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columnists
G A R Y    L U N D Y

FORUMS | CHAT | PRINT THIS STORY

Nebraska keeps on winning despite having butterfingers

LUNDY
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By Gary Lundy, News-Sentinel sportswriter
December 6, 1999

Take one football and one jar of Vaseline. Cover the ball with Vaseline. Run until the ball squirts out of your arms, which won't take long.

Do this 49 times.

Make sure you videotape the whole thing.

Label the video "Butterfingers: Nebraska's 1999 offense" and mail it to the University of Tennessee football offices.

The Vols need to know their Fiesta Bowl opponent is not superhuman.

The Cornhuskers have fumbled 49 times and ranked dead-last among NCAA Division I teams by losing 25 of those fumbles. They put the ball on the ground a school-record 10 times against Kansas State and eight more times against Colorado. That's 18 fumbles in the last two regular-season games. UT fumbled 25 times and lost 14 in 12 games.

The Cornhuskers are 11-1, but they must have corn oil on their palms. Their running backs often look as if they need some of George Brett's pine tar.

"It's been kind of puzzling to all of us," Nebraska coach Frank Solich said when asked about the fumbles during Sunday's Fiesta Bowl teleconference.

"We're still trying to work our way through it."

Solich was quick to explode the myth the fumbles could be explained away by the fact Nebraska runs the option.

"Sometimes you look at our offense and say our option is where all of those are coming from," he said. "But that hasn't been the case. It's been kind of a mixed bag."

On Nebraska's first play against Texas A&M, Bobby Newcombe fumbled and the Aggies recovered at the Cornhuskers' 11.

The next week, Nebraska fumbled on its first play against Kansas State and the Wildcats recovered.

Texas' only touchdown in the Big 12 Championship game came when Nebraska's Dahrran Diedrick was stripped and the Longhorns picked up the loose ball and ran it in for a touchdown.

The problem is particularly vexing to Solich because he coached running backs 15 seasons before being promoted to head coach. During that time, the Huskers led the NCAA in rushing eight times.

"I wish I had the answer," Solich said. "Certainly the drills we're doing are drills we've done for a long time.

"The backs we have are tough type of backs. They are not the kind of guys who have shown a tendency to have the ball on the ground. But we've had more than our fair share this year.

"I guess sometimes when you have backs who are continually fighting for extra yards, you are more vulnerable to the second guy coming in and stripping the ball."

The problem goes deeper than that. Nebraska's fumbles sometimes result from muffed exchanges between the center and quarterback. That happened in the Big 12 title game.

"Even though it's been frustrating for us at times," Solich said, "we're moving forward and feeling pretty confident about taking care of the ball. But we'll see.

"When you have a defense such as Tennessee's, they can make anybody look awfully bad, awfully quick."

When Vols' defensive coordinator John Chavis looks at tapes of Nebraska from this year, he's certain to pay special attention to the Southern Mississippi game. Nebraska was held to seven first downs, the school's lowest total since 1968.

It has been a turbulent year for Nebraska and its offense. The defense has carried the day much of the year, and the shadow of Tom Osborne still hangs over Solich as we were reminded earlier this year.

"The play-calling is so bad that I even knew what we were going to run before it came into the huddle," disgruntled running back DeAngelo Evans told The Daily Nebraskan a few days before quitting the team. "We ran the same stuff. After a turnover, we always run an option.

"When Coach Osborne called a play, he was playing chess. When Coach Solich calls a play, he's playing checkers."

Evans had an agenda. Truth is, Solich is hardly vanilla.

During the regular-season against Texas, Nebraska ran reverses, fake reverses, double passes and halfback passes.

In two seasons, he's 20-5. That gives him two more victories than Osborne (18-5-1) had during his first two years.

Not bad for a guy whose team has butterfingers.

In-depth columnists
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Maria M. Cornelius
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Mike Griffith
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