IOWA CITY — Nebraska found luxury Saturday in the controversy some see in its quarterback situation.
With starter Bobby Newcombe producing 163 yards and three touchdowns and backup Eric Crouch getting 160 yards and three more scores, the fifth- and sixth-ranked Huskers rolled to a 42-7 victory before 70,397 at Kinnick Stadium. After some early offensive sputtering, Nebraska scored 35 second-half points and piled up 543 yards in winning its 14th straight season opener.
The performances of Newcombe and Crouch probably will do little to silence the ongoing debate outside the Husker camp about who should lead the Nebraska offense. But in Coach Frank Solich’s mind, Saturday’s effort underscored the advantages of having two players the caliber of Crouch and Newcombe.
“I thought both of them played well, and I expected that to be the case,” Solich said. “We have two outstanding quarterbacks, and we’re fortunate in that regard. Any time you’re able to have fresh quarterbacks on the field in our style of offense, you probably have yourself something.”
What Nebraska had Saturday in addition to Crouch and Newcombe was a defense that lived up to preseason expectations. In posting its 25th win in 40 meetings with the Hawkeyes, Nebraska limited Iowa to eight first downs, 57 yards rushing, 169 total yards and an average of 3.0 yards per snap.
Iowa’s offense got no closer than 33 yards to Nebraska’s goal line, but the Hawkeyes averted a shutout when Tim Dodge returned a blocked punt 10 yards for a score with 2:30 left in the game.
“That hurt bad, because our defense had worked hard to get that goose-egg,” Husker cornerback Ralph Brown said. “It hurt for that to happen on special teams because we weren’t out there and there wasn’t anything we could do about it. It shows on the scoreboard, and a lot of people are going to think that came against our defense.”
Aside from losing the shutout, the defense had little to frown about after 60 minutes of making life miserable for sophomore quarterback Kyle McCann and the rest of the Iowa offense.
“We had a lot of fun out there today,” Brown said. “We came out and made a little statement about how hungry we are. We don’t want to leave anything about last year in people’s minds.”
The Huskers, coming off a 9-4 season in 1998, feasted on an Iowa offense that continued its struggles from a year ago. The Hawkeyes ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten Conference in most offensive categories last season, and Saturday’s game indicated a quick fix isn’t likely.
“I would have liked us to move the football better and score,” said Kirk Ferentz, whose debut as Iowa’s head coach was spoiled.
“It was not the most enjoyable thing to lose, but it is not hopeless. We just have to go back to work.”
Nebraska, too, will return to practice Monday to begin preparations for Saturday’s home opener against California. Based on what he saw Saturday, Solich said, changes at quarterback or I-back are not forthcoming.
“We’ll take a look at the film, but no one lost a starting job out there today, from what I saw on the sideline,” Solich said. “Eric came in and played tremendous, and that’s what we expect from Eric or from Bobby if he would come in second.
“That’s what we expect from whoever comes in at I-back, too. We are very fortunate to have the quality of players that we do at those two positions. I’m not going to get into, after every practice and every game, who’s our starting quarterback. We’ll let you know when we make any position changes.”
No. 2 I-back Dan Alexander led Nebraska’s 347-yard rushing output by gaining 95 yards on 15 carries. Crouch added 92 on five carries, including touchdown runs of 28, 6 and 21 yards.
No. 1 I-back DeAngelo Evans finished with 69 yards on 13 carries, while Newcombe rushed 15 times for 35 yards. Newcombe, who scored on runs of 1 and 5 yards, passed for 128 yards, completing 7 of 10 throws with one touchdown and one interception. The junior from Albuquerque, N.M., also was charged with two lost fumbles.
Crouch was 3 of 5 for 68 yards. Overall, Crouch ran 19 offensive plays, while Newcombe was at the controls for 50 snaps.
“I thought our quarterbacks played excellent; I have no complaints,” Alexander said. “There was never a drop-off from one quarterback to the next. They just patted each other on the back and said ‘Let’s go.’ As a team, we’re very comfortable with our quarterbacks.”
Like Solich, Alexander and the rest of the Huskers see nothing controversial about the quarterback set-up.
“I don’t think there’s as much competition as everyone thinks,” Alexander said. “We don’t see it erupting in the locker room or the practice field. They’re competitors — we’re all competitors. As far as I know, there’s never been any bad words between the two. They go out and give 100 percent, and there’s no tension. There’s no reason to take sides, and we’ll stick behind both of them.”
