The Aggies beat up Nebraska with a simple mix of smarts and
This is an article from the Oct. 19, 1998 issue
The biggest surprise in Texas A&M's 28-21 upset of Nebraska
wasn't the final score. It was that the Aggies had nothing out
of the ordinary in their game plan. They simply lined up and
beat the Cornhuskers.
"We controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball,"
A&M coach R.C. Slocum said on Sunday. "With Nebraska, you tend
to get too much into, 'We've got to put on trick plays. We've
got to do this and that.' A lot of those things backfire. Our
plan was to run the ball." Slocum may not wow the
coaching-clinic circuit with that plan, but it worked to
The Aggies knew firsthand what the Cornhuskers could do: A
veteran Nebraska team had beaten them 54-15 in the Big 12
championship game last December. Slocum, a glass-half-full kind
of guy, got something positive out of the rout. Before
Saturday's rematch, he says, "we told our players that we have
got to get into the game and not get knocked out in the first
round." He might have meant that literally. Aggies head trainer,
Karl Kapchinski, recalled that in last year's game, "Nebraska
beat the crap out of us. We had people drop left and right."
This year it's the Huskers who have been dropping. Four starters
on offense, including quarterback Bobby Newcombe and I-back
DeAngelo Evans, have missed starts because of injuries.
Moreover, not even Nebraska can defy one of the immutable laws
of college football: The success of an offense is tied directly
to the experience on its line. The Huskers have four new
starters up front this season. Normally Nebraska rolls out
All-America linemen--five in the last six years--the way San
Diego Padres pitcher Kevin Brown strings up zeroes. Not this
The Huskers have rushed for 214 yards in their last two games,
and they reached that paltry number only after an 83-yard burst
in a frantic fourth quarter against Texas A&M. For the season
Nebraska has averaged 237.8 rushing yards per game. Though
that's good for 11th in the nation, it's abnormal in Lincoln.
The Cornhuskers haven't averaged less than 287 yards since 1976.
Aggies defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz held the same job at
Colorado for seven seasons, including the stretch from 1989 to
'91, during which the Buffaloes went 2-0-1 against the Huskers.
Last Saturday he frequently stunted his three down linemen.
"Nebraska is a big, physical line, and we aren't," Slocum said.
"We were not going to ask our guys to just sit in there." As a
result, the Huskers never found a rhythm in their running game.
In the third quarter, trailing 21-7, with fourth-and-two at the
Aggies 10, Nebraska coach Frank Solich called a wingback
reverse. A&M cornerback Jason Webster, who was blitzing, and
linebacker Warrick Holdman dropped the ballcarrier, Shevin
Wiggins, for a four-yard loss. Since when do the Huskers not run
between the tackles on fourth-and-two?
"To run our offense you have to run on all cylinders, or you're
going to show a weakness," Nebraska receivers coach Ron Brown
said afterward. "We weren't running well inside, so they were
flying to the outside."
Last season, with two all-conference linemen, including Outland
Trophy winner Aaron Taylor at guard, Nebraska allowed four
sacks. On Saturday the Aggies sacked Newcombe on three
consecutive plays. On the last of those, noseguard Ron Edwards
forced Newcombe to fumble the ball into his own end zone, where
Holdman fell on it for the touchdown that gave A&M a 21-7 lead.
In losing the game, the defending national co-champion
Cornhuskers also lost their 19-game winning streak, their
40-game conference winning streak and their running attack.
Nebraska fans might take solace in the fact that in 1996 their
inexperienced defending national champions fell to Arizona State
19-0. The following season the Cornhuskers won a share of the
In Nebraska's Wake
CAN'T WIN FOR LOSING
The prime victim of Nebraska's loss, after the Cornhuskers
themselves, may be Big 12 rival Kansas State. The unbeaten
Wildcats, ranked No. 4 after their 16-9 victory over Colorado,
have waited what seems like all century to surpass the
Cornhuskers in the conference, and beating Nebraska on Nov. 14
would constitute the biggest win in school history. But it would
also be the Huskers' second loss, further dragging down Kansas
State's already weak strength-of-schedule rating--part of the
Bowl Championship Series formula.
For a similar reason Florida State may have been the biggest
beneficiary of Nebraska's defeat. Late in the fourth quarter of
the Seminoles' 26-14 victory over Miami, Florida State coach
Bobby Bowden looked up at the scoreboard, saw that the Huskers
had lost and immediately felt better about the Seminoles' title
hopes. "It puts us right back in the picture," Bowden said later.
