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Huskers zap Zips in opener

No surprises: NU romps

Independent/William Lauer
Huskers' quarterback Scott Frost straight-arms an Akron player during a second-quarter run.
By Kevin Schuster / The Independent

LINCOLN - There were no real surprises during Nebraska's season opener Saturday.

The offense moved the ball well against an overmatched Akron. And the Huskers top defensive unit didn't give up a touchdown during a 59-14 triumph before 75,124 at a steamy Memorial Stadium.

"As far as the game went, I guess it went somewhat like expected," Nebraska coach Tom Osborne said. "I thought offensively, execution was good except for one turnover (a meaningless fourth-quarter Bobby Newcombe fumble). Whether you are playing a No. 1-ranked team or a No. 50-ranked team, you still have to take care of the ball and still have to execute. I thought that part was pretty good."

Nebraska, rated sixth in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, racked up 644 total yards to the Zips 243. The Husker offense, which was surrounded by question marks as 1996 began, looked impressive during this season's debut.

Nebraska had 30 first downs and 472 rushing yards, led by senior quarterback Scott Frost with a career-high 123 and two touchdowns.

"The option was better," Frost said. "The timing was better. I think we're ahead of where we were last season at this point."

The Huskers were denied points on their first possession when junior kicker Kris Brown missed a 38-yard field goal wide right.

Then, Nebraska's offense started to sizzle. NU scored on nine straight possessions en route to a 300th win at 75-year-old Memorial Stadium.

"Our execution was pretty crisp," Osborne said. "I thought our blocking was good. We expect to have a better offensive team this year. I thought Scott Frost and Frankie London both played well."

London, who saw extensive action for the first time, passed for 90 yards and ran for 79 on just five carries (15.8 average). London's 46-yard pass to freshman Matt Davison set up Brown's 34-yard field goal to make it 24-0 with 6 minutes, 37 seconds left in the first half.

London's 51-yard run on an option keeper set the stage for Correll Buckhalter's 8-yard scoring run late in the third quarter.

"Frankie's been playing really well, and I think it is a decisional thing," Osborne said. "When Frankie decided he wanted to be here, wanted to play here, wanted to pay the price to play...he is a more positive guy, and he knows what he wants to do."

Nebraska's offense didn't have a problem doing what it needed to against Akron, which returned nine defensive starters from last year's 4-7 team.

The Husker first-half scoring drives consumed just 1:36, :31, 2:10, 3:45, :47 and 1:29. Frost and Green scored twice (Frost on 26- and 5-yard runs and Green on 7- and 45-yarders) to help Nebraska build a 38-0 halftime lead.

Those drives left Akron coach Lee Owens looking to answer this question: How do you stop the option?

"We thought we could take the inside pitch away and put the quarterback one-on-one," Owens said. "He was good enough to break some tackles and make us miss. You just can't get two defenders on all three aspects of the option. We thought the least of the runners, or the guys that would be a threat to make plays and score, would be the quarterback.

"That was the game plan going in," he said. "Once we tried to change and adjust to it, we didn't look very good doing it."

Junior fullback Joel Makovicka, who picked up a career-best 59 yards on seven carries, had Nebraska's game highlight when he broke six tackles on a 20-yard touchdown run that gave the Huskers a 14-0 lead with 2:43 left in the first quarter.

"He exemplifies everything that Nebraska football is all about," Owens said. "He just flat wasn't going to go down. He carried two of our guys into the endzone. We hit him and hit him and hit him."

It takes more than a few hits to take Makovicka down, though.

"Joel's really a great player," Osborne said. "I think he's got a chance to play about as well at fullback as anyone we've had in awhile. He's very hard to knock off his feet, and we are very pleased with him as a player."

The huge advantage allowed Osborne to play almost every one of the 116 players to suit up for a game played in 89-degree heat.

"These kind of games don't give me any great joy," said Osborne, who improved to 20-4-1 in openers. "Akron did the very best they could. They played hard. They have good character, and I don't think they quit. I think they'll win some games this year."

Akron showed signs of life with touchdown drives of 82 and 78 yards. Bo Hunter's 11-yard run with 5:17 left in the third quarter kept Akron from being zipped.

Lavel Bailey's electrifying 69-yard touchdown reception from quarterback James Washington early in the fourth quarter capped the scoring.

"Defensively, I think the one thing that concerned me was the sustained drive," Osborne said. "I didn't think anybody would run the ball well against us this year, and they ran it. The long pass play was maybe a little bit of good fortune on their part, but you still have to make those plays."

Nebraska has an open week before it rounds out non-conference play with Central Florida (Sept. 13) and at Nos. 3 and 4 Washington (Sept. 20). Osborne hopes the Huskers make positive strides in the next two weeks, which is something they didn't do last year during an off week before a 19-0 shutout loss at Arizona State.

"I talked to the players a little after this game, and I told them that last year we took a step backward," Osborne said. "We played Michigan State and didn't play too badly. I wasn't very happy with the practices in the open week before Arizona State. I think we got complacent and that wasn't good. We need to keep getting better and I'm hoping we'll have good practices these next two weeks."

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