LINCOLN, NEB. –
It wasn’t a 57-0 embarrassment but Hayden Fry’s second visit to Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium certainly won’t go down as one of his fondest memories.
Nebraska, a team expected to have a powerful offense, showed a pretty robust defense too as it rolled to an easy 42-7 victory over Fry’s Iowa team in the season-opening game for both teams Saturday.
The No. 3-ranked Cornhuskers, who bombed the Hawks 57-0 in Lincoln two years ago, rocketed to a 28-0 halftime lead Saturday and put it on automatic pilot the rest of the way, avenging last season’s 10-7 loss to Iowa.
“I think you probably saw one of the top college football teams in the nation in Nebraska today,” said Fry. “They jumped on us pretty good.”
And his assessment of his own team?
“It was apparent that we are exactly what I thought we were — a very inexperienced young team that makes a lot of mistakes.”
The game was, for all practical purposes, over by halftime as the Cornhuskers thoroughly dominated the first 30 minutes and, for a time, made it look like another 57-0 rout was in the making.
Fry, always one to tinker with new offenses, inadvertently unveiled a new one in the first half — the cha-cha-cha shuffle.
The first five times the Hawkeyes had the ball, it was one-two-three punt, one-two-three punt. In the meantime, the Huskers danced to a 28-0 lead.
The Hawks ran just 19 plays in the first half, netting just one yard. They also got one first down, that coming when quarterback Chuck Long scrambled for seven yards on the final play of the half.
“It seemed like they were just all over us,” said Long.
“In the first half our offense was just terrible,” added Fry. “I know Nebraska had a lot to do with that but we still executed poorly. And our defense wasn’t all that great either in the first half.”
The defense, forced to spend almost 20 minutes on the field in the first two quarters, yielded 250 yards before intermission as quarterback Turner Gill, I-back Mike Rozier, fullback Roger Craig, wingback Irving Fryar and a bullish offensive line did just about whatever they pleased.
The Huskers set the tone immediately, taking the opening kickoff and marching 80 yards to score. A 28-yard pass completion from Gill to Fryar provided much of the yardage and backup fullback Doug Wilkening went the final three yards on fourth-and-one to make it 7-0.
From there the Hawks settled into their one-two-three-punt routine.
Fryar, who enjoyed the best day by a Nebraska receiver since 1976, upped the lead to 14-0 later in the first quarter as he took in a 41-yard scoring pass from Gill. Iowa’s Keith Hunter tried for an interception on the play but came up empty, allowing Fryar to sprint up the sideline into the end zone.
The Gill-to-Fryar combo produced again in the second quarter as they teamed up for gains of 16 and 18 yards on an 84-yard, 14-play drive. Roger Craig slashed six yards up the middle to score the touchdown with 8:50 to go in the half, making it 21-0.
The Huskers didn’t have to work nearly as hard for their fourth TD. With the Hawks lined-up in shotgun formation late in the half, center Joel Hilgenberg snapped the ball over Long’s head. The ball bounded wildly into the end zone and defensive end Wade Prauener, a 4.5 sprinter, outraced Long to the ball, falling on it for TD No. 4.
The game was virtually over at that point but the Hawkeyes did manage to provide a few second-half smiles for the 4,000 or so Iowa rooters among the crowd of 76,013.
They revived the offense in the third quarter and actually moved the ball 50 yards downfield before Long threw an interception at the Nebraska 24.
Then, with junior quarterback Tom Grogan at the controls, they really started moving the ball in the fourth quarter.
Grogan drove the team 89 yards in 14 plays for what turned out to be Iowa’s only points of the contest. A roughing the kicker penalty provided the initial first down, and a 30-yard run by Owen Gill and a 24-yard pass from Grogan to Mike Hufford also reaped big yardage. Hufford’s catch rescued the Hawks from a third-and-21 situation.
Grogan rolled the final five yards into the end zone to make it 28-7.
“We didn’t do anything different in the second half,” said Hufford, who caught four passes for 67 yards. “We just started executing and everybody got on a roll. Everybody started getting confidence and we started moving the football.”
The Huskers snapped things back into reality in a hurry after the Hawkeye TD, though. Gill (Turner, not Owen) came back in at quarterback and three plays later flipped a nine-yard touchdown pass to Todd Brown. The score was preceded by a 52-yard run by Rozier.
Reserve I-back Jeff Smith zigzagged 80 yards through the Iowa defense for the game’s final touchdown with 5:00 left.
“Our defense really got tired near the end,” said Fry. “I think that had something to do with the long runs they got. You have to remember our defense was on the field almost continually in the first half.”
Rozier rushed for 127 yards in 18 carries to lead the Huskers’ 503-yard assault. Gill contributed 144 yards passing and 40 rushing, and Fryar added 127 yards on six pass receptions.
“We played awfully well for about a quarter and a half,” noted Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne. “Offensively we executed quite well except for a time in the third quarter. We didn’t look sharp in the third quarter.”
Fry, of course, was pleased with the way his team played in the second half.
“I’m very proud of the way we came back,” he said. “All of the third quarter and most of the fourth quarter our guys made more yardage than they did and they (the Huskers) didn’t score. We showed some good things. We just got off to such a horrible start.”
Among those good things were a 189-yard offensive output in the second half and the footwork of Reggie Roby, who opened defense of his NCAA punting title by averaging 51.1 yards on eight kicks.
The Hawks also got solid play out of their linebackers, too. Junior Kevin Spitzig was involved in 17 tackles, junior Mike Yacullo made seven tackles and recovered two fumbles, and freshman Larry Station did well while playing about 70 percent of the time.
There was bad news at linebacker, too, though, as starter James Erb went out with torn ligaments in his knee. Fry said he will be out of action for at least a month.
The Hawks also apparently earned a little respect on the opposite side of the field with their second-half rally.
“Iowa was tough,” commented Fryar. “They were right there when I caught the ball… Iowa is a tough team. They’ll go a long ways.”
The Hawks return home to take on rival Iowa State next Saturday. Nebraska hosts New Mexico State.