LINCOLN — For part of the first half Saturday, Utah’s air attack knocked the wind out of Nebraska.
The 28?1/2-point underdog Utes threw for 169 yards and two touchdowns to lead twice in the first quarter before the Huskers, ranked No. 3 and No. 4 nationally, claimed a five-point halftime advantage.
Nebraska finally caught its breath in the third quarter by playing keepaway.
Back-to-back 11-play touchdown drives chewed up more than 10 minutes, allowing NU to breeze past Utah 42-30 before 76,333 fans at Memorial Stadium.
“I’m pleased with the win,” NU Coach Tom Osborne said. “I know there will be a lot of people upset with the score.
“But I think we played a good team. I looked at last year where they won five of their last six games, and I did not see a bad football team.”
Utah quarterback Scott Mitchell threw two touchdown passes in the final 3:38 to close the gap. That boosted the All-America candidate’s statistics to 26 completions in 44 attempts for 297 yards and four touchdowns.
But it wasn’t enough to overcome Nebraska’s three-pronged attack of I-back Ken Clark, fullback Bryan Carpenter and quarterback Gerry Gdowski.
On the Huskers’ first drive of the third quarter, Clark carried six times for 59 yards and scored from the 2. That capped an 85-yard drive lasting 5:03 that put Nebraska ahead 28-16.
The senior out of Omaha Bryan, who never finished a practice last week because of a sore knee, finished with 130 yards in 22 carries to move past Monte Anthony and Steve Taylor into 11th place on NU’s all-time rushing list with 2,139 yards.
Carpenter provided the big blow in Nebraska’s second TD drive after halftime.
The senior from Olathe, Kan., raced 29 yards for a touchdown to finish a 69-yard drive that took 5:05 and put NU up 35-16. Carpenter ran for a career-high 102 yards on just five carries.
After freshman safety Tyrone Byrd intercepted his first varsity pass and returned it 13 yards to the Utah 18, Gdowski took charge.
The senior from Fremont, Neb., ran for 17 of the 18 yards, scoring from the 4 for a 42-16 lead with 10:48 left in the game. Gdowski scored two other touchdowns of 8 yards each and finished with 98 yards rushing.
“From the second quarter to the middle of the fourth quarter, we played pretty well and had the game in good shape,” Osborne said. “Then we tried to substitute some people.
“I think our defense relaxed a little with the big lead. But part of the credit has to go to Utah.”
Utah got a lot of credit in the first half.
The Utes stopped the Huskers on three downs to open the game, then stormed 59 yards in nine plays for a touchdown.
Five of those plays were passes and Mitchell completed four. The last one was for 5 yards and a touchdown to tight end Dennis Smith. Wayne Lammle’s extra point put the Utes up 7-0 just 6 1/2 minutes into the game.
After exchanging punts, Nebraska played “smashmouth football” to run the ball down Utah’s throat in five plays.
Clark ran for 18 yards, Carpenter for 21, wingback Nate Turner for 23, Gdowski for 6 and then Gdowski for the final 8 on an option keeper. Chris Drennan’s PAT tied the game 7-7 with 4:00 left in the first quarter.
Utah came right back to strike in five plays.
Mitchell started it with a 20-yard pass to Bryan Rowley, then finished it with a 43-yard bomb to Dennis Smith, beating NU outside linebacker Mike Croel.
But on the point after, holder Mike Richmond couldn’t handle a high snap, keeping the score 13-7 with 1:43 left in the first quarter.
Nebraska jumped back to score twice in a row.
Eight rushing plays and Gdowski’s 17-yard pass to split end Morgan Gregory produced the Huskers’ go-ahead touchdown. Gdowski again scored from the 8 on an option, Drennan kicked the point and NU led 14-13 with 12:51 left in the second quarter.
Croel made up for his earlier mistake on the next defensive series.
After the Huskers shoved Utah into a third-and-27 situation at its own 3, Croel stepped in front of Dennis Smith to swipe Mitchell’s dump pass and dance 6 yards into the end zone. That gave Nebraska a 21-13 lead with 11:51 left in the second quarter.
Utah still wouldn’t quit. The Utes held the ball for 13 plays and 6:53 before stalling at the NU 27. Lammle’s 45-yard field goal into a 12-mph south wind cut the gap to 21-16 with 5:16 to play in the half.
Fullback Sam Schmidt’s fumble stopped a Nebraska drive at the Utah 35.
But Ray Valladao’s sack of Mitchell — NU’s first — knocked the Utes out of NU territory just before halftime to preserve the Huskers’ lead.
“I think we were a little shaky early in the game,” Osborne said. “Even though we worked on them quite a bit, we were a little unsure in how to line up and didn’t execute well.”
Osborne said there was no one key to the defense getting its act together.
“It just looked to me like we got a little more confident in what we were doing on defense,” he said. “We had a few guys who hadn’t played much.
“But we really settled down and played pretty good defense for about 2 1/2 quarters.”Mitchell’s quarter-by-quarter statistics show how Nebraska’s defense improved.
He was 9 of 11 for 111 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter, 7 of 12 for 58 yards and one interception in the second, 2 of 5 for 37 yards with one interception and 8 of 16 for 91 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth.
|Yards per carry||3.4||7.3|
Nebraska is 4-0 all-time against Utah.
|Northern Illinois||Sept. 9|
|Oregon State||Sept. 30|
|Kansas State||Oct. 7|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 21|
|Iowa State||Oct. 28|
|Florida State||Jan. 1|
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