BERKELEY, Calif. — Nebraska’s defense had nothing to apologize for after Saturday’s game against California.
Two weeks after being embarrassed in their season-opening game, the Husker defenders came up with a big-time performance in helping third-and fourth-ranked Nebraska escape Memorial Stadium with a 24-3 victory over stubborn Golden Bears.
“We talked a lot before the game about making some big plays,” Nebraska Defensive Coordinator Charlie McBride said. “We hadn’t been making them on defense. Today we did, and I’m as pleased with this game as I’ve been with any of them.”
So was senior rush end Chad Kelsay, who spearheaded Nebraska’s defensive effort that produced a half-dozen sacks, 11 tackles for losses and two turnovers.
“We did a lot of things that our defense hadn’t been showing this year,” Kelsay said. “When it was third and one the last couple of games, we weren’t stopping that. We were giving up 5 or 6 yards. If teams got the ball deep in our territory the last couple of games, they probably scored.
“Today, we stopped them on third and short. We got out of here with giving up just a field goal. It’s nice to see the defense coming around like that.”
Nebraska needed its defense to flex its muscles to overcome an offensive performance that started strong but faded in the middle parts of the game. The Huskers scored on two of their first four possessions, delighting the estimated 30,000 red-clad Nebraska fans in the turnout of 67,000 at Memorial Stadium.
California, which showed it also can play a little defense, kept the game within reach until the final four minutes when Monte Christo, the Huskers’ No. 3 quarterback, directed Nebraska to its final 10 points.
“We came out and really moved the ball, “ Nebraska Coach Frank Solich said. “It looked like we might be able to take over the game and control it. But California came back and played very, very hard and very well.
“I’m pleased with our players that we’ve been able to go 3-0. In my mind, we certainly have had to earn all three victories.”
The latest, Nebraska’s 17th in a row and its 63rd in its past 66 games, could put the Huskers in line for a ratings promotion after North Carolina State’s stunning 24-7 upset of second-ranked Florida State.
The Huskers avoided a similar fate by relying on their defense, the same unit that surrendered 590 yards passing to Louisiana Tech two weeks ago in a season-opening 56-27 win. The Huskers rebounded with a solid effort during the previous game against Alabama-Birmingham, then came within a field goal of shutting out California.
“I really think our defense stepped it up today, “ Solich said. “California made some big plays against us and put our backs to the wall several times. But each time, the defense responded. We needed that kind of play from them today.”
Eric Crouch, making his second straight start at quarterback for the injured Bobby Newcombe, got the Huskers on the scoreboard in a hurry by directing a 67-yard, seven-play scoring drive on Nebraska’s first possessions. Correll Buckhalter had the big run of the drive, a 29-yarder, that gave Nebraska a first down at the Cal 1-yard line. Fullback Joel Makovicka chipped in runs of 18 and 6 yards.
Crouch got the touchdown, sneaking 1 yard for the score. Kris Brown’s 93rd straight conversion kick gave Nebraska a 7-0 led with 12:08 remaining in the first quarter.
Nebraska started its next possession in a deep hole after a Nick Harris’ 33-yard punt was downed on the Husker 4. A third-down pass interference penalty on Cal’s Derrick Gardner bailed Nebraska out of tight spot, giving the Huskers a first down on their 20. Crouch eventually moved the Huskers to the California 43-yard line before the drive stalled, and Bill Lafleur pinned the Golden Bears 3 yards from their end zone with a 40-yard punt.
Nebraska increased its lead to 14-0 on its opening possession of the second quarter. Taking control at its 36 after a California punt, Nebraska moved 64 yards in five plays.
Makovicka got the drive started with a 23-yard run. After Buckhalter gained 5 yards, Crouch ripped off a 30-yard gain on an option to the California 6-yard line. Crouch scored his second touchdown, turning into the heart of the California defense on an option and diving into the end zone for the score with 9:55 left in the half.
California stormed back, with Deltha O’Neal returning Brown’s kickoff 49 yards to the California 49. O’Neal appeared stop at about his 20-yard line but bounced off a tackle and broke the return across the field before being run out of bounds.
After Joshua White gained 9 yards, Justin Vedder hooked up with Dameane Douglas on a 31-yard gain to the Nebraska 11. Linebackers Jay Foreman and Tony Ortiz then came up with three straight big plays to kill the drive. First, Foreman dropped White for a 4-yard loss after the California fullback caught a short pass for Vedder. Ortiz left the Golden Bears facing third-and-17 after sacking Vedder for a 3-yard loss, then batted away a third-down pass to force California into a field-goal attempt. Ignacio Brache’s 36-yard attempt sailed wide right with seven minutes left in the half.
On the first play after the missed field-goal attempt, Crouch hooked up with Shevin Wiggins for a 36-yard gain to the California 44-yard line. A clipping penalty stalled the drive, giving Calfornia one last chance to chip away at the Huskers’ lead.
The Golden Bears moved from their 36-yard line to a first down at the Nebraska 30, with the big play being a 22-yard completion from Vedder to Ronnie Davenport. The Huskers turned back the drive, stopping Cal for no gain on a first-down rush and forcing two incompletions by Vedder. California punted instead of attempting a 47-yard field, a move that paid off when the football was downed at the Nebraska 1-yard line.
An 18-yard run by Crouch and a 16-yarder by Makovicka produced a pair of first downs. With time running out in the half, O’Neal intercepted Crouch’s long pass at the California 4-yard line.
The Golden Bears dominated the third quarter, holding Nebraska to a minus-6 yards on its first two possessions and cutting the Huskers’ lead to 14-3 midway through the period.
Tim Wolleck’s 37-yard field goal was set up by a 40-yard completion from Vedder to Douglas. That gave the Golden Bears a first down on the Nebraska 25. The Huskers thwarted the drive by batting down Vedder’s first-down pass and sacking him for a 5-yard loss on second down.
A 10-yard gain on a Vedder-to-White completion left the Golden Bears facing fourth and five, and Wolleck came in to drill his field-goal attempt to make it 14-3.
|Yards per carry||0.5||4.2|
Nebraska is 3-0 all-time against California.
|Louisiana Tech||Aug. 29|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 3|
|Texas A&M||Oct. 10|
|Iowa State||Nov. 7|
|Kansas State||Nov. 14|
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