BERKELEY, Calif. — Nebraska's defense discovered gold in northern California and the patched-up Husker offense panned out well enough.
Nebraska jumped on California for a quick touchdown to open the game, tacked on another quick scoring drive in the second quarter and hung on for a 24-3 victory over the Bears before 67,000 fans, including 30,000 fans wearing Nebraska red.
"3-0 sounds awfully good to me," said Nebraska Head Coach Frank Solich. "There is talk that you want to score every drive. But Cal is very good and aggressive and they did a lot of good things.
"We weren't bad by any stretch. I was very proud of our team."
And, just as he had said to finish off post-game comments during the previous two weeks, Solich said, "We've got things to work on."
Defensively, Nebraska found gems as a series of heroes stepped up to keep the Bears from scoring anything more than a third-quarter field goal. Cal was limited to 12 yards rushing on 25 attempts and had 224 yards passing.
"At times, it might have looked pretty scary but we stepped up every time and stopped them and stopped them," said Nebraska cornerback Ralph Brown. "It was the defensive game we've needed to turn us the right way."
California counted on the pinpoint passing of quarterback Justin Vedder to drive to the Nebraska 37, 10, and 30-yard lines in the first half. But the 1-1 Bears converted just one field goal, missing another attempt.
By the end of the third quarter, California had 236 yards of offense. But the last five possessions by the Bears netted minus-11 yards, gave up two interceptions and had three other passes tipped away.
"That was it," said Nebraska quarterback Monte Christo, who finished the game in place of Crouch. "The defense was tearing things up. I think they found themselves a good one today."
Nebraska cornerback Ralph Brown, a California native explained: "They got some big plays, I took a lot of taunting from their guys. But I think we got the job done. We knocked some passes away, we got some sacks and we got some interceptions.
"And we gave up three points. We know that's nothing for our offense, even as banged up as they are," he said.
Nebraska had plenty to boast about in the first three minutes of the game.
Brown tipped away a pass, NU linebacker Eric Johnson stopped a bootleg run by Vedder and Loran Kaiser almost sacked Vedder on the third play.
On the other side of the ball, the Huskers were clicking on all cylinders from the start. Freshman quarterback Eric Crouch, in his second starting role, rambled for an 18-yard option run. He handed off to Correll Buckhalter for a 29-yard run and then scored on a quarterback sneak with 12:08 left in the first quarter.
"We came out with a good drive and, initially, it looked like we'd be able to do everything we planned," said Solich. "Give California credit, because they made it very tough to do much at all the rest of the game."
California Coach Tom Holmoe said NU's early success was easy to understand after Cal failed to score on its drive to the Nebraska 10 in the second quarter.
"When you play a team like Nebraska, who executes very well and who makes few mistakes, and you get the ball first and 10 anywhere inside the 20, you've got to score. Period," he said. "That's why they're good, because they prohibited us from scoring. The teams that are really good, somehow, some way, get the points on the board."
But Nebraska struggled to score, too.
The Huskers rushed for 200 yards in the first half but had just two touchdowns. Nebraska's second scoring drive of the game was a series of five runs, including a 30-yard sprint-option by Crouch to set up his 3-yard touchdown run.
Nebraska managed just 54 more yards rushing the rest of the game. Crouch left with a sore hamstring after two series to open the second half.
Christo, a seldom-used senior, took over and found plenty of company from the Cal defense every time he ran.
He found some answers to the Cal defense — when he hit Matt Davison on a pair of sprint-out passes on a long scoreless drive in the third quarter and when he hit Sheldon Jackson on a 31-yard pass to set up a missed field goal by Kris Brown.
Finally, with 6:48 left in the game, Christo found Shevin Wiggins on a 20-yard pass. He hit Davison on the sprint-out pass for 20 more and connected with Wiggins on a 5-yard pass for a touchdown with 3:54 left in the game.
"It seemed like they were putting 20 guys in the box — up on the line to stop the run," said Christo. "That made those quick, out passes work. It didn't back Cal away from the line, though, and we all took some good hits."
Solich said Christo's skill in running the option led to the calls for the less-than-successful running plays in the second half.
"We knew Monte had the type of personality that he could lead the team and get the job done," Solich said. "And with the score the way it was, we didn't want to throw too much late in the game.
"So we ran the options and Cal got to playing it very well and we tried some passing."
Christo understood why he wasn't asked to throw more passes in the second half.
"Somebody stepped on my thumb, the one I've had operated on twice, on my second play and I was pretty sore," he said. "But we had to throw the ball to get much done and the pain kind of went away until the game was over.
"I was so excited to make that touchdown pass to Shevin Wiggins near the end of the game," he said. "It meant a lot to the offense and me. I've taken so many shots, been through so much time in the training room the last four years, I really appreciated the chance to get something done in a tight situation in a big game."
Solich said he may have tried to do too much at the end of the game. He apologized for having Kris Brown kick a 41-yard field goal with 19 seconds left in the game.
"If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't have done it," he said. Many in the stadium booed the decision. "Both teams played good throughout and I would not do that if I had it over."
Nebraska players were not worried about the outcome or the late field goal.
"This was everything that's good about Nebraska football," Christo said. "We had that big Nebraska crowd cheering for us. We won. We got the job done and there was nothing real bad about where we are right now."
Web posted September 13, 1998
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