The first time he touched the ball today, Jarvis Redwine gained 10 yards. Penn State fans were horrified; the Nebraska faithful were just slightly dismayed, because the effort actually LOWERED his rushing average.
Redwine entered what was supposed to have been a splendidly tense game as the nation's leading runner -- and left with poorer statistics but a much higher estimation by anyone familiar with blacks. He averaged about half his usual production today, nearly 5.5 yards on 34 carries. But his 189 yards were almost six times what all the Penn State runners together could muster.
"I can't see that many people stopping us," said quarterback Jeff Quinn, being honestly boastful after a 21-7 Nebraska victory that might well have been as lopsided as the 42-17 rout last year in Lincoln. The score was closer, but Penn State Coach Joe Paterno is convinced he has a better team this year.
The Nebraska players agreed, although they could not stop from exuding Quinn-like confidence after the sort of performance that usually wins national championships. Who can be modest after outgaining a fine team by nearly 300 yards, after intercepting three passes and stacking the quarterback nine times?
"Yeah," Redwine said, "I expected us to move the ball as we did. I feel good about this offensive line -- and the skill people. I feel very confident against any team we play. But when you're ranked No. 3 you're supposed to be confident you can play well."
The game took a prophetic turn early, the first two plays from scrimmage by each team, in fact. State thought more speed and improved passing would be able to reverse the outcome of last year's game. But nothing good happens when the quarterback cannot handle the snap from center. That was the first State sin, though hardly the last.
Most of the problem with the Lion offensive was that such as Jimmy Williams and Derrie Nelson spent too much time in their backfield. They are the Nebraska defensive ends -- and they slipped past State blockers every time that was important. For Williams, that was most appropriate since he slipped out of Washington, D.C., without so much as a Maryland recruiter trying to tackle him.
"The East just missed out," Williams bellowed, full of himself after an extraordinary show that included four sacks. "Nobody wanted us." He was referring to his brother, Toby, also a regular defensive lineman who sometimes plays next to Jimmy. They left Wilson High unwanted and literally walked onto the Nebraska defense -- and considerable fame.
"We wrote letters to all the (college) coaches," Jimmy said. "We wrote to everyone, including Maryland. One of the reasons we chose Nebraska was because they showed some interest in us. Instead of a standard questionnaire for a reply, they flew in to see us. But there was a problem getting film of our games out there for them to see.
"We ended up paying our coach about $60 to get it there."
One reason Maryland showed little interest in Jimmy Williams is that he was an undersized linebacker at Wilson, 6 feet and scarely 185 pounds. He has filled out nicely -- and had little trouble earning a scholarship once he was given a chance to complete.
"One reason we (the defensive line) had so much success today," he said, "was the stunts we called at the line. 'Bingos,' we call 'em. I'd go inside (the Nebraska tackle) and the Penn State blocker wasn't quite sure just who to take. And their offense was predictable. Very predictable."
Williams was alluding to State using two quarterbacks, Jeff Hostetler and Todd Blackledge, with Blackledge the overwhelmingly superior passer.
"But I wanted a good game for me today," Williams said. "I wanted it because it was on television and my father was here to watch us. I was really smokin' before the game. I was shakin' my fist out there, not out of disrespect for Penn State but because I needed to let out some emotion."
Redwine released some emotion after gaining 23 more yards than his average after the first two games. He was properly bubbly about his blockers, to the point of being asked if he does anything special for them between games. tO.J. Simpson bought his escorts expensive trinkets. Other runners have treated their offensive lines to dinner now and then.
"If I had the money," he said, "there's nothing I wouldn't get for them. But now all I can provide them is compliments. Maybe next year, when I get a job, when I'm working."
Redwine figures to be working for a handsome wage in the NFL next season.
And some of his toughest problems this season, he admits, will be to blot out the future, to keep dollar signs from dominating his mind.
"We have a chance for something special this year," he said. "And to look past that, to look at nothing but personal goals, would be the worst thing I could possibly do."