PASADENA, Calif. — Nebraska’s one-point victory Saturday over UCLA elicited a one-word response from the Husker locker room.
“We’re really fortunate to get out of here with a win,” NU Coach Tom Osborne said after his team rallied from a 10-point deficit to nip the Bruins 14-13 before 50,299 fans — including about 15,000 dressed in red — at the Rose Bowl.
“If you go a minus-four in turnovers against a good football team on their field, you’re very fortunate to win.”
Add in unranked UCLA’s 53-yard touchdown run nullified by penalty in the first quarter and two missed field-goal attempts in the second quarter, and you get a better idea of how close sixth- and eighth-ranked Nebraska came to going home 2-1 instead of 3-0.
“We escaped,” said quarterback Tommie Frazier, who threw for 145 yards and a go-ahead third-quarter touchdown despite limping much of the game on his sore right ankle.
“But I’m proud of this team. Even though we have injuries to key players, we can still win.”
Besides the hobbled Frazier, the Huskers played for the second straight week without preseason All-America I-back Calvin Jones, sidelined with a knee strain.
But true freshman Lawrence Phillips, whose home is 30 minutes from the Rose Bowl, ran for 137 yards in 28 carries and scored on a 5-yard run.
And the Husker defense, staggered by UCLA’s surprising running game for three quarters, held the Bruins to 40 yards in a quiet fourth quarter to help the Huskers stay undefeated.
“It wasn’t pretty at all,” said outside linebacker Trev Alberts, whose 10 solo tackles earned him ABC-TV’s Nebraska player of the game honors. “But I’m going back to Lincoln with a smile on my face.
“We beat a very tough team in a hostile situation. This will pay big dividends.”
Some UCLA players felt cheated out of a big payoff by not beating Nebraska after building a 10-0 lead in the second quarter.
“I feel we were the better team,” said true freshman halfback Skip Hicks, who ran for 148 yards in 19 carries and a 6-yard touchdown in his first career start.
“Our defense played great. Nebraska was averaging 63 points a game, and it only got 14 today. We just didn’t do our part on offense even though they got us the ball in good position.”
UCLA recovered Nebraska fumbles in the first, third and fourth quarters, and picked off a Husker pass in the second quarter. But the Bruins failed to score on the possession following any of those miscues.
Despite those missed opportunities, UCLA still broke to a 10-0 lead.
Freshman Bjorn Merten kicked a 39-yard field goal late in the first quarter. He later would miss wide right from 53 and 44 yards.
Hicks, whose 53-yard burst to the end zone was nullified by a holding penalty on the game’s fourth play, capped a 72-yard UCLA march in the second quarter with a 6-yard touchdown run.
“The thing that kept us on the ropes,” Osborne said, ”was their running game. We didn’t do a good job against it for a long period of time.
“Then late in the third quarter and in the fourth, we did a pretty good job, which really saved our bacon.”
UCLA used cutback draw plays, similar to those Colorado employed with tailback Eric Bieniemy three years ago to beat NU 27-12, to race up the middle.
Osborne said he saw nothing new in UCLA’s attack that sprung the holes.
“I thought it was basic football that was killing us more than any kind of gimmicks,” he said.
Nebraska countered by blitzing up the middle out of its 4-3 alignment.
“We’re still kind of learning on the run with the 4-3 scheme,” Osborne said. “We’re not closing off like we need to, and we have some guys taking wrong gaps.
“It’s a variety of things, but nothing that can’t be corrected.”
On offense, Nebraska finally broke through with 2:54 left in the first half on Phillips’ 5-yard touchdown sweep. That came after a 16-yard shovel pass from Frazier to wingback Abdul Muhammad, cheered on by 70 family members and friends from his hometown 30 minutes away.
Frazier said that touchdown swung the momentum.
“That showed that they weren’t ready to play the type of game we play,” he said.
Nebraska, after losing a fumble on its first possession of the third quarter, bounced back to drive 80 yards and take a 14-10 lead.
Frazier hit Muhammad and tight end Trumane Bell with passes of 11 and 16 yards. Phillips added 29 yards on five carries before Frazier found tight end Gerald Armstrong with an 11-yard scoring pass with 6:56 left in the third quarter.
After an exchange of punts, UCLA threatened again by driving 82 yards to the NU 10.
Hicks popped a 28-yard run, then burst 23 yards to the NU 14 on the first play of the fourth quarter. But that was the 6-foot-1, 205-pounder’s last play because he suffered a sprained ankle at the end of the run.
Two plays later, Nebraska appeared to have a turnover as Alberts sacked UCLA quarterback Wayne Cook and the ball squirted free. But the referee blew the play dead on the tackle.
“That ball came loose,” Alberts said. “There is no doubt about it. But the ref said the ground caused the fumble.”
On a fourth-and-six from the NU 10, Merten kicked a 27-yard field goal to cut the Husker lead to 14-13.
But UCLA never threatened in the final 12:22.
After Byron Bennett’s 51-yard punt pinned the Bruins at their 20, they went three-downs-and-out for just the second time in the game. Alberts made two of the three tackles.
Nebraska then appeared ready to score an insurance touchdown. But on a slant pass from Frazier, split end Corey Dixon lost a fumble at the UCLA 14.
But NU held the Bruins to one first down and forced a punt with 2:23 to play. UCLA never got the ball back.
“In the second half,” Husker middle guard Terry Connealy said, ”the defense got together and decided it was our game to win or lose.”
Who made that speech?
“There didn’t need to be a speech,” Connealy said. “It was something we realized we had to do. It was a good gut-check.”
“We can’t expect our offense to score 70 points a week,” he said. “We’ve got to be able to hold teams to 13 points.
“UCLA got a lot of yards. But we won, and we’re pretty pleased.”
Osborne said he was pleased with the effort and character, but he’s becoming concerned with the impact of the injuries on his team.
“I’ve made some statements earlier about this being a very good football team,” he said. “But I’m not sure we’re the same team we were when we started the season because of some of the things that have happened to us.
“We need to get some guys healed up, and we need to do a better job of executing.
“But if anything is going to get their attention, it ought to be this one. This was a close call.”
|Yards per carry||4.5||4.2|
Nebraska is 7-6 all-time against UCLA.
|North Texas||Sept. 4|
|Texas Tech||Sept. 11|
|Colorado State||Sept. 25|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 7|
|Kansas State||Oct. 16|
|Iowa State||Nov. 13|
|Florida State||Jan. 1|
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