LINCOLN — Same song, second verse. Only worse.
That’s the report from Nebraska’s 63-13 stomping of Utah State Saturday before 76,233 fans at Memorial Stadium.
Last year, the Huskers hammered the Aggies 56-12 in their home opener. Saturday’s victory before a 156th straight sellout crowd was more of the same.
Last year, Nebraska scored two touchdowns in the final 3:09 of the first half to stretch a 14-3 lead to 28-3 at halftime. Saturday, NU scored twice in the final 3:59 of the half-on quarterback Steve Taylor’s 15-yard run and Taylor’s 11-yard pass to wingback Richard Bell-to boost a 14-0 lead to 28-0.
Last year, Nebraska used eight sacks to stymie the Aggies’ short passing attack. Saturday, the Huskers were credited with just three sacks. But two of them-an 8-yarder by middle guard Lawrence Pete and a 13-yarder by outside linebacker Broderick Thomas-squashed Utah State’s best scoring chances in the first half.
Last year, Nebraska made 25 single-play gains of 10 yards or more on its way to 603 total yards. Saturday, the Huskers had 24 such gains-17 rushing and seven passing-while rolling up 590 yards.
But much to NU Coach Tom Osborne’s delight, the Huskers didn’t match last year’s performance in two categories.
Nebraska turned the ball over five times a year ago and was penalized seven times for 75 yards. Saturday, the turnover total was zero and the penalty count just five for 34 yards.
Despite the polished performance, Osborne quickly hoisted a warning flag for those anticipating this week’s showdown between his No. 2-and 3-ranked Huskers and No. 5 and 9 UCLA in the Rose Bowl.
“Sometimes, a game like this can make the fans get overly optimistic,” he said. “We weren’t blocking the same kind of people we’ll be blocking next week.”
But Osborne praised his team for taking care of business against the Aggies, such underdogs for the second straight year that oddsmakers declined to list a point spread for the game.
“These kind of games are hard to play and hard to get ready for,” he said. “The players did a good job paying attention and working hard in practice.”
On offense, the absence of turnovers had Osborne beaming.
“The one thing we emphasized was to eliminate turnovers,” Osborne said. “I thought they really did a nice job.
“The only negative thing offensively was we had a couple of series in the second quarter where we got the ball down deep and we didn’t do very well.”
But the Huskers rebounded from that small slump to score touchdowns on seven straight possessions-the last two of the first half and the first five of the second half-to turn a 14-0 lead into a 63-7 spread.
Defensively, only Utah State’s 15-play, 73-yard touchdown drive early in the third quarter marred the performance of NU’s top two units.
“Defensively, we played a tremendous first half,” Osborne said. “I was disappointed in the drive to start the second half because we had our best people in there and they moved the ball right down the field.
“On the other hand, when you’re ahead 28-0, it’s hard to maintain intensity.”
Bell, who caught three passes for 87 yards, said the offense had no problem staying up. That’s because Osborne made it clear after the Texas A&M game that there was work to be done.
“What Coach Osborne wants to see are drives where we take it from the 20 to the end zone or from the 40 to the end zone,” said the junior from Altadena, Calif.
“He gets worried when we rely on the big play only. So the drives like we had today are what he wanted to see.”
Nebraska, which had just two drives of more than 50 yards in last week’s victory over Texas A&M, put together seven touchdown drives Saturday from its own territory-from 80, 71, 74, 68, 75, 64 and 71 yards out.
The first came quickly.
Utah State won the coin toss to open the game and chose to play with a north wind gusting at its back from 23-30 mph. But Nebraska stuffed that strategy by taking the opening kickoff and marching 80 yards for a touchdown.
I-back Ken Clark ran for 11, 8 and 9 yards on the first three plays before Taylor later capped it with a 22-yard touchdown option keeper with 11:25 left in the first quarter.
The Huskers scored two series later, set up when reserve defensive back Cartier Walker recovered Utah State punter Louie Aguiar’s fumble at the Aggie 30-yard line after a low snap.
Taylor’s 18-yard run started the mini-march and put the Huskers over the 100-yard mark just nine minutes into the game. Two plays later, junior fullback Sam Schmidt’s 6-yard burst for his first varsity touchdown capped it for a 14-0 lead.
