LINCOLN — The real Nebraska football team stood up — and out — Saturday.
Playing at near full-strength for the first time this season, the second-ranked Huskers smothered eighth- and ninth-ranked Washington 55-7 before 76,372 at Memorial Stadium. The 48-point margin of victory was Nebraska’s greatest ever against a Top 10-rated opponent, bettering the 45 points by which the 1992 Huskers defeated Colorado.
“We sent a big message to a lot of people today that Nebraska is for real," Husker cornerback Ralph Brown said. “When we have all our personnel and we come to play, it’s going to be a long day for our opponents."
That message was delivered with the subtlety of a sledgehammer blow to the temple.
The Huskers ran over Washington, rushing for a season-high 434 yards and finishing with 527 total yards. Nebraska scored on five of its first six possessions in building a 35-0 lead 25 minutes into the game. The Husker defense chipped in by forcing six turnovers and turning Washington quarterback Brock Huard into its personal whipping boy.
Perhaps most important, Nebraska showed it's capable of being the kind of team the Huskers thought they were before a rash of injuries chewed into the talent pool.
“In our first couple of games, we sputtered a little bit and people started questioning us," Nebraska rush end Chad Kelsay said. "But that just made us pull together a little tighter. We know what we can get done.
"The injuries threw us off a little bit, but we’re coming around. And as the year goes by, we’re going to keep getting better."
A scary proposition based on Saturday’s performance against the Huskies. Washington came to town 2-0 and courting national championship hopes. The Huskies left wondering what hit them.
“You just want to crawl into a hole," Washington quarterback Brock Huard said.
Huard might want to thank ABC for broadcasting Saturday’s game only to a regional audience. That reduced the number of witnesses who watched Nebraska improve to 4-0 with its 18th straight win and its 64th victory in its past 67 games.
The fans who did tune in were treated to triumphant returns by Nebraska I-back DeAngelo Evans, playing for the first time in almost 22 months, and quarterback Bobby Newcombe, who had sat out victories over Alabama-Birmingham and California with a knee injury.
Evans rushed for a career-high 146 yards on 13 attempts and scored touchdowns on runs of 60, 14 and 19 yards. The three scores matched Evans’ career high, set his last game on Dec. 7, 1996, in the Big 12 Conference championship game. He missed all of last season with an abdominal injury, then sat out the first three games of this season with a knee injury.
“It was really kind of a fairy tale today," Evans said. “I thought everything worked out well.”
Newcombe, who suffered a partially torn knee ligament in Nebraska’s Aug. 29 opening win over Louisiana Tech, also scored three touchdowns, on runs of 3, 2 and 2 yards. He finished the day with 79 yards rushing and 84 yards passing. He completed 5 of 8 throws, making him 14 of 18 for the season.
“It was our intention today to build some confidence in our running game," Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. “We wanted to run it at them. I thought the option game worked very, very well, and then the power game fell into line.
“We didn’t have to throw much today. We only threw nine passes, which is my all-time low.”
The Huskers could overlook the pass with the success they enjoyed on the ground. The Huskers had 14 different players run the ball and averaged 6.4 yards per carry on their 68 rushes.
Meanwhile, Nebraska often turned the heat on Huard by holding the Huskies to 97 yards rushing. Washington was forced to throw 41 passes, with Huard going 18 for 32 for 160 yards before being lifted in the third quarter.
Huard’s impact was negated by a Nebraska defense that was in his face on almost every play and a Washington defense that lacked the ability to slow Nebraska’s offense. The combination killed the Huskies’ chances of becoming the first team since 1991 to beat the Huskers at home. Nebraska’s last home setback was a 36-21 loss to Washington that season.
Nebraska stuck the 13-point underdog Huskies in a 14-0 hole after its first two possessions. Newcombe, who had a 21-yard run wiped out by a holding penalty on the first play from scrimmage, directed an 11-play, 82-yard scoring drive that produced a 7-0 lead with 10:37 remaining.
Newcombe had runs of 9 and 13 yards on the drive and hooked up with Matt Davison for a 12-yard gain. After fullback Joel Makovicka’s spinning 17-yard run to the Washington 3-yard line, Newcombe scored his first touchdown, racing into the end zone untouched on an option keeper.
Washington’s offense went three-and-out on its first possession, and Evans bolted 60 yards on Nebraska’s next play to hike the lead to 14-0. Evans took a pitch from Newcombe, followed a block by Makovicka and then outraced two Washington defenders to the end zone. Kris Brown’s second conversion kick left Nebraska ahead 14-0 with 8:46 left in the first quarter.
Defensive tackle Jason Wiltz, who missed the past two games with an ankle injury, came up with a big play to set up Nebraska’s next score. Under pressure, Huard floated a pass that wound up in Wiltz’s hands — his second interception of the year — and his 4-yard return gave Nebraska the football at the Huskies’ 22-yard line.
Makovicka bulled 8 yards on first down, then supplied another key block as Evans took a pitch from Newcombe and raced 14 yards for his second score. Brown’s conversion hiked Nebraska’s advantage to 21-0 with 2:55 left in the opening period.
Evans’ third score of the half, on a 19-yard run with 10:59 left in the half, capped a seven-play, 90-yard drive. Newcombe’s pass to wingback Shevin Wiggins accounted for 42 yards on the march, and he chipped in runs of 11 and 8 yards.
The Huskers’ lead grew to 35-0 with 5:15 remaining in the half when Correll Buckhalter, Nebraska’s leading rusher (310 yards) in the first three games, crashed in from the 3 to finish off a 60-yard drive that took six plays. Backup fullback Willie Miller had runs of 9, 5 and 8 yards on the drive, while Newcombe picked up 19 on an option.
Washington, which had one scoring drive thwarted when Erwin Swiney recovered true freshman Willie Hurst’s fumble at the Huskers’ 10-yard line, finally scored with 1:07 left in the half.
Huard had six of his 17 first-half completions on the march, including a 6-yard scoring strike to Joe Jarzynka.
Seven plays into the second half, Nebraska’s lead grew to 42-7 when Newcombe scored on a 2-yard run. The touchdown was set up by a pair of Huard fumbles, the first coming on the opening play of the third quarter when Steve Warren recovered the loose ball at the Washington 18-yard line.
Makovicka gained 5 yards but gave the football back to the Huskies when he fumbled at the 11. Two plays later, Huard coughed up the ball again, losing possession while being sacked. Khari Reynolds recovered at the Huskies’ 4, and Newcombe scored two plays later.
Nebraska failed to add to its lead midway through the third quarter when Brown missed a 30-yard field goal, his second miss in two games after he had made a school-record 17 straight. But the Huskers got the ball right back when Joe Walker intercepted Huard, and Nebraska scored six plays later.
Newcombe’s 2-yard scoring run capped the 19-yard drive and made it 49-7 with 5:58 left in the quarter. Nebraska’s lead grew to 55-7 with six seconds remaining in the period when Miller bulled in from the 1 to cap a drive started by rush end Chad Kelsay’s interception.
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Video: Nebraska-Washington broadcast (via YouTube)
|Yards per carry||3.1||6.4|
Nebraska is 5-4 all-time against Washington.
|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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