Loran Kaiser, for one, was caught off-guard.
"They'd dive the fullback up the middle, and I'd go after him — but he never had the ball," the Nebraska sophomore defensive tackle said. "I was confused."
Join the club. Alabama-Birmingham had the Nebraska defensive coaches and players scrambling Saturday at Memorial Stadium. The Blazers used a wishbone formation on offense more than half the time, and nobody dressed in red saw it coming.
"From what we had seen on film, they had never run the wishbone," Nebraska secondary coach George Darlington said after the Cornhuskers' 38-7 victory. "If you run it like those folks did, your defense can have a real chore on its hands."
It should be noted there was nothing disastrous about the Nebraska defense's performance. There were, however, signs of vulnerability. UAB finished with 210 total yards, including 154 on the ground — the best rushing performance against NU since Oklahoma gained 186 in 1996.
This was a Nebraska defensive unit that was expected to dominate. It would carry the team until all those inexperienced players on offense started clicking. Remember?
But there was UAB, marching 80 yards on 16 plays for a touchdown to pull to 14-7 late in the second quarter. The Blazers ran the ball the final eight plays. Five of the last six plays went to the right side. They were beating the Huskers the way the Huskers beat down people.
Nebraska defensive coordinator Charlie McBride skipped the postgame press conference. Maybe his head was still spinning.
"He wasn't real happy (at halftime), but he wasn't yelling or screaming," Nebraska nose tackle Steve Warren said. "He was just trying to figure out what we were seeing and what kind of blocking schemes we were getting."
"That was a wakeup call," said Kaiser, referring to the Blazers' scoring drive. "But we came out in the second half and shut them down, I think."
UAB managed 95 yards in the second half, including 69 rushing.
Nothing to panic about, Kaiser said.
"I think we're doing just fine — we're winning," Kaiser said. "We're gelling. Once we come together, we'll be a real good defense."
"(The Blazers) were kind of eating away at us — 3 yards, 4 yards," Warren said. "But when it came down to third-down situations — and long situations — I think we stepped up and played pretty well. We gave up some yards, but sometimes that's to be expected of teams."
Nebraska played without injured starters Jason Wiltz, a senior defensive tackle, and Clint Finley, a sophomore free safety. Wiltz is expected to miss two more weeks with a sprained ankle; Finley will return for next Saturday's game at California.
Wiltz's absence led to Kaiser's first start. The sophomore from Farwell called it the second-best day of his life. The first, he said, occurred Thursday, when he received his Black Shirt practice jersey, a coveted piece of clothing reserved for Nebraska's top-unit defenders.
"Running down from the tunnel (before the game) seemed so different," said Kaiser, who had six tackles, including a 4-yard sack. "It was wild. I was excited."
Nothing Saturday was as wild as what occurred last week against Louisiana Tech, which piled up 590 passing yards in a 56-27 loss. The Huskers allowed less than one-tenth that amount to the Blazers (56 yards).
"I thought (our secondary) played fairly well," Darlington said. "I was disappointed with a few of their completions. But we played well and adjusted to an offense we haven't seen."
Web posted September 6, 1998
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