By Todd Phipers
Sept. 27 - LINCOLN, Neb. - DeAngelo Evans, playing in his first game in almost 22 months, averaged 11.2 yards a carry while running for 146 yards and three touchdowns in No. 2 Nebraska's 55-7 romp over ninthranked Washington Saturday. What a welcome relief for the Cornhuskers.
They missed the gifted sophomore I-back so much, when he was out for the entire 1997 season with an abdominal muscle tear and the first three games of this year with a knee injury, that all they managed was 17 straight victories and a national championship in his absence.
With Evans reverting to the same form that resulted in 776 yards and 14 touchdown as a parttimer in his freshman season, and sophomore quarterback Bobby Newcombe doing a pretty good Tommie Frazier imitation at the controls after a two-game injury hiatus, the potent Huskers (4-0) needed only a quarter to turn the outmanned Huskies to mush.
The first time Nebraska had the ball, it marched 82 yards (actually 92 after a penalty and a 3-yard loss on their first two plays), capped by Newcombe's 3-yard dash around right end for a lead at 10:37 of the first quarter that they never relinquished. And an even better indicator of things to come was Nebraska's next possession, when Evans zipped 60 yards - 58 of them untouched - on the first play for a 14-0 advantage less than two minutes later.
"It was kind of a fairy-tale thing,'' said Evans, a compact 210pounder from Wichita. "I was hoping to make big plays, and I did that, I thought. I just wanted to come out and play to the best of my ability and I was thankful that things worked out for me today.''
Evans also echoed the sentiments of several Huskers who had spent an off-week after three straight wins listening to grumbles that this year's Big Red wasn't nearly on a par with the school's long line of national powerhouses.
"We made a statement today as a team,'' he said. "This is Nebraska and we're going to do what we do.''
What the Huskers do is run a multifaceted offense stressing the option that surely missed Newcombe's presence after he strained a knee ligament in the season opener.
"I was a couple of steps slow,'' said the sophomore Newcombe, who still managed to run for three touchdowns and keep the Huskies them off-balance with his effective passing. "I played the way I could with the brace on and did OK.''
Huskies coach Jim Lambright realized early that it would take some desperate gambles to keep his team in the game. How else to explain a fourth-and-17 gamble with less than 30 seconds gone in the second quarter, but with the count already at 21-zip? It worked, with Brock Huard and Dane Looker combining for 25 yards on a drive that was aborted by a fumble one play later.
By the time the visitors finally got on the board to make it 35-7 late in the first half on a 65-yard drive keyed by Huard's seven straight completions, the benefit was more in keeping the ball out of the Huskers' hands for nearly four minutes than to make things competitive.
Any thoughts Washington had of somehow turning things around after intermission disappeared as quickly as Evans did on numerous occasions from purple-and-whiteclad defenders. Huard fumbled the ball away on two of his first three snaps after intermission, then threw an interception the fourth time his offense was on the field, generously distributing the final nails for the Huskies' coffin.
By the time the carnage was completed before an appreciative, sun-baked crowd of 76,372 at Memorial Stadium (Nebraska's 223rd straight home sellout), the Huskers had established themselves as legitimate threats to repeat as national champions in Frank Solich's first year as coach while dispatching Washington (2-1) from the title chase for the second consecutive season.
Solich was pleased with the biggest win of his infant career as head coach, but he wasn't buying into that "statement'' stuff espoused by his players.
"We played well and now we're 4-0, but the moment you think you're good, that's when you start to take steps back,'' he said. "I think we have a football team that's capable of doing a lot of things and doing them well, and we showed signs of that today.''