By BLAIR KERKHOFF - Staff Writer
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska scored eight touchdowns and held the opponent to minus-21 rushing yards, which should have made coach Frank Solich's debut an unqualified success Saturday. Except for a tiny detail.
Louisiana Tech passed the Cornhuskers silly. Nebraska won, as if it could be otherwise, 56-27. The outcome was never in doubt, even when the Bulldogs closed to two touchdowns in the third quarter.
But on a hot afternoon when the Eddie Robinson Classic theme was supposed to be about Solich and new beginnings, the Bulldogs' passing attack put the Cornhuskers in the NCAA record book.
Most yards receiving, game: Troy Edwards, Louisiana Tech, 405 yards (21 receptions), vs. Nebraska, Aug. 29, 1997.
"That was embarrassing," Nebraska strong safety Mike Brown said. "The way our secondary played, we want to apologize to our teammates."
That's how it is at Nebraska, which owns three national championships in the previous four years and moved its record since the beginning of the 1993 season to 61-3. Units don't snipe at each other when the chips are down, they apologize.
"A total breakdown in technique and fundamentals, which is what Nebraska is known for," Nebraska linebacker Jay Foreman said. "But that was an offense we never see. It was like basketball on a football field."
Indeed, the Bulldogs' multiple-receivers, quick-strike passing attack -- "spread-out, jailbreak" patterns, according to Cornhuskers' defensive coordinator Charlie McBride -- prevented Nebraska from mustering much of a pass rush.
Quarterback Tim Rattay, whose 45-for-68 completions for 590 yards hearkened back to the old Houston Cougars run-and-shoot days, was sacked just three times. He threw one interception, late in the game.
"I thought maybe they could throw for 300," McBride said.
By quarters, Rattay threw for 16-140-210-224. Edwards had 198 receiving yards in the third quarter. Louisiana Tech outgained Nebraska for the day 569-462.
"The numbers don't really mean anything because we lost the game," said Edwards, who had given Nebraska some bulletin-board material with disparaging remarks of the Huskers defense earlier in the week. "The main issue is we lost the game."
Almost lost in the Rattay-Edwards phenomenon was the play of the Cornhuskers' offense, especially quarterback Bobby Newcombe, a redshirt freshman making his first start at quarterback.
Newcombe completed nine of 10 passes for 168 yards and had no problems guiding the offense. Nebraska took the kickoff and ripped off 12-yard runs on its first two plays. Newcombe then hit tight end Sheldon Jackson on a 48-yard touchdown pass.
The next two series were more familiar to Nebraskans: smash-mouth touchdown drives of 14 and 10 plays. The Cornhuskers owned first-half leads of 21-0 and 35-6.
But when Rattay and Edwards opened the second half with long touchdown strikes over All-Big 12 cornerback Ralph Brown, making it 35-21, Solich got a little queasy.
"I felt a little uneasy there because they had scored so quickly," Solich said.
Nebraska came back with two straight touchdowns and all that was left to be resolved were Louisiana Tech's incredible totals. Rattay smashed the Nebraska school record of passing yards by an opponent's quarterback, which was held by Kansas State's Chad May in 1993. Edwards was heading to the top of the college football charts.
An exhausted Edwards wobbled toward the game's end. He caught only one pass for 5 yards on the Bulldogs' final two series. Fatigue had accomplished what the Cornhuskers couldn't.
"Our pride?" Brown said. "He beat it down pretty hard."