Taylor rushed for 74 yards in nine carries and completed 7 of 9 passes for 143 yards to move past Vince Ferragamo into fifth place on NU’s all-time total offense chart with 3,425 yards.
But Osborne was as impressed with Taylor’s command of play Saturday as his execution.
“Maybe with one or two exceptions,” Osborne said, “I wouldn’t disagree with anything he did out there.
“He feels more relaxed. He told me he feels like he did when he was a senior in high school. He’s been with our offense a long time, so he should feel that way.”
After Schmidt’s touchdown, Utah State drove into Nebraska territory on its next two possessions.
On the first, quarterback Brent Snyder’s 34-yard strike to Kendal Smith moved the Aggies to the NU 33.
But on second and 15 from the 38, Pete-seeing his first action after missing most of preseason practice with mononucleosis-dumped Snyder for an 8-yard loss.
That set up a third and 23 at the 46, from where NU free safety Mark Blazek intercepted Snyder’s bomb near the goal line and returned it to the 5.
The Aggies forced a punt three plays later and immediately started a second push into Husker turf.
But Thomas pushed back, crashing through on a second and seven at the NU 21 to smother Snyder for a 13-yard loss. Utah State eventually was forced to punt.
In reference to the sacks, NU defensive coordinator Charlie McBride said: “Those are the things we have to come up with. Those were big plays.”
Snyder completed 21 of 39 passes for 206 yards, but McBride said he paid a price.
“I know when I see the films that I’ll be happy because on a lot of the bad balls he threw, he was getting a lot of pressure,” McBride said. “He ended up on the ground a lot.”
While Utah State was threatening, the Nebraska offense staggered for two possessions.
But Taylor soon revived it, directing a 71-yard touchdown drive, which he finished with a 15-yard quarterback draw on second and goal.
Then after getting the ball back with 1:40 left in the half, Taylor launched passes of 29 yards to Bell, 34 yards to wingback Dana Brinson and 11 yards to Bell to put Nebraska up 28-0 at halftime.
The Huskers held a total yardage edge of 295-58 at halftime, and it grew more lopsided as soon as the third quarter started.
Brinson returned the second-half kickoff 32 yards from the goal line, and the offense needed just six plays to cover the other 68.
Taylor’s 37-yard pass to Bell moved to the ball to the Utah State 7. Clark, who finished with a career-high 90 yards in 12 carries, scored from there for a 35-0 lead just 2 1/2 minutes into the third quarter.
But Utah State retaliated with a 15-play touchdown drive to ruin NU’s bid for a shutout.
Snyder saved the drive twice. First, on fourth and nine from the NU 32, he scrambled for 14 yards. Then on third and five from the 13, he found tailback Brett Payne for 12 yards to the 1.
After gaining nothing on a quarterback sneak, Snyder ducked Thomas’ rush and lobbed a touchdown pass to flanker Patrick Newman-a high school teammate of NU’s Taylor-for the Aggies’ first score of the year.
With the score 35-7, Osborne inserted his second offense, which immediately ran wild.
Gerry Gdowski raced 17 yards and 9 yards on his first two plays to start a drive that Terry Rodgers ended with a 2-yard TD run.
Gdowski, a junior from Fremont, Neb., later completed his first varsity touchdown pass-a 4-yarder to sophomore wingback Brad Devall of O’Neill, Neb., who made his first varsity catch on the play.
Redshirt freshman Mickey Joseph of Marrero, La., then came off the bench and romped 17 yards on his first carry, completed his first pass to wingback Jamie Worden for 7 yards and scored his first career touchdown on an 8-yard run.
Joseph and Gdowski then split another drive that Gdowski finished with a 1-yard run for a 63-7 lead. Utah State finished the scoring with 2:47 to play when Snyder hit Smith for a 15-yard pass. The try for two points failed.
After two games, Osborne said he is pleased with his team’s development.
“I thought we would play well today, and we did,” he said. “The A&M game, I didn’t know what was going to happen.
“So I think we’re in good shape. But we play a great team next week.”
|Yards per carry||0.9||6.7|
Nebraska is 8-0 all-time against Utah 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 5 games on Sept. 3. See them all »
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