East Rutherford, N.J. — A good start for a team that plans on doing something great.
That's how Nebraska coaches and players assessed Sunday's 31-0 thumping of West Virginia in the 12th Kickoff Classic, the third time the Huskers have won the opening game of the college football season.
Before a crowd of 58,233 at Giants Stadium-including an estimated 12,000 raucous rooters in red-third-and fourth-ranked NU offered the following performances for the other 106 teams in Division I-A to consider:
>> A defense that posted NU's first shutout since a 55-0 whipping of Oklahoma State 20 games ago in 1992.
The Blackshirts and their backups held 23rd-and 24th-ranked West Virginia to 89 total yards, the least since limiting Iowa State to 53 yards 113 games ago in 1984. WVU's 8 rushing yards were the least since Colorado's 8-yard day 18 games ago in 1992.
"We think we can have a great defense," NU Coach Tom Osborne said. "And to be a great football team, you've got to have a great defense."
>> An award-winning showing by Tommie Frazier, who accounted for 230 total yards and had a hand in all four touchdowns.
The junior from Bradenton, Fla., became the ninth quarterback to be voted the most valuable player at the Kickoff Classic, and the third from Nebraska, joining Turner Gill in 1983 and Steve Taylor in 1988.
Frazier's showing sparked questions about the Heisman Trophy.
"I'm not worried about the Heisman right now," said Frazier, who shook off a third-quarter blow to his throwing shoulder. "All I'm worried about is winning week in and week out.
"If the Heisman comes, I'll be happy. But if it doesn't, I'll be happy as long as our team wins."
>> A 100-yard rushing day for I-back Lawrence Phillips in his first career start.
The sophomore from West Covina, Calif., gained 126 yards in 24 carries before resting in the fourth quarter.
>> And for local flavor, three Huskers from New Jersey made big contributions.
Middle linebacker Doug Colman had eight tackles and recovered a fumble that set up a touchdown. Cornerback Barron Miles intercepted a pass. And nose tackle Christian Peter had seven tackles.
"I had 106 friends and family here," said Colman, a junior from Ventnor, N.J. "There were tears in my eyes as I boarded the bus. This was an ideal game for me."
Not everything worked out perfectly for Nebraska.
The Huskers committed five turnovers, the most since losing the ball seven times in a 1990 loss 38 games ago to Oklahoma.
Two wide-open receivers dropped passes near the goal line. One was intercepted. The other appeared to be a sure touchdown.
And there were six penalties and a few blown assignments.
But the negatives weren't enough to keep Nebraska fans from showering the end zone with oranges after the first touchdown.
The fruit toss caused the press box announcer to say,"We have flags on the play." After a pause, he said,"Excuse, me, those were oranges."
Having fans go wild is OK with NU defensive tackle Terry Connealy.
"The fans always get pretty excited, which I like to see," he said. "But that's only the first game of the year. It's not even September yet.
"We don't want this to go to our heads. And we don't want to take anybody for granted. The fellas realize we've got a chance to have a real good team. They'll do whatever it takes to keep improving."
Osborne also cautioned against claims of invincibility.
"We're pleased with the outcome," he said. "But sometimes people can get overly optimistic.
"We, at times, didn't play all that well. But we think we have a good team."
Nebraska gave indications early Sunday of being good.
After punting on the opening series, Nebraska rolled 60, 55 and 70 yards on its next three possessions.
An interception killed the first of those drives. Wingback Clester Johnson let Frazier's pass skip through his hands and into those of West Virginia cornerback Harold Kidd at the Mountaineer 8-yard line.
But Nebraska scored on the next possession, despite the best efforts of West Virginia's Todd Sauerbrun.
He bombed a 90-yard punt-a school record by 12 yards and a Kickoff Classic record by 30-that defensive back Kareem Moss returned 28 yards to the NU 31.
Thirteen plays later, after a drive stalled at the WVU 14, fifth-year senior Tom Sieler kicked a 32-yard field goal-the first of his career-to give Nebraska a 3-0 lead with 34 seconds to go in the first quarter.
After the Blackshirts stuffed West Virginia on three plays, Sauerbrun hit a 71-yard punt that split end Reggie Baul returned 20 yards to the NU 30. From there, the Huskers steamrolled to their first touchdown of the season.
Frazier, who had a 10-yard run early in the drive, finished it with a 25-yard option keeper to put NU up 10-0 with 10:49 left in the half.
After the seventh play of that nine-play drive, West Virginia called time to rest its defenders. With the on-field temperature near 100 degrees and a humidity reading above 50 percent, many of them were bent over gasping for breath.
"It looked like the heat was really bothering them," NU guard Rob Zatechka said. "They were slow coming out of the huddle, and they weren't coming off the ball very hard.
"I have to give credit to our coaches for really getting us in good shape for this game."
The Nebraska offense was back in business two plays after Frazier's first score, because Colman caused and recovered a fumble at the WVU 13.
Frazier found Baul in the back of the end zone with a 12-yard touchdown pass for a 17-0 lead with 9:20 to go.
After a punt, backup Brook Berringer came in on the next series, which ended in three plays.
Frazier returned on the next possession to lead a 74-yard touchdown drive keyed by three big plays.
The first was a quick hitch pass to Baul, who turned it into a 23-yard gain. The second was a 15-yard roughing-the-kicker penalty that kept the drive alive at the WVU 39.
The third was Frazier's 27-yard option keeper that pushed the Huskers ahead 24-0 with 1:20 left in the half.
"I had a good game," said Frazier, who ran for 130 yards and passed for 100. "But I had a couple of turnovers. There are things I need to iron out and improve."
While Frazier had the Husker offense purring, West Virginia quarterbacks Chad Johnston and Eric Boykin were scrambling for their lives.
The two sophomores, neither of whom had started a game, led the Mountaineers to 4 total yards in the first half. WVU had two first downs in the first 30 minutes-one rushing and one by penalty.
Kevin Steele, NU's inside linebackers coach, said the minuscule yardage numbers were nice. But his focus was on the effort this defense put out in comparison to last year's unit, which had five players sign with National Football League teams.
"We've talked since January that the key on defense is chemistry," Steele said. "You can have great athletes, but if you don't play together you can be real average.
"They had chemistry today. They had a good time and played the game the way it was supposed to be played."
Nebraska's defense continued its domination in the third quarter, still preventing West Virginia from entering Husker territory.
But the offense struggled after halftime.
Frazier threw an interception in the end zone and fumbled away a snap on the West Virginia 39. But he capped his day with a 42-yard touchdown on an option keeper with 7:27 to go in the game.
West Virginia didn't get into NU territory until its 13th possession. That was with 13:06 left in the game.
The Mountaineers drove to the 8, but missed on a fourth-down try. They later got as deep as the Husker 2 against a mix of NU's No. 2 and 3 defenses. But Sedric Collins' end zone interception ended that threat.
"The defense sucked it up," Zatechka said. "They played a great game.
"The offense, however, has a few things to polish. We should have had at least two more touchdowns. So it's time to get back to work."
|Yards per carry||0.2||6.1|
Nebraska is 1-0 all-time against West Virginia.
|West Virginia||Aug. 28|
|Texas Tech||Sept. 8|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 8|
|Kansas State||Oct. 15|
|Iowa State||Nov. 12|
|Miami (FL)||Jan. 1|
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