’s boot bounced crazily past midfield. But wingback Richard Bell hopped on it for the Huskers.
Nebraska then got touchdown runs of 3 yards from Rodgers to cap a 67-yard drive and 6 yards from backup quarterback Mickey Joseph to end a 63-yard drive, clinching the victory.
ASU Coach Larry Marmie said he wasn’t discouraged at halftime, though down by 14 points.
“We knew we were still in the ballgame and had a chance to win it,” he said. “We also knew it wasn’t going to be easy. The first series, we had two penalties and that didn’t get us off to a good start in the second half.”
In the first half, the Nebraska offense shook its problem of slow starts by scoring on its first two possessions.
The Huskers took the opening kickoff and moved 47 yards to the ASU 25 in nine plays. After an incomplete pass and a 2-yard run, Taylor hummed a bullet to split end Morgan Gregory in the back of the end zone.
Gregory caught it, but was hit and ruled out of the end zone. So Chris Drennan came on to kick a 40-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead with 13:49 left.
Three plays later, Nebraska got the ball back. Jackson swiped Ford’s pass at the ASU 28 to set up the Huskers’ first touchdown.
Clark bolted 7 and 10 yards, then Taylor took over. He dropped back to throw, drifted right, then sprinted 11 yards, ducking under ASU cornerback Eddie Stokes at the goal line to score. Drennan missed the extra-point attempt wide left, leaving the score 9-0 about nine minutes into the game.
But after an exchange of punts, the Husker defense sprung a leak.
Actually, it started as a gusher.
The first play after a John Kroeker 38-yard punt, ASU’s Ford dropped a 54-yard touchdown bomb in the lap of split end Chris Garrett, who beat Hicks to catch it and then sidestepped safety Mark Blazek’s tackle attempt. Alan Zendejas’ extra point cut the gap to 9-7 with 4:04 left in the first quarter.
After three plays and a punt, the Sun Devils scored again in seven plays.
The big play was Ford’s 46-yard pass on a deep crossing route to split end Leland Adams, setting up first and goal from the 3. From there, Perkins, the national junior-college rushing champion last year at Butler County (Kan.) JC, blasted over from the 2 with 16 seconds left in the quarter. Ford’s two-point conversion pass went awry, but Arizona State took the lead 13-9.
Nebraska answered right back on the next possession.
Taylor ran for 19 and 10 yards to move the ball into Sun Devil territory. Then, the drive nearly stalled. Clark ran for 7 yards, Taylor threw incomplete and Clark gained 1 for a fourth-and-two play at the ASU 31.
But on a sweep right, Clark cut inside of blocks by right guard John Nelson and fullback Knox to scoot all the way for the touchdown-the Huskers longest run from scrimmage of the season. Gregg Barrios kicked the extra point for a 16-13 lead just two minutes into the second quarter.
Arizona State gained one first down, then had to punt. All-America candidate Schuh boomed a 48-yard kick, and the coverage appeared sound.
But Brinson, with protector Bell in tow, popped up the middle of the field untouched. When NU’s Cartier Walker shielded Schuh, Brinson completed his 75-yard touchdown return, the third of his career. Barrios’ PAT extended Nebraska’s lead to 23-13 with 11 minutes left in the half.
If stunned, the Sun Devils didn’t show it. They stomped 77 yards in 12 plays to the Nebraska 3.
But on first and goal, NU outside linebacker Jeff Mills nailed ASU tailback David Winsley for a 2-yard loss. On second down, NU linebacker LeRoy Etienne stopped Winsley for a 1-yard gain. And on third down, Ford threw incomplete in the end zone. Zendejas then kicked a 22-yard field goal to cut ASU’s gap to 23-16 with 4:13 left in the half.
Nebraska’s offense fired back immediately. Rodgers carried five times in seven plays for 25 yards. Later, Taylor added a 10-yard run before finding Gregory with a 9-yard touchdown pass. Barrios’ conversion with 37 seconds left in the half put Nebraska ahead 30-16.
|Yards per carry||3.1||6.0|
Nebraska is 6-2 all-time against Arizona State.
|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 12 games on Sept. 24. See them all »
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