Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne got enough right answers Saturday to confirm that he hadn't come out of fall camp with the wrong impressions.
Osborne said the Huskers' 49-22 drubbing of Utah in the season-opener before 76,234 fans at Memorial Stadium told him:
A) His defense, which had dominated fall scrimmages, is as good as expected.
B) His offense, which had stumbled at times, isn't as bad as it appeared.
"We showed signs of being able to be a good team," he said. "We've still got to get smoother, obviously.
"But our defense is much better than it was last year."
Nebraska used defensive domination to surge to a 42-0 lead early in the third quarter against a Utah team picked to contend for a bowl bid and finish high in the Western Athletic Conference.
The Huskers held the Utes — which returned all offensive starters — without a first down for the first 16 minutes and without a point until substituting heavily late in the third quarter.
NU also intercepted four passes in a game for the first time since a 48-14 victory over Oregon in 1986.
"We have the potential to be a great defense," outside linebacker Trev Alberts said. "We started that way today, and then got a little complacent.
"We're not there yet. But we have the ability."
Offensively, Nebraska scored touchdowns on five of its first eight possessions. It would have been six of eight if a wide-open William Washington hadn't dropped a pass in the end zone on the third series.
Quarterback Mike Grant, making his first start since the Citrus Bowl after the 1990 season, had a hand in four touchdowns.
The fifth-year senior ran five times for 63 yards and scored from the 6 and the 16. He also completed 12 of 23 passes for 114 yards and touchdowns of 14 yards to I-back Calvin Jones and 11 yards to tight end Gerald Armstrong.
"There were a lot of doubters coming into the stadium today," Osborne said. "But I've seen Mike for a long time.
"He has won the job three times. You don't win the job here three times without being a good player."
Grant was the starter to open 1990 and then won the job again for the Citrus Bowl that season after Mickey Joseph was injured.
Osborne said NU's dominance of a Utah team that returned 18 starters from last year's 7-5 club was a surprise.
"I didn't expect it would be pretty well put away by the half," he said. "I really thought it would go four quarters.
"Hopefully, we're good. I don't know yet."
About the only thing that didn't look good among the top units was the first minute.
I-back Derek Brown, who led NU with 105 yards on 15 carries, lost a yard on the season's first play. He then gained a yard before Grant tried an 8-yard pass that fell 3 yards short of split end Tyrone Hughes.
So 1 minute and 15 seconds into the season, Mike Stigge had to punt. Last year, he didn't punt until the third game.
Stigge wasn't caught napping. His 58-yard kick into a 16-mph wind buried Utah at its own 6-yard line.
After three plays and a Utes punt, Nebraska scored its first touchdown.
Fullback Lance Lewis took a handoff, snowplowed into a pile of bodies, then churned free for 57 yards and a touchdown — the longest run of his five-year career.
"A piano jumped on my back at the 10," Lewis said, smiling. "I was praying nobody was gaining on me."
Alberts' fumble recovery two plays later got Nebraska the ball back at the Utah 33.
On a fourth-and-two at the 25, Grant bootlegged right and hit Washington in the middle of the end zone. But the senior tight end, seeking the first regular-season touchdown of his career, lost the ball as he stumbled backward.
That was about the only NU mistake in the next 20 minutes.
Brown ran for 58 yards on four carries in the next drive. The final 26 yards came on an option right in which the junior dodged one tackler, leapfrogged a second and outran a third for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead with 5:20 left in the first quarter.
Was that an All-America run?
"No, it was just a run," Brown said. "I don't know what an All-America run is."
Grant capped a 50-yard drive on the next possession with a 16-yard touchdown dash even though Utah had 12 men on the field. That put the Huskers up 21-0 in the final minute of the first quarter.
"Mike showed me a little speed that I didn't know he had," Brown said. "He looked good."
The stars in the second quarter were Nebraska's defensive backs.
Free safety Tyrone Byrd, strong safety Steve Carmer and cornerback John Reece intercepted passes on consecutive possessions.
Byrd's steal at the Nebraska 3 stopped a Utah march that produced the Utes' initial first down — with 13:17 left in the second quarter — and their first snaps in Husker territory. Most of that drive was against NU's No. 2 defense.
Fullback Andre McDuffy's 7-yard run and Jones' 14-yard reception from Grant put Nebraska ahead 35-0 at halftime.
The lead climbed to 42-0 with 9:42 left in the third quarter on Grant's 6-yard run.
Despite the early onslaught, Osborne said the top offense wasn't as polished as he had hoped.
"We sputtered a little," he said. "We had a couple of mental mistakes, a couple of penalties and a couple of turnovers.
"But I suspect those things will even out and we'll be OK."
Utah finally broke through against the second defense as quarterback Frank Dolce hit fullback Henry Lusk with a 7-yard touchdown pass with 4:34 to go in the third.
Four minutes later, tailback Keith Williams' 54-yard touchdown burst and tailback Pierre Jones' two-point conversion run brought the Utes back to 42-14.
But Grant, who had been replaced by Joel Cornwell, went back in to engineer a 10-play, 61-yard touchdown drive, capped by his pass to Armstrong with 12:07 left in the game.
Pierre Jones' 25-yard touchdown and another two-point conversion for Utah with 4:02 left made the final 49-22.
"I was impressed with our defense," Osborne said. "And the kicking game was good. We probably picked up seven to 10 points in kicking.
"If you play good defense and have a good kicking game, you've got a chance against anybody. I'm hoping we'll be that kind of team."
|Yards per carry||4.8||8.5|
Nebraska is 4-0 all-time against Utah.
|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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