LINCOLN — A Nebraska football fan from Kansas City called The World-Herald Friday to ask if quarterback Mike Grant was going to play Saturday against Northern Illinois.
Not likely, the man was told, because of a knee bruise.
“Then I’m not coming to the game,” he said.”I’m not driving up there to see Mickey Joseph.”
The man missed a coming-out party of sorts for the junior from Marrero, La., during Nebraska’s 60-14 romp over the Huskies before 76,043 fans at Memorial Stadium.
Joseph, in his first varsity start, ran for 75 yards and a 1-yard touchdown, completed 4 of 11 passes for 103 yards and a 20-yard touchdown and earned kind words from NU Coach Tom Osborne.
“He ran the audibles very well and ran the option well,” Osborne said.”He threw two or three deep balls well, and he was off on a few more.
“I thought he did a good job. You can win a lot of ball games with Mickey Joseph.”
Several other Huskers got spotlight time, too, including:
» I-back Leodis Flowers, whose 124 yards rushing in 21 carries were a career high in his third start ever.
» Wingback Tyrone Hughes, who had three kickoff returns for 136 yards, including a 65-yarder to start the game.
» Inside linebacker Pat Tyrance, who had a game-high 12 tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery.
» And freshman I-back Derek Brown. His first varsity carry was for a 1-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. His fourth was a 59-yard touchdown blur. He finished with 72 yards in five tries.
But today’s film review won’t bring high grades for everybody on the roster of the 2-0 Huskers, ranked No. 9 and 10 nationally.
Low marks are expected from the second quarter, where Northern Illinois — such an underdog that no point spread was listed for the game — bounced back from a 16-0 deficit to pull within 16-11 and started a drive for more.
“I’m pleased with the final result,” Osborne said. ”But at times, we probably didn’t play real well.
“You would think 60-14 would be real good. But when they had their good people going against our good people, at times they moved the ball with some consistency.
“I don’t think they made us look bad. But they made us look a little suspect.”
Things looked easy early for the Huskers as they exploded for 16 points in the game’s first 9 1/2 minutes.
Hughes jump-started the offense by running the opening kickoff back 65 yards to the Northern Illinois 34.
Flowers opened the drive with runs of 12 and 13 yards to the 9. It took four plays from there, but Joseph finally sneaked in from the 1 and Gregg Barrios kicked the point for a 7-0 Nebraska lead with 12:59 left in the first quarter.
The Huskers gambled on fourth down inside the 5 on their second series, too, but fell short.
Joseph started that drive with a 35-yard deep post pass to split end Jon Bostick to the NIU 12. Runs of 2, 4 and 2 yards left NU with fourth and goal at the 4. Flowers tried to sweep right, but was spilled a half yard short of the first down.
After two runs, Northern Illinois tried to pass its way out of that hole, but outside linebacker Mike Croel dumped Robinson for a safety to give the Huskers a 9-0 lead.
On the ensuing free kick, Bostick bolted 30 yards to the NIU 36 to give Nebraska its third straight start with the ball in opposing territory.
The Huskers ran for one first down, then faced a third and six at the 20. Joseph faked inside, rolled out on the bootleg pass and hit tight end Chris Garrett for the touchdown and 16-0 lead with 5:32 left in the first quarter.
That was Garrett’s fifth touchdown in six career catches.
Nebraska appeared ready to get the ball right back after holding Northern Illinois to 9 yards in three plays. But with 3:35 left in the first quarter, the Huskies gambled at their own 27 and won — Robinson zipped 12 yards for a first down.
An even bigger payoff came four plays later.
Fullback Adam Dach powered off right tackle against a mostly second-team NU defense and outran backup cornerback Jon Crippen 48 yards to the end zone. When Robinson scored untouched on the two-point conversion, Nebraska’s lead was halved to 16-8 with 1:47 to go in the first.
Osborne said Northern Illinois broke ground by using something new — an unbalanced line. He said the Huskers had seen Oklahoma run it before, but not NIU.
“The coaches knew right away what they wanted to do,” Osborne said. ”But it took some time to get it communicated.
“At times, they made 8, 9 and 10 yards a crack with that play and kept some drives alive.”
Nebraska started in NIU territory for the fourth straight time as Hughes high-stepped 40 yards with the kickoff to the Husky 48.
Three plays later, Joseph launched another pass toward Garrett, but NIU cornerback Rich Favor intercepted it at the 17.
Northern Illinois held the ball 11 plays this time, doing the most damage with passes.
Robinson hit halfback Brent Schroeder for 8 yards and a first down, split end Steve Rodgers for 41 yards and Rodgers again for 21 yards on third and 19 at the NU 41.
An illegal-procedure penalty slowed the Huskies, forcing them to try a 42-yard field goal. John Ivanic became NIU’s all-time leading scorer by making it, cutting Nebraska’s lead to 16-11 with 9:33 to go in the half.
Northern Illinois forced an NU punt in four plays, and got the ball back at its own 20 with a chance to take the lead.
Robinson bolted for 15 yards, then threw for 5 more to the Husker 40. Then the Blackshirts, NU’s first-team defense, struck again.
Croel ripped the ball loose from Robinson on an option play and Tyrance gobbled it up at the NIU 28.
A late-hit penalty and seven running plays left Nebraska with fourth and goal at the 1. Flowers, stuffed on third and one, flew over the pile to score and boost NU’s lead to 23-11 with 2:40 to play in the half.
The Huskers got the ball back with 50 seconds left and moved into scoring territory on a 31-yard Joseph-to-Bostick pass play and Joseph’s 19-yard run.
But three straight incompletions gave Barrios a chance for a 32-yard field goal, which he made for a 26-11 lead with one second to go.
Northern Illinois took the second-half kickoff and moved to the Husker 15 before defensive tackle Kenny Walker caught Robinson for a 6-yard loss to kill the drive. Ivanic drilled a 34-yard field goal to cut the gap to 26-14.
NU fullback Omar Soto fumbled the ball away on the next possession, giving Northern Illinois the ball at its own 36.
But the Huskers forced a punt in three plays, then went on a rampage, scoring touchdowns on each of the next four possessions.
Flowers had two 11-yard runs and Joseph one of 13 to set up Soto’s 8-yard burst for his first varsity touchdown and a 32-14 lead.
History was made on the extra point. Barrios, perfect in 86 career attempts over four seasons, had his 87th try blocked.
After three plays and a punt, the NU offense rolled again. Flowers topped the 100-yard mark on a 20-yard bolt with 2:25 left in the third quarter. Fullback Tim Johnk finished the drive with a 13-yard run for his first varsity touchdown and a 39-14 lead.
Tyrone Byrd’s interception and 27-yard return set up NU’s next score. Joseph fired a 17-yard strike to Hughes, then Brown vaulted in from the 1 for a 46-14 lead with 13:27 to play.
From there, the backups took over. Brown scored on his 59-yard run and No. 4 fullback Robert Glantz ran 12 yards for his first varsity touchdown to complete the scoring with 5:53 left in the game.”Overall, we improved in some respects and scored a little better today, “ Osborne said. ”But a lot has to do with the relative strengths of who you’re playing.
“I felt a little sorry for Northern Illinois. At the end, the score wasn’t really indicative of the strengths of the two teams. It’s just that they didn’t have second-unit people who could play as well as our second-unit people.”
|Yards per carry||4.1||6.4|
Nebraska is 3-1 all-time against Northern Illinois.
|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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