LINCOLN — Playing Minnesota seems to bring out the best in Nebraska.
The Husker offense, minus its top two I-backs and first-game starter at quarterback, still scored eight touchdowns in fewer than three quarters Saturday and the defense never let the Gophers out of their own territory in a 56-0 romp before 76,354 fans at Memorial Stadium.
No. 3 I-back Derek Brown, a freshman in his first start, ran for 120 yards and two touchdowns and caught a 21-yard touchdown pass.
No. 4 I-back George Achola, a junior, ran for 123 yards and one touchdown.
Alternate quarterback Mickey Joseph, in his second career start, passed for 117 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 32 yards and two touchdowns to help Nebraska gain 564 total yards. The junior’s five total offense TDs fell one short of the school record of six set last year by Gerry Gdowski.
And the defense, helped by a botched fake punt and a wind-blown interception, held Minnesota to 106 total yards and no snaps beyond MU’s own 45-yard line. To find a lower yardage total, you have to go back four years and 42 games — to November 1986 — when NU limited Kansas to 100 yards.
The degree of domination left NU Coach Tom Osborne scratching his head while trying to remember past Husker-inflicted hammerings.
“We had it in hand so completely so early,” he said. “I can’t remember a game against a major-college opponent where we were in as good a shape early as we were.”
If you’re looking for a list, try any recent game with Minnesota.
Last year, it was 48-0 Nebraska as the Gophers snapped the ball only five times in NU turf — all in the fourth quarter.
Or NU’s wins of 38-7 in 1984, 84-13 in 1983, 54-0 in 1974, 48-7 in 1973, 49-0 in 1972 . . . well, you get the idea. The Huskers have won 14 in a row against the Gophers, whose current series with the Huskers expired at game’s end.
It’s almost frightening to think what the score might have been had Nebraska, which used 104 players, kept its starters in.
“Not frightening for us. Maybe for their guys,” said NU linebacker Pat Tyrance. “That just shows the potential we have.
“Look at Derek Brown. He had a great game and he’s No. 3. That’s something this program has prided itself on is having a lot of depth.”
The depth meant quarterback Mike Grant (knee bruise and strain), No. 1 I-back Leodis Flowers (knee strain) and No. 2 I-back Scott Baldwin (turf toe) got to stand in the sun on the 65-degree afternoon and watch the seventh- and eighth-ranked Huskers move to 3-0.
Grant had a message for the coaches before the game.
“He said he would rather not go unless he had to,” Osborne said. “I think he was available had we gotten into a bind or Mickey had gone down early.
“He said he could run about 80 percent. He’s improved, but it’s been slow. I’m hoping next week we can play Mike and play him a lot because through the first four games I really want Mike and Mickey to have a fair number of snaps.”
Osborne said Flowers and Baldwin also couldn’t run full speed.
“Flowers was better,” he said. “He ran about three-quarter speed before the game. But he’s just two or three days away from playing.”
Full speed was no problem for Brown.
The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder took the opening kickoff back 54 yards to the Minnesota 46, but it was called back for clipping.
So he got that ground back the hard way, gaining 46 yards in eight carries on NU’s 87-yard drive.
Brown had 84 yards in 13 carries in the first quarter. He ran the ball just eight times after that on his way to his first 100-yard day in college.
“Derek played well,” Osborne said. “We thought he would.
“The only thing we didn’t know was how he would react to the start. But he reacted well.”
Joseph saved Nebraska’s first drive — 13 straight running plays into a 25- to 35-mph northwest wind — after Brown was dumped for a 3-yard loss, creating fourth and four at the Minnesota 25.
Joseph rolled right, eluded one tackler, then picked up a cutback block from split end Jon Bostick to make the first down by a yard.
Three plays later, Brown bolted in from the 7, Gregg Barrios kicked the first of eight extra points and the Huskers led 7-0 with 9:05 left in the first quarter.
Eight plays after forcing a punt, it was 14-0.
Brown ran for 11, 10 and 10 yards before Nebraska passed for the first time on its 18th offensive play. Joseph completed it for 33 yards to wingback Brad Devall.