Florida State beat Texas A&M in the Kickoff Classic and will be
at home for its two toughest remaining games, against Virginia
and Florida. If the Seminoles, 5-1 and ranked sixth, win the
rest of their games, they will climb not only in the polls but
also in the strength-of-schedule ratings. Florida State probably
won't jump past UCLA or Tennessee if either of those two remains
undefeated, but the Seminoles could very well gain enough to
pass an unbeaten Kansas State in the Bowl Championship Series
standings. --B.J. Schecter
A BRUISING BY THE BRUINS
Everyone knew that UCLA, led by senior quarterback Cade McNown,
would rack up points this year. Indeed, the Bruins scored 49, 42
and 49, respectively, in wins over cupcakes Texas, Houston and
Washington State, and last Saturday they rolled up 52 against
then No. 10 Arizona. Here's another thing that should give pause
to Oregon, UCLA's opponent this week and the Pac-10's only other
unbeaten team: Against the Wildcats, the Bruins' sophisticated
passing attack was upstaged by a punishing ground game and a
In the 52-28 victory McNown threw two momentum-swinging
touchdown passes, but for the second straight week his passing
numbers were un-Heisman-like--10 of 24 for 171 yards--and for
the first time in 19 games he didn't throw for 200 yards. The
star of the game for the Bruins, instead, was freshman tailback
As a senior at Tustin (Calif.) High last year, Foster scored 59
touchdowns, an astronomical total, and on Saturday it was easy
to see why. Playing in place of sophomore Jermaine Lewis, who
was suspended indefinitely for having engaged in an off-campus
fight, the 6'1", 205-pound Foster carried 20 times for 122 yards
and two touchdowns. The quality of his yardage was even more
impressive than the quantity: The 18-year-old Foster was a
gliding, spinning, almost untackleable force. "Jermaine told me
to run hard, hold on to the ball and get four yards every time,"
Foster said after the game. Reminded that he got a little more
than that, he responded, "Yeah, I guess so."
When Foster tired in the fourth quarter, bruising junior Keith
Brown came in for TD runs of 54 and 20 yards to finish off the
Wildcats. For the game the Bruins rushed for 314 yards on 44
Meanwhile UCLA's young defense, which had given up 31 points to
Texas and 442 yards to Houston, shut down high-powered Arizona.
The Bruins' three-man line (so hamstrung by injuries that five
players have started there at one time or another) and their
linebacking corps (so devoid of experience that coach Bob Toledo
named sophomore inside backer Tony White a co-captain for the
game) dominated the line of scrimmage, holding slippery Wildcats
quarterback Ortege Jenkins and the other Arizona rushers to only
90 yards. In the fourth quarter, which began as a 31-28
nail-biter, the Wildcats gained just 68 yards, and the Bruins
blew the game open with 21 points in a little more than two
"UCLA was tougher and more physical," said Arizona coach Dick
Tomey, whose team has been the bully of the Pac-10 in the 1990s.
"When you can't run and the other guy can, that makes it hard."
Said Bruins senior guard Andy Myers, "We can pound guys on the
ground, we can bomb 'em through the air, and our defense is just
starting to wreak the kind of havoc it's capable of. I think
you're just beginning to see how good this team is." --Alan
THE VOLUNTEER ARMY
Anyone who doubted Tennessee before Saturday--and we know who we
are--doubts no longer. The score of the Volunteers' road win
over Georgia, 22-3, doesn't begin to describe Tennessee's
dominance. The Vols' defense pressured Bulldogs wunderkind
quarterback Quincy Carter into a very freshmanlike 14-of-37
passing performance. In place of Tennessee's star tailback,
Jamal Lewis, who underwent season-ending knee surgery four days
before the game, sophomores Travis Stephens and Travis Henry
combined for 160 rushing yards--101 more than the Vols gave up.
The game looked like a rite of passage for Tennessee junior
quarterback Tee Martin, who had completed only 21 of 60 passes
in wins over Syracuse, Florida and Auburn. Following his second
interception of the first half against Georgia, he got a
come-to-Jesus speech from offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe.
After the tongue-lashing Martin completed 12 of 17 passes for
128 yards and two touchdowns. "I learned today not to try to win
the game myself," says Martin.
Though after the game Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said, "To
think we've overcome the loss of Jamal is a stretch," he
understands that only the best teams dominate without their best
players. "A sign of a mature program," he said, "is when you
have other players who can step up."
Tennessee (5-0) plays four of its last six games at home, and
the only currently ranked team it will face before the SEC title
game is No. 17 Arkansas, whom the Vols meet in Knoxville on Nov.
The SEC's contract with the Citrus Bowl forbids any bowl game
involving another team from that conference to significantly
overlap the television broadcast of the bowl in Orlando. That,
in effect, knocks the Cotton Bowl out of the Citrus Bowl's New
Year's Day time slot of 1:30 p.m. If Fox Sports had moved the
Cotton to Jan. 2, that bowl would compete against the NFL
wild-card slate on ABC. Instead, Fox will move the Cotton to 11
a.m. on Jan. 1.... North Carolina State leads the nation in
interceptions, with 13, but has yet to recover an opponent's
fumble.... Purdue quarterback Drew Brees tied the NCAA record
for completions and set the record for attempts when he went 55
of 83 for 494 yards in a 31-24 loss to Wisconsin. Seven teams
have fewer attempts and 16 have fewer completions so far this
season.... The Rose Bowl has not pitted a No. 1 against a No. 2
since Ohio State played USC in 1969, so you'd think officials of
the Pasadena game would be despairing over losing a potential
matchup between the Buckeyes and UCLA for the national
championship. Hardly. In fact, they're salivating at the
possibility of Notre Dame's making its first appearance in the
Rose Bowl game since 1925.... Since being picked off six times
in a 24-7 loss to North Carolina State on Sept. 12, Florida
State quarterback Chris Weinke has thrown 114 passes over four
games without an interception.
