NU Pummel Akron Despite Minor Miscues
BY KEN HAMBLETON
Nebraska did not lay claim to the national championship in the August heat and humidity Saturday in Memorial Stadium.
The Huskers made mistakes -- not many. They had trouble stopping Akron's offense -- not that often. Nebraska even struggled on offense when the third and fourth teams finished off the mismatch.
"I guess that's getting picky if the scout teams didn't play that well," Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne said. "They (the scout teams) really haven't run our plays except for just the five days of practice they've been here."
Nebraska pummeled Akron 59-14 before 75,124 sweaty fans for the start of Osborne's 25th year as head coach and a drive to return to the national championship game for the third time in four years.
It's only natural that the Huskers are a bit picky. The sixth-ranked Huskers were 56-point favorites against the 109th-ranked team named for rubber boots.
"If I don't have their attention it's going to be a 9-2 season and we're going to the Slippery Bowl," said Nebraska defensive coordinator Charlie McBride.
| "It was pretty hot," quarterback Scott Frost said after posting
190 yards of total offense and running for touchdowns of 26 yards and 5
yards. "I thought that playing was probably just as bad as
sitting in the stands, though. I think people were hot up there."
"If we go to Washington (Sept. 20) and play like this, we'll get our butts kicked," said defensive tackle Jason Peter, who helped hold Akron to 82 yards and three first downs in the first half.
"These kind of games don't give me great joy," Osborne said. "But we have to play whoever's on our schedule. We did everything we could to do better in terms of strengthening it."
"No sacks and we were not physical, kind of soft, kind of vanilla," said McBride.
Nebraska actually stalled and Kris Brown missed a field goal attempt on its first drive.
A quick fix and a switch on the bewildering option play allowed Nebraska to score on its next nine possessions.
By the end of the game, Nebraska rolled up 644 yards of total offense, including 472 yards rushing, with 123 yards by Frost on options and 79 by backup QB Frankie London on similar plays. Even freshman quarterback Bobby Newcombe, with a unique style of option, picked up 32 yards rushing.
To add to Nebraska's joy, fullback Joel Makovicka decided he wasn't going to be tackled on a 20-yard touchdown run that involved five collisions with Zip defenders and hitch-hiking linebacker George Cameron.
I-back Ahman Green scored on a 45-yard option run, Makovicka added an 11-yard burst through the middle, and freshman I-back Correll Buckhalter scored on scampers of 8 yards and 3 yards.
"The offensive execution was crisp," Osborne said.
Akron Coach Lee Owens, a former assistant at Ohio State, was more impressed.
"I told Coach Osborne that seeing this up close and personal, I have not seen a better team than Nebraska," Owens said. "He said, "I hope you're right.'"
The only serious questions were about Nebraska's defense, which helped Akron along on a 10-play, 82-yard scoring drive in the third quarter.
"I didn't think anybody would run the ball well against us very well this year and they ran it," Osborne said.
During the drive, the Huskers were penalized for having too many men on the field after forcing the Zips to punt from their 37-yard line. Nebraska helped again when Akron faced third-and-4 and two Husker defenders were called for pass interference.
"We must lead the world in third-down penalties that end up helping the other team score," said McBride. "One drive and two major penalties -- too many guys on the punt and an interference that was uncalled for."
Akron also scored on a 69-yard pass from James Washington to Lavel Bailey when NU defenders collided and Bailey juggled the ball before breaking loose near midfield.
"The long pass play was a bit of good fortune on their part but you still have to make those plays," Osborne said.
Nebraska had an excuse for its defensive inadequacies. Eight of last year's Husker starters on defense had NFL contracts this summer. NU's second-string defense included true freshmen Joe Walker, Erwin Swiney and Kyle Vanden Bosch, redshirt freshman Carlos Polk and junior college transfer Brandon Harrison. Both Osborne and McBride said the newcomers played well.
Senior co-captain Peter explained, "It was the first college game for a lot of guys and there's a lot of chemistry still to be built on defense. The way we played today won't cut it. But we haven't played with each other and this is the first game we've played against somebody else."
Nebraska's offense also had some newcomers. Highly touted Newcombe drew applause for his wild, 22-yard scramble on his first play. Matt Davison, the Journal Star Prep Athlete of the Year last spring, proved his ability with three catches for 64 yards and was overthrown or underthrown on three other passes. Buckhalter pounded out 61 yards on 11 carries.
"As far as the game went, I guess it went somewhat like I expected," Osborne said. "I thought execution was good except for one turnover. 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."
The Huskers were almost flawless on offense after the opening drive was stopped at the Akron 21. Frost ran option plays for gains of 25 and 26 yards to put Nebraska ahead 7-0. After Nebraska sophomore cornerback Ralph Brown intercepted a pass, Frost threw for 17 yards and Makovicka scored on his 20-yard rampage.
Stops by NU defensive tackle Jason Wiltz and Jay Foreman forced a punt and Nebraska ground out 49 yards in seven plays before Green scored on a run from the 7-yard line. By then, Frost had a career rushing mark of 101 yards and Nebraska had 215 yards of total offense compared to 32 for Akron.
Nebraska's second-team offense, behind London, scored in nine plays. The first string then returned and Green scored on a 45-yard option run and Frost scored on a 5-yard option scamper before the end of the half.
"We seemed to run the option well today and we will continue to do it well," Frost said. "We have some things to work on, but it seemed like we did a lot of things right today, too."
Nebraska has a week off before playing host to Central Florida Sept. 13 at 12:30 p.m.
Osborne immediately told his players of his concern for improvement during the off week.
"I talked to the players a little after this game and told them that last year we took a step backward," he said. "I wasn't happy with the practices in the open week before Arizona State. I think we got complacent and that wasn't good. We didn't improve and that can't happen now."