IOWA CITY –
So you were wondering how Iowa would react after last year’s 57-0 drubbing at Nebraska?
You were apprehensive about the inexperience in Iowa’s offensive unit?
You were wondering how long Iowa’s defense could contain a Cornhusker running game that ranked No. 1 nationally last year?
The Incredible Cornhusker Conquest answered all those questions — and many more — Saturday as Iowa rocked the nation by knocking off seventh-ranked Nebraska, 10-7.
The Hawkeyes, efficient in their offensive game plan and absolutely unbreakable on defense, opened their season by giving 60,160 sun-soaked fans — an all-time record crowd for Kinnick Stadium — a treat they’ll not soon forget.
And you were wondering how a hungry Hawkeye fan reacts when his appetite is satisfied?
For example, it took a group of fans less than 30 seconds to ear down the North goal post when the final seconds had expired. Then they went to escort Coach Hayden Fry and his Conquerors to the tunnel leading to the dressing room.
As could be expected, Fry and some of his players could hardly contain their excitement when they met the media. For example
Fry — “At this minute, this is the greatest victory of my life. I’m getting to be an old man and I don’t want to hurt any of my other teams that pulled off some upsets. But while I’ve been at Iowa, this is far and away the greatest victory.
“If you stay with this game long enough, the worm is bound to turn. Don’t think we didn’t earn this one, either. We did it fair and square, plus we showed a lot of character.”
Running back Eddie Phillips — “I don’t think they (Nebraska) wanted it as much as we did.”
Defensive tackle Mark Bortz — “It’s a dream come true. A lot of people had doubts about our winning, but the coaching staff got us going. Everybody was relaxed and we just put it all together. I think the difference over last year was more mental than physical.”
Quarterback Pete Gales — “This is definitely the biggest thrill of my athletic life. It’s even more thrilling since my sister (Deborah) got married today in New Jersey, so this will be a good present for her.”
Iowa fans probably haven’t had cause to celebrate the defeat of a major power since a 7-6 triumph at Penn State in 1976, or maybe the 21-10 home-field whipping of UCLA in 1974.
Even so, Fry said he already “is scared to death” from thinking about next week’s game at Ames against Iowa State, which opened with a 17-13 win over West Texas State.
“I’m happy as hell, but keep in mind this is just one game,” said Fry, who will be seeking his 100th career victory Saturday.
“We’ve got to make sure and keep our heads screwed on tight. We can’t be high school Harrys and start rejoicing. We can’t be too high, but we’re damn sure not going to be low.”
Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne was gracious in his praise for Iowa, which held the Cornhuskers to their lowest scoring total since a 20-3 opening game loss to Alabama in 1978. Nebraska has been shut out just once in Osborne’s eight-year reign — 27-0 to Oklahoma in 1973.
“This is one of the hardest losses for us since I’ve been here,” said Osborne, who has a 75-21-2 record at Nebraska. “They outplayed us and out-coached us. Any time we lose a game it is my fault. If our players aren’t good enough, then I should have done a better job recruiting.
“If our players don’t perform well, then we should have done a better job of preparing them. I think we have better players overall than Iowa does… I think.”
This was a Nebraska team that averaged 378 yards rushing and 506 yards in total offense last year. Yet the swarming Iowa defenders allowed the Cornhuskers just 150 yards on the ground and 231 total, in addition to keeping them out of the end zone for the first 48 minutes.
And when was the last time a Nebraska team was outgained on the ground?
The Cornhuskers, who gave away just 88 rushing yards a game last year, yielded 174 to Iowa this time — including 94 by Phillips, sophomore running back from Chicago who also scored the Hawks’ only touchdown.
But the Hawkeye defenders had to leave their helmets strapped right up until the final minute. Indeed, Nebraska was well into Iowa territory on three of its last four possessions, but couldn’t cash in.
With 6:30 remaining, Kevin Seibel missed a potentially game-tying 37-yard field goal wide to the right.
The Huskers advanced to the Iowa 34 with 2:51 left, but Mark Mauer fumbled the snap from center Dave Rimington and Bortz recovered.
Nebraska got another opportunity when Iowa running back Phil Blatcher fumbled on third down at the Iowa 41 and Huserk cornerback Allen Lyday recovered. Iowa stopped the threat at the 39 with 1:25 left, though, on an incomplete pass.
Reggie Roby, who set a one-game punting record for Iowa with five boots for a 55.8 average, pinned Nebraska on a 53-yard kick with 55 seconds left. After Bortz sacked QB Nate Mason on first down, Lou King iced the outcome with an interception with: 39 showing.
Iowa, under the direction of senior quarterback Gales, scored on its first possession when Phillips plunged over the left side from two yards out with 9:16 showing. Lon Olejniczak, who remained perfect in extra points and field goals for his career, kicked the extra point to make it 7-0.
Phillips gained 34 yards in the 7-play 44-yard series. The Hawks had gained possession at the Cornhusker 44 when Lou King stormed in and partially blocked Grant Campbell’s punt.
Nebraska had to be stunned, or at least wondering, at that point. After all, Big Red outscored opponents 111-6 in the first quarter last year.
Iowa challenged moments later when Mel Cole’s tackle forced Roger Craig to fumbled and Bortz recovered at the Nebraska 24. However, Roby’s 42-yard field goal sailed wide to the right.
But Iowa got three more points on the scoreboard the next possession when Olejniczak booted a 35-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter. Brad Webb’s interception put Iowa in position to score at the Nebraska 43.
Meanwhile, Nebraska and its much-publicized back — Davenport Central’s Craig — experienced all kinds of problems with Iowa’s inspired defense. It was a team effort in the truest sense, as 10 Hawkeye defenders had five tackles or more.
The Cornhuskers managed to penetrate Iowa territory only twice in the first half. The first drive failed when Seibel missed a 47-yard field goal with 1:38 left in the half.
Craig, who rushed for 769 yards and 15 touchdowns as a third-string I-back last year, was thwarted constantly in his bid to break free. He finished with 74 yards in 19 carries, but his longest run was only 13 yards.
Fullback Phil Bates had Nebraska’s longest gainer with a 22-yard run to the Iowa 24 in the fourth quarter.
Phillips, who inherited a starting assignment when first-string back J.C. Love-Jordan suffered an ankle injury, used 19 carries to gain 94 yards. His long run of 13 yards also was Iowa’s longest play.
Gales, who played most of the game, completed six of 10 passes for 34 yards. Olejniczak caught four for 34.
Nebraska’s chances of getting on the winning track don’t get any easier Saturday. The Cornhuskers entertain Florida State (2-0), which won at Lincoln last year, 18-14.