|Middle Tennessee State||0||7||0||0||7|
Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne’s halftime speech Saturday won’t qualify as an official “red-faced job.”
“I only saw one vein pop out of his neck,” 16-year assistant Charlie McBride said. “A real red-faced job is a two-veiner.”
But the message still got through — the 11th-ranked team in Division I-A should have more than a seven-point halftime lead at home against the No. 5 team in Division I-AA.
So the Huskers spent the next 30 minutes putting Osborne’s blood vessels and Middle Tennessee State back in their places.
Nebraska gained 374 yards and scored 34 points in the final two quarters to blow out MTSU 48-7 before a Memorial Stadium crowd of 76,184. That makes the Huskers 2-0 entering this week’s showdown at No. 2 Washington.
“I’m kind of relieved that’s over,” Osborne said. “Like I told you earlier, there is a lot of downside risk to a game like this.”
Such as national embarrassment. Osborne said he noted that in his halftime remarks.
“They weren’t real kind,” said the 20-year coach, who has uncorked what his assistants say are three official “red-faced” halftime speeches — at the 1977 Liberty Bowl when down 14-7 to North Carolina, in 1981 when down 3-0 to Auburn and in 1986 when down 14-7 at Iowa State. Nebraska rallied to win all three games.
Osborne said Saturday’s speech “wasn’t a total ripping.”
“I did tell them,” he said, “that we could easily be the laughingstock of the country. We probably already were.”
Hoots likely were heard in stadiums from coast to coast when it was announced that Middle Tennessee State — NU’s first non-Division I opponent in 28 years — had tied the game 7-7 in the second quarter.
What football fans from the rest of the country didn’t know was that the Blue Raiders could have been up 13-7 if not for missed field goals of 43 yards with a 21-mph wind and 27 yards against it.
MTSU came to Lincoln with 25 fewer scholarship players than Nebraska, and gave up an average of 31 pounds per man on the offensive and defensive lines.
But the 1-1 Blue Raiders played the Huskers even for 24 minutes by using a quick-count, quick-hitting offense and a read-and-react defense that lined up 2 to 3 yards back from the line of scrimmage.
“I wasn’t very proud of the way we played the first half,” Osborne said. “I guess I was proud of Middle Tennessee.”
But quarterback Mike Grant’s 15-yard touchdown run with 6:23 left in the first half put NU back in the lead.
Then a third-quarter explosion — three touchdowns in nine plays during the first 8-1/2 minutes — guaranteed the Huskers would stay in front.
Nebraska’s burst began when split end Tyrone Hughes returned the second-half kickoff 35 yards.
I-back Calvin Jones then ran for 23 of his 119 yards before fullback Lance Lewis raced 42 yards for a touchdown — on a play that Osborne said was lined up to the wrong side.
That put NU in front 21-7 just 33 seconds into the third quarter.
In another minute and 13 seconds, it was 27-7.
Split end Corey Dixon’s 26-yard punt return put the Huskers at the NU 47. I-back Derek Brown ran for 9 and 44 of his 154 yards on the next two plays to score.
“Those two touchdowns really helped a lot,” NU center Jim Scott said. “That gave us the belief that things were really working like they should.”
Following a Grant fumble at the MTSU 10, Nebraska rebounded to score on its next possession.
Passes from Grant of 20 yards to Brown and 12 yards to wingback Abdul Muhammad helped set up Brown’s 4-yard TD run for a 34-7 lead with 6:34 to go in the third quarter.
Fourth-quarter touchdown runs of 16 yards by fullback Andre McDuffy and 3 yards by quarterback Tommie Frazier finished the scoring.
Osborne said he would like to take credit for some masterful halftime strategy.
“You can write that,” he said, tongue-in-cheek. “Say that there were tremendous adjustments at halftime, and that it bordered on wizardry.
“Actually, it wasn’t anything. We knew how they were lining up. It was more a matter of intensity and execution than knowing where they were.”
Intensity and execution weren’t on the field for the Huskers in the first half.
On the game’s fourth play, MTSU defensive end Mike Caldwell intercepted a Grant pass and returned it to the NU 39.
The Blue Raiders moved to the Husker 15 before strong safety Steve Carmer’s 11-yard sack and two incompletions forced a 43-yard field-goal try, which Garth Petrilli hooked wide left.
Nebraska responded with a 74-yard touchdown drive.
Jones’ 24-yard run and a pass interference penalty in the end zone on a third-and-nine from the 10 were the key plays that led to Jones’ 2-yard scoring run.
Middle Tennessee stormed back into Nebraska territory when split end Cory Simpson returned the ensuing kickoff 59 yards.
But the Husker defense rose up again as outside linebacker Trev Alberts’ 8-yard sack on third down pushed the Blue Raiders out of field goal range.
After forcing Nebraska to punt, MTSU roamed into scoring range again.
Tailback Walter Dunson’s back-to-back runs of 14 and 20 yards helped MTSU reach the NU 10. But Petrilli missed a 27-yard field goal attempt, allowing Nebraska to retain its 7-0 lead with 14:16 left in the half.
Middle Tennessee hung in with another defensive stand.
After giving up Brown’s 25-yard run and Grant’s 19-yard pass to Muhammad, the Blue Raiders forced a fourth-and-two at their own 25.
Nebraska sent Brown up the middle, but blitzing linebacker Shingo Weems slammed him for a 3-yard loss to stop the drive.
“It was really getting frustrating,” Scott said. “Guys were coming back to the huddle and saying, ‘We’re blowing our guy away.’
“But a lot of times when we turned around, our I-back was getting nailed 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Something was breaking down.”
While the offense sputtered, Nebraska’s defense sprung a leak.
Quarterback Kelly Holcomb, after waving to split end Vince Parks while calling the count, launched a bomb to Parks over cornerback Kenny Wilhite for a 61-yard touchdown. The extra point knotted the score at 7 with 10:26 to go in the half.
It also slapped the Huskers in the face.
“This team is mentally tough,” wingback Vincent Hawkins said. “The guys want to win, so it got us thinking.
“It doesn’t matter who you play. The guys who want to win stand up, and that’s what we did.”
Nebraska retaliated on its next possession.
Grant’s 14-yard pass to split end Trumane Bell kept the drive alive on a third-and-12. Brown’s 21-yard run moved the ball to the MSTU 19. Then Grant scored from the 15 for a 14-7 lead with 6:23 to go in the half.
The Huskers appeared ready to score again when Middle Tennessee punter Joel Alsobrook shanked a 2-yard kick into the wind. That gave NU the ball at the MTSU 18. But Byron Bennett missed a 44-yard field goal try three minutes before halftime.
The locker room scene wasn’t for the meek.
“The coaches got on us,” Alberts said. “But we basically got on ourselves.
“We knew we were lacking basic effort and concentration. This team wants to be good, and we can’t afford to play like that.”
Nebraska was outgained in the first half on average 5.6 yards a play to 5.3. But by the end, the Huskers had 600 total yards to 202 for MTSU.
“To say we were a little flat is accurate,” Osborne said. “The big thing is that you come out of it.
“We’ve got to give Middle Tennessee a lot of credit. I don’t want to just blast our team because overall they probably played a reasonable game under the circumstances.”
|Yards per carry||1.3||7.5|
Nebraska is 1-0 all-time against Middle Tennessee State.
|Middle Tennessee State||Sept. 12|
|Arizona State||Sept. 26|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 10|
|Iowa State||Nov. 14|
|Kansas State||Dec. 5|
|Florida State||Jan. 1|
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