With 10 minutes to play and his Nittany Lions tumbling deeper into a bottomless pit, Penn State Coach Joe Paterno was running up and down the sideline, trying to get his players to give just a little more. But the defending national champions didn't have much to give.
Nebraska, the No. 1-ranked team in the nation, beat No. 4 Penn State something terrible tonight, before 71,123 in Giants Stadium. But the 44-6 margin of victory doesn't begin to tell how lopsided this inaugural Kickoff Classic really was; it was the worse loss for Paterno since Oct. 15, 1966, when UCLA beat Penn State, 49-11.
"They beat us in every way," Paterno said. "They manhandled us. We weren't very well organized and we got outcoached."
Tom Osborne, coach of Nebraska, was in a bit of a fog himself. "I never thought it could go this way," he said, searching for an explanation.
Perhaps the Cornhuskers are invincible, but perhaps Penn State has much to improve. It was obvious Maryland picked the wrong year to not play Penn State.
Nebraska rushed 57 times for 343 yards. Before Penn State started throwing on every down in the second half, Nebraska had passed for 130 yards to Penn State's 54. Paterno insisted Sunday he was confident his newfound quarterbacks--Doug Strang and Dan Lonergan--could run the offense competently. They completed 13 of 39 passes. At one point, they threw 11 straight incompletions.
At the end of the first quarter, Nebraska had rushed for 100 yards and passed for 93, while Penn State had rushed for 14 and passed for 11. Cornhuskers halfback Mike Rozier rushed for 75 yards in 16 carries. Turner Gill, besides rushing for 63 yards, completed 11 of 14 passes for 158 yards. Even the backup quarterback, Nate Mason, threw one touchdown pass, of 20 yards, and ran 21 for another score.
It's easy enough to blame the Penn State quarterbacks--and they deserved their share for missing at least a half-dozen screen passes. But Nebraska dominated this game in every phase. The Nittany Lions did not play the type of football that gave Paterno the second-best winning percentage among active coaches coming into this game.
"Sometimes, you had to sit back and wonder what the hell was going on out there," said Kenny Jackson, Penn State's all-America receiver.
In the middle of the second quarter, Osborne replaced Gill with Mason, forcing many to wonder if Gill had been injured. But then the public address man announced, "Turner Gill was removed not for injury, but just to be rested."
Nebraska's first drive was rather polite. The Cornhuskers took 12 plays and just more than seven minutes to go 78 yards. They went them beautifully, always running right and always throwing on the roll-out left to exploit the inexperience at various defensive positions. Supposedly, Penn State has three all-Americas on defense, which makes one wonder how good the other eight players are.
Gill's one-yard dive made it 7-0, with 4:54 to play in the first quarter. Once the Nittany Lions' defenders thought they had figured out the rhythm to Nebraska's right-run, left-throw movement, Gill crossed them up by throwing left for a 19-yard touchdown to Monte Engebritson. It was the tight end's second reception in five years at Nebraska, his first touchdown. And on the last play of the quarter it was 14-0.
After Gill completed a third-and-eight pass for 17 yards to the amazing Irving Fryar, Mason came in and ran five yards to the 26. Two plays later he threw a 20-yard pass to Todd Frain, Engebritson's backup, and it was 21-0.
The drives were quicker and less polite now, and it was becoming obvious that Penn State was no factor.
A 27-yard interception-touchdown by linebacker Mike Knox, 4:14 into the second half, made it 27-0, the Cornhuskers at least missing the extra point. And one could understand if the veteran Lions were cursing Todd Blackledge for passing up his final year of eligibility and Jeff Hostetler for transfering to West Virginia.
Amazingly, it only got worse, even though Osborne was three and four players deep into his depth chart.
Dave Schneider kicked a 34-yard field goal for a 30-0 lead, and that was almost a moral victory since Penn State stopped Nebraska from scoring another touchdown. It was about this time, Paterno said, that he had a fleeting thought of some of those lopsided losses 16 and 17 years ago when he was struggling to build one of the nation's most successful programs.
Mason relieved Gill again early in the fourth quarter and ran 21 yards for a touchdown and 37-0 lead. And Paul Miles finished the onslaught with just more than two minutes left, diving a yard for a 44-0 lead.
Only Lonergan's 35-yard pass to Sid Lewis, with 20 seconds left, kept the thousands of Nittany Lions fans from having nothing to cheer. But the extra point kick attempt was blocked, underscoring the pity of Penn State's evening.
Paterno, as could be expected, tried to find positive in the evening.
"I didn't think our defense was that bad," he told some disbelieving ears. "It wasn't just our quarterbacks, but our offensive line wasn't that good. We'll find out about our squad in the next two or three weeks." Nebraska 44, Penn St. 6 Penn St. 0 0 0 6 6 Nebraska 14 7 9 14 44
N--Gill 1 run (Schneider kick)
N--Engebritson 19 pass from Gill (Schneider kick)
N--Frain 20 pass from Mason (Schneider kick)
N--Knox 27 pass interception (kick failed)
N--FG Schneider 34
N--Mason 21 run (Schneider kick)
N--Miles 1 run (Schneider kick)
PS--Lewis 35 pass from Lonergan (kick failed)
A--71,123 Penn St. Nebraska First downs 17 23 Rushes-yards 33-82 57-322 Passing yards 227 178 Return yards 7 59 Passes 13-39-1 12-17-1 Punts-average 8-47 4-40 Fumbles-lost 5-1 9-1 Penalties-yards 6-29 8-77 Time of possession 24:45 35:15 INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
RUSHING--Penn St.: Williams 13-42, Mumford 5-15, Dozier 2-10, Nichols 3-10. Nebraska: Rozier 16-71, Gill 13-53, Schellen 4-42, Mason 6-32, J. Smith 2-22.
PASSING--Penn St.: Lonergan 11-29-0, 205 yards; Strang 2-10-1, 22; Nebraska: Gill 11-14-0, 158; Mason 1-2-0, 20; Rozier 0-1-1, 0.
RECEIVING--Penn St.: Jackson 4-54, Baugh 3-39, T. Robinson 2-63, Lewis 2-48. Nebraska: Fryar 4-81, Engebritson 3-28, Swanson 1-31, Frain 1-20, Rozier 1-11, Kimball 1-9, J. Smith 1-minus 2.