Three plays later, Joseph rolled right, leaped over sprawling fullback Omar Soto and danced 4 yards into the end zone with 5:15 left in the first quarter.
Minnesota gave the ball back on the ensuing kickoff. Byron Bennett’s high kick into the wind floated to the ground untouched and cornerback Bruce Pickens recovered for Nebraska at the Gophers’ 33.
“We handled the wind awfully well,” Osborne said. “We were concerned the first quarter going into it.
“But we held the ball six minutes on the first drive and scored, and held it another three or four minutes after that.”
Nebraska failed to cash in on the wind-blown kickoff recovery.
The Huskers got to the MU 21 before Joseph’s high pass for Devall was tipped, then intercepted by Frank Jackson.
Minnesota followed up with its initial first down and drove to its 45 before stalling.
A fake punt looked as if it would keep the Gophers’ drive alive. On fourth and five, blocking back Les O’Hara took the short snap and lobbed a pass to split end John Lewis on the sideline.
But Lewis dropped it at the NU 40, sending heads slumping on the Minnesota bench.
“I wouldn’t say it was over at that point,” NU’s Tyrance said. “But that hurt them and dampened their morale.”
Especially when Nebraska went touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown from there.
Brown’s 19-yard run set up a 1-yard Joseph sneak for a 21-0 lead with 14:23 left in the second quarter. Brown’s run gave him 103 yards in 14 carries.
NU outside linebacker David White recovered quarterback Marquel Fleetwood’s center-snap fumble at the Minnesota 27 to set up the next score on the next play.
Joseph faked into the line, then picked one of three open receivers — Bostick — down the middle for the 27-yard TD and a 28-0 lead with 12:33 to go in the first half.
Bostick admitted afterward that he and Joseph improvised on the route.
“I’m supposed to do a fade down the sideline,” he said. “We called it in the huddle as a post pattern, and it just happened to work out.
“The tight ends were open, too, so it was just kind of pick and choose.”
Minnesota made two first downs on its next drive, and looked ready to break the shutout when split end Lewis broke free deep in the middle of NU’s backup secondary.
But Fleetwood’s bomb floated into the wind, allowing cornerback Jon Crippen to sprint 15 yards from the side and intercept it at the Nebraska 23.
“They were snakebit,” NU Defensive Coordinator Charlie McBride said. “They couldn’t do anything right and we were doing everything right.”
After the interception, the Huskers blasted 77 yards in five plays.
Joseph hit split end Dan Pleasant for 16 yards, then Achola raced 45 yards to the 1. Joseph hit tight end Chris Garrett with a touchdown pass on the next play for a 35-0 lead with 8:12 to go in the half.
Outside linebacker Mike Croel’s 11-yard sack of Fleetwood forced Minnesota to punt again into the wind. The 18-yard effort set the Huskers up at the Gopher 27.
With junior Keithen McCant at quarterback, the Huskers punched it in again in six plays. Achola banged in from the 3 for a 42-0 lead with 4:19 to go.
Nebraska got a chance to score once more before half as Achola broke a 29-yarder to the Minnesota 4. But three plays produced only a yard before the clock ran out.
In the third quarter, Brown caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from Joseph and ran 2 yards for another touchdown to cap the scoring.
Osborne said the effort pleased him after last week’s open date.
“We played a little better than I thought we would,” he said. “I wasn’t sure we’d be real sharp after the layoff.
“But I didn’t think the margin would be anywhere near what it was.”
What does Nebraska get from such a blowout?
“We get to look at a lot of players,” Osborne said. “That’s always good.
“Otherwise, I don’t know. You do what you’ve got to do. It’s better than getting beat.”
|Yards per carry||1.4||5.5|
Nebraska is 25-33 all-time against Minnesota.
|Northern Illinois||Sept. 8|
|Oregon State||Sept. 29|
|Kansas State||Oct. 6|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 20|
|Iowa State||Oct. 27|
|Georgia Tech||Jan. 1|
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