Nebraska wins battle of trenches with ease

September 21, 1997

Bob Condotta; The News Tribune

University of Washington coaches will spend endless agonizing hours this week trying to figure out what happened in the 27-14 loss to Nebraska on Saturday.

But inside linebacker Lester Towns boiled it down to six simple words.

"They ran it up our (behinds)," Towns said.

And coming in, both sides knew that whichever team could do that would win.

"That's the name of the game," said UW coach Jim Lambright. "If you can't win the line of scrimmage, you can't win the game."

And Nebraska won the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball with stunning ease.

UW had held Brigham Young and San Diego State to a total of minus-5 yards rushing in its first two games. But Nebraska gained 5 on its first play and never looked back, finishing with 384 rushing yards, the most against UW since Notre Dame had 397 in a 54-20 victory in South Bend, Ind., last year.

And UW's own running game was almost wholly ineffective, managing only 69 yards, with leading rusher Rashaan Shehee held to 28 yards on 11 carries. The loss of starting quarterback Brock Huard late in the first quarter couldn't have helped. But a tone already had been set that would unlikely have been reversed.

"Their defensive line is good," said UW tight end Cam Cleeland. "But we have All-Americans too and we should be able to shove it right down their throats. ... I don't even know the rushing stats, but we've kind of gotten away from our rushing game."

Signs of what was to come were evident in the victory last week over San Diego State when the Huskies had trouble running the ball in short-yardage situations.

And the offense has some legitimate reasons for its inability to run the ball as well as usual. Starting starting tackle Mostafa Sobhi has been out all season with a back injury, and starting guard Ben Kadletz missed the game Saturday with a sprained ankle. It's also likely that guard Benji Olson still hasn't fully recovered from off-season back surgery.

But the total collapse of the UW defensive line was more of a surprise. UW coaches had warned that the stats of the first two games were misleading as they came against Western Athletic Conference teams known more for throwing the ball.

"You've got to remember they've played a couple of teams that make their living throwing the football," said Nebraska coach Tom Osborne.

Nebraska, meanwhile, makes its living grinding it out, and it had no trouble Saturday.

The Huskies were time and again knocked off the ball, and never did seem to have a handle on Nebraska's triple-option offense. All three heads of that triple option had big days as fullback Joel Makovicka and tailback Ahman Green each ran for 129 yards, and quarterback Scott Frost 97, missing out on a 100-yard day only because he lost 6 yards killing the clock in the final minute.

"No one goes out there and expects anything like that to happen," said UW nose tackle Mac Tuiaea.

The Huskies worked on Nebraska's triple option all week, and had even snuck in a few lessons in spring practice and fall two-a-days. But it hardly seemed to matter.

"It was way, way more difficult (defending the option) than I thought," Towns said. "I'd move out wide to cover the pitch, and every time I did that it seemed like they went back to the middle and I couldn't get back to that."

Lambright said Nebraska confused UW with different blocking schemes and play tendencies than it had shown previously.

"They were throwing so many blocks out there that a lot of people weren't expecting," said linebacker Jason Chorak. "They have three guys responsible to block three guys, but it's not the same guy blocking you each time and I think that confused people."

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