Read more from Ivan Maisel and cast your vote in our Top 25 fans
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TOP 10 Heavy Hitters
Albus Brooks A 6-foot, 200-pound freshman, Brooks is nicknamed
SS, Colorado Blackout. Enough said.
Chris Claiborne The 6'3", 250-pound junior wears the number 55
LB, USC of Trojans All-Americas Junior Seau and Willie
McGinest. With his speed and ferocity, Claiborne
is in their class.
Barrett Green He moved from safety to outside linebacker this
LB, West Virginia season, but the 6'1", 215-pound junior retained
his nose for the ball. He leads the team with 70
tackles, 44 of them solo.
Andy Katzenmoyer Tremors from the Big Kat's monstrous hit on
LB, Ohio State Missouri's Corby Jones last year are still being
felt. The 6'4", 255-pound junior benches 450 and
is as quick as he is strong.
Jevon Kearse Opposing backs marvel at the speed of this 6'5",
LB, Florida 254-pound junior (above). A spectacular
open-field tackler, he tops the Gators' list in
Jeff Kelly This 6-foot, 245-pound senior drilled Texas's
LB, Kansas State Ricky Williams 11 times during the Wildcats' 49-7
victory on Sept. 19, helping to hold Williams to a
season-low 43 yards.
Corey Moore A 6-foot, 217-pound junior, Moore anchors the
DE, Virginia Tech Hokies' dominating defense and has eight sacks in
Anthony Poindexter As a freshman playing on the scout team,
FS, Virginia Poindexter, now 6'1" and 220 pounds, struck fear
in his teammates. Since then, he has 327 career
Montae Reagor He forced a fumble on his first play as a
DE, Texas Tech freshman and now, as a 6'2", 254-pound senior,
has 19 1/2 career sacks, plus the school record
for tackles for a loss, with 39.
Ronald Seymour The Seminoles knocked six QBs out of games in
DE, Florida State '97. The 6'4", 264-pound sophomore made several
of those hits.
Texas A&M's freshman fullback said no to "big games" promised by
recruiters from Florida State and Ohio State. He ran for 110
yards against Nebraska. That's big enough.
SEC officials, those Kenneth Starrs in stripes, practice zero
tolerance. Relax, guys.
The "bump-and-bruise league," as Texas coach Mack Brown calls it,
has four of the top 12 rushing teams in the nation.
Three weeks ago his mom told him to score. Against N.C. State,
the Georgia Tech corner took a blocked punt and a fumble in for
The 6-0 Red Raiders face neither Nebraska nor Kansas State--until
the Big 12 title game.
Virginia (5-0) at Georgia Tech (4-1)
The Yellow Jackets have knocked off highly ranked Virginia teams
twice in this decade. In 1990 they outscored the then No. 1
Cavaliers 41-38. The win propelled Georgia Tech, then No. 16, to
a share of the national title. Two years ago Tech stunned No. 12
Virginia 13-7 with a spectacular defensive performance.
Expect the score this time to fall somewhere between the above
two. These Cavaliers don't produce points the way their 1990
forebears did, but they don't let anyone else score much,
either. Led by safety Anthony Poindexter, seventh-ranked
Virginia is both opportunistic (+10 in turnovers) and stingy
(273.6 yards allowed per game).
The 25th-ranked Yellow Jackets play aggressive defense under new
coordinator Randy Edsall, who worked for Tom Coughlin for six
seasons at Boston College and then the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Tech, too, is +10 in turnovers, and it has scored at least one
defensive touchdown in each of its last four games. But the
Yellow Jackets, with their new, gambling defense, are giving up
21.2 points per game.
Getting a read on the ACC isn't easy, but this game will help
clarify the picture. Virginia hasn't been tested by a
quarterback as resourceful as Tech's Joe Hamilton, whose
accuracy, brains and quick feet more than make up for his
stature (5'10", 189 pounds). But it's too early for the Cavs to
begin their November swoon. This is usually the time of year
when Virginia peaks. That trend should continue.
Oregon (5-0) at UCLA (4-0)
These two might hang a hundred on the Rose Bowl scoreboard. The
11th-ranked Ducks (50.6 points per game) and the second-ranked
Bruins (48.0) may threaten the Pac-10 scoring record of 127
points in a game. UCLA, however, will know how to score more than
BYU (3-3) at Hawaii (0-5)
Before the Cougars lost to Fresno State on Oct. 3, only two WAC
teams had beaten BYU at least twice in the 1990s: archrival Utah
and the Rainbow Warriors. Cougars coach LaVell Edwards says the
round trip to Honolulu is like "losing a couple of days." It's
even longer when you lose the game.