Speaking for the offensive line, tackle Adam Julch said, “It doesn’t matter to us who’s behind us, just what’s in front of us. I don’t see any difference in any of them. They’re all great athletes.”
More of a concern for the Huskers were the early-game sputters, which left the Huskers leading just 7-0 after the first 30 minutes.
Turnovers ended three of Nebraska’s eight first-half possessions, and the Huskers were held on downs when Newcombe was stopped for no gain on fourth and 1 at the Iowa 22-yard line.
“We expected to come out and play really, really well today,” Newcombe said. “We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to come out and set the world on fire. We have to understand that we have to come out and play patient, let things come to us and not force things.”
Crouch entered the game on Nebraska’s fifth possession and needed just four plays to get the Huskers their first touchdown of the season. Taking over at the Iowa 47-yard line following an 18-yard punt return by Keyuo Craver, Nebraska got runs of 12 and 5 yards from Alexander and 2 and 28 yards from Crouch, the latter for the score with 7:54 to play.
Newcombe’s first fumble, on a quick snap from center Dominic Raiola, had stopped a Nebraska first-quarter drive at the Iowa 17-yard line. His second, on an errant pitch, short-circuited another scoring opportunity after Nebraska had taken control on the Iowa 10-yard line following Hawkeyes’ tailback Ladell Betts’ fumble.
Instead of being ahead by three or four touchdowns at halftime, the Huskers hit the locker room ahead by just seven points.
“I wasn’t frustrated, but I was thinking about what’s wrong with our offense and why we were having trouble putting it in the end zone,” Newcombe said. “I tried to talk to some of the players, including myself, and just tried to get us to relax more.
“We needed to be patient and let things come to us. I thought we came out more relaxed in the second half.”
Solich said he didn’t consider making any changes in offensive personnel to start the third quarter.
“I want those guys to understand that it’s not going to be a deal where anyone is looking over their shoulder and they have to worry about a series, a quarter or a half,” Solich said. “There’s a lot of football to be played out here, and both those guys (Newcombe and Crouch) are going to have to play an important role if we get done what we want to get done.”
Newcombe got things done in the second half by directing Nebraska to touchdowns on its first three possessions after halftime. He hooked up with Sean Applegate on a 47-yard touchdown pass to complete a three-play, 58-yard drive. Following another Betts fumble, Newcombe moved the Huskers 29 yards in three plays, getting the touchdown on a 1-yard run to make it 21-0 with 8:46 left in the third period.
He scored again on the first play of the final quarter, running 5 yards on an option to complete a 73-yard drive on 13 plays.
Crouch then took over, producing touchdowns on two of his three second-half possessions. His 6-yard run capped a 69-yard, four-play drive that included a 38-yard pass to Matt Davison and a 24-yard pass to Aaron Golliday.
Nebraska’s final scoring drive was a five-play, 80-yarder that started with runs of 8 and 10 yards by Correll Buckhalter, Nebraska’s No. 3 I-back. After Crouch completed a 6-yard pass to Jake McKee, he raced 35 yards on an option. Crouch then punctuated his performance, which earned him ABC-Chevrolet player of the game honors, with a 21-yard touchdown run that Iowa defensive back Mikkel Brown won’t soon forget.
Brown came up to meet Crouch at the Iowa 5-yard line and ended up plastered to the turf.
“After all the things that happened this week, I wanted to take some of those things out on the field,” Crouch said. “I had a chance to run around the guy, but it’s a physical game.”
As he did last week, Crouch declined interview requests. He did talk briefly with reporters immediately after the game and said he favors any system that mixes the top two quarterbacks in the No. 1 offense. He also talked briefly before boarding the bus, saying he would discuss his situation this week.
By letting his actions speak loudly, Crouch showed he intends to be an integral part of Nebraska’s plans this season. So did Newcombe, who said Crouch’s performance did more to relax him than apply any pressure.
“I thought both did an excellent job,” Solich said. “It’s hard to balance that out because one starts the game and one comes in later. But I wouldn’t trade either one of them for anybody, and I was pleased with what they got done today.”
|Yards per carry||2.2||5.6|
Nebraska is 29-18 all-time against Iowa.
|Southern Miss||Sept. 18|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 2|
|Iowa State||Oct. 9|
|Texas A&M||Nov. 6|
|Kansas State||Nov. 13|
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