|San Jose State||6||0||7||0||13|
LINCOLN — Nebraska's season opener Saturday proved to be no sweat for the top-ranked Huskers.
With triple-digit temperatures turning Memorial Stadium into the state's biggest oven, the Huskers showcased their offensive efficiency in grilling overmatched San Jose State 49-13.
Nebraska scored on seven of its first nine possessions, covering distances of 80, 80, 80, 97, 71, 65 and 82 yards on the touchdown drives.
"We felt like we could run anything we wanted to out there," Husker quarterback Eric Crouch said.
Crouch scored three touchdowns and passed for another as the Huskers won their opener for the 15th straight season. Many of the 234th straight sellout crowd of 77,728 stuck it out until the end in spite of temperatures that soared past 100 degrees by game's end.
The temperature on the field was more than 120 degrees.
"It was definitely smoldering inside the helmets today," Nebraska offensive guard Russ Hochstein said. "But the coaches did a great job of getting us ready for this, and we definitely wore them down."
The Huskers' highly regarded offense produced 596 yards on 73 snaps, an average of 8.2 yards per play. Nebraska rushed for 505 yards, with senior I-back Dan Alexander leading the way with 208 yards on 17 carries.
"That offensive unit is very, very dominant," San Jose State Coach Dave Baldwin said. "We couldn't stop them."
Alexander's career-high output was the most by a Nebraska player in a season-opening game since 1950, when Bobby Reynolds gained 187 yards against Indiana. Alexander's final carry of the day produced a 56-yard touchdown early in the third quarter, and he also had gains of 39 and 32 yards.
Teammate Correll Buckhalter added 117 yards on 13 carries, while Crouch pitched in with 57 yards and fullback Willie Miller 51. Perhaps the most impressive statistic concerning Nebraska's rushing production was that none of the 11 players who carried a total of 60 times lost a yard.
"I give all the credit to my Lord for allowing me to run and run fast," Alexander said. "But right after Him comes our linemen. Those holes were just huge. Pretty much anything we could have tried would have worked today because of them."
San Jose State also enjoyed some success offensively, which didn't set well with Nebraska's coaches and defensive players. The Spartans rushed for 193 yards — the most since Kansas State gained 212 in 1998 — and finished with 346 yards on 66 plays (5.2 - yard average).
Almost half of the Spartans' total came in the first quarter when they gained 159 yards on 16 plays, with 5-foot-6 tailback Deonce Whitaker gaining 113 yards on six carries.
Whitaker ripped off a 69-yard gain to the Nebraska 7-yard line on San Jose State's opening possession. Two penalties wiped out San Jose State touchdown plays, and the Spartans came away empty-handed when Nick Gilliam hit the right upright on a 29-yard field-goal attempt.
Whitaker set up San Jose's first touchdown with a 28-yard, gear-shifting run on the Spartans' second possession. While Nebraska eventually put the wraps on him, holding Whitaker to 34 yards in the final three quarters, he did enough damage to raise some caution flags.
"Early in the game, we did not tackle very well," Nebraska Coach Frank Solich said. "In fact, I'd say it was poor. As the game went on, we did a better job. We started pursuing better, and we started to look more like the defense we expect our guys to be.
"It's always a concern when a team rolls up yards, but we've had that happen before. We knew they had the style of offense where they could move the ball up and down the field. But the bottom line is how many times you get it in the end zone and how many points you get on the board. I thought we did a pretty good job on that end of it."
Several Husker defensive players agreed, although they admitted frustration in allowing Whitaker to finish with 147 yards, the 11th highest all - time total by an opposing back against Nebraska.
"That first quarter, we didn't look like the Blackshirts," Nebraska defensive tackle Loran Kaiser said. "We were in the right defenses but it was just bad tackling. Really bad tackling."
Said Defensive Coordinator Craig Bohl: "We need to recognize that Whitaker is an excellent back, but our tackling definitely leaves room for improvement. We showed signs of improvement during the course of the game, but there is no doubt we need to become a better tackling team."
Another point of agreement among the Huskers was that they were glad to put the game behind them. They had grown tired the past month of trying to convince anyone who would listen that their focus was on San Jose and not on this week's Notre Dame game.
"I had people telling me that I should sit out this game because it was not as big of a game as the Notre Dame game," said Kaiser, who played 10 days after having his appendix removed. "That wouldn't have been fair to me, my teammates or the coaches.
"But everyone has been talking about the Notre Dame game for years now. It was all it seemed the fans were looking forward to, no matter what we were saying. We took care of business and won. That's all that matters. Now we can make everyone happy and start focusing on Notre Dame."
The Huskers' offensive focus Saturday was on getting the job done without dipping too deep into their arsenal. Crouch and backup quarterback Jammal Lord threw only 13 passes, completing five for 91 yards. Three of their passes were intercepted, but Nebraska did avoid the fumble problems that plagued the Huskers a year ago.
Nebraska, which lost a nation-leading 25 fumbles last season, did not fumble against the Spartans.
"That's gone," said Solich when asked about the fumbles. "I hope, forever."
Mixing its trademark option game with a power attack, Nebraska scored on its first four possessions, the first three covering 80 yards apiece. Crouch sandwiched a 27-yard touchdown pass to Tracey Wistrom between scoring runs of 6 and 4 yards to put the Huskers ahead 21-6 with 10:56 left in the half.
Alexander capped an eight-play, 97-yard drive with a 1-yard scoring run with 3:24 remaining in the half, then opened second-half scoring with a 56-yard run, which brought an end to his workday with 12:21 left in the third period.
San Jose State cut its deficit to 35-13 when the Spartans converted Crouch's second interception into a 19-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Arroyo to Rashied Davis with nine minutes left in the third quarter. The Huskers countered with their final two scoring drives, with Crouch's 9-yard run capping a 65-yard march and Dahrran Diedrick's 2-yard run bringing an end to an 82-yard, 10-play possession.
"Today was kind of basic because we didn't want to show a lot," Crouch said. "We ran a lot of traps and off-tackle plays today, We ran some play-action passes that helped move the ball but we didn't rely on too many trick plays.
"It was option football, power football, and that's what we do best. There's a lot of motivation for us to be on the top of our game all the time. With the experience we have together as an offense, it just makes it that much easier for us."
|Yards per carry||6.7||8.4|
Nebraska is 2-0 all-time against San Jose State.
|San Jose State||Sept. 2|
|Notre Dame||Sept. 9|
|Iowa State||Oct. 7|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 14|
|Kansas State||Nov. 11|
Nebraska has played 5 games on Sept. 2. See them all »
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