LINCOLN — Nebraska fullback Tom Rathman always has been one of the toughest guys on the block, but Saturday he showed there’s a little runaway in him, too.
Rathman, a senior from Grand Island, broke loose on a stunning 84-yard touchdown run with 23 seconds left in the third quarter and catapulted thirdranked Nebraska to a 17-7 win over Colorado.
Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne said Rathman’s surprising speed and durability make the NU fullback unique.
“I don’t think there’s another fullback in the country who can block the way he does on every play, then turn around and run the ball 70 or 80 yards, “ Osborne said.
Rathman’s run spoiled a gritty performance by an injury-riddled Colorado team that played without starting quarterback Mark Hatcher, out with an ankle injury. Rick Wheeler, the starter against Nebraska, lasted only 10 plays before injuring his knee. Fifth-year senior Craig Keenan played the rest of the way.
A crowd of 76,014 at Memorial Stadium and a national television audience saw Rathman’s ramble break a 7-7 tie and help the Huskers to their 18th straight win over the Buffs. Nebraska, , now 6-1 overall and 3-0 in the Big Eight, travels to Kansas State Saturday. Colorado, off to its best start in years, fell to 5-2 for the season, 2-1 in conference play. The Buffs went into the game as 22-point underdogs.
The game still was up for grabs when Nebraska called Rathman’s number. His line was busy: guard Brian Blankenship and tackle Tim Roth gouged open a hole in Colorado’s defense and Rathman roared through.
Only a desperate pursuit by CU cornerback Lyle Pickens stood in Rathman’s way. He stormed through Pickens’ tackle attempt near the 5, lost his balance and nosedived into the end zone. Nebraska took a 14-7 lead.
Although Dale Klein added a 32-yard field goal with 9:34 left in the game, Rathman’s touchdown was the gamebreaker.
“Basically, the play is supposed to break to the outside,” Rathman said. “We ran it once before and the guy got a shoe-string tackle on me. Otherwise, I think it would have gone for at least 15 yards.
“There was only one guy I was worried about. I saw him at about the 20, but I don’t think they caught me until the 10 and I still made it.”
ABC-TV’s viewing audience missed most of Rathman’s run. The network still was taking a commercial break when Rathman took off. TV viewers got to see the final 10 yards of the run.
Colorado, though, had a close look at every stride of Rathman’s touchdown sprint. The Buffs’ defense hung tough most of the way.
Colorado’s new wishbone offense, however, usually was easy pickings for Nebraska, especially in the second half.
The Huskers allowed Colorado just 218 total yards in the game.
Nebraska finished with 445 yards, including 332 on the ground. I-back Doug DuBose picked up 125 yards on 26 carries and Rathman had 115 yards on 11 attempts.
Colorado, though, got on the board first on Keenan’s 2-yard touchdown keeper that capped a 70-yard drive and gave the Buffs a 7-0 lead with 4:05 left in the first quarter. Keenan entered the game after Wheeler injured his knee while being tackled by Nebraska cornerback Brian Davis.
“When Wheeler was in there, we were doing just what we wanted to do,” said Colorado coach Bill McCartney. “When he went out, something happened to our perimeter game.”
Nebraska’s offense sputtered much of the first half, so Osborne made a change. Travis Turner replaced starter McCathorn Clayton at quarterback with 11:16 left in the second quarter and the senior quickly directed Nebraska to the tying score. Turner hit wingback Von Sheppard with a 31-yard pass to the CU 15-yard line. DuBose scored six plays later on a 1-yard run and it was 7-7 with 5:39 left in the half.
Colorado’s ball-control wishbone kept the ball the rest of the first half and got as far as the Nebraska 27. On the final play of the first half, Larry Eckel missed a 52-yard field goal and it was 7-7 at halftime.
In the second half, Nebraska’s defense simply dismantled Colorado’s “Buff Bone.” The Buffs averaged 2.4 yards per play in the second half.
“Our timing was poor and there was too much indecision,” McCartney said. “There were just too many mistakes made offensively.
We had our chances, but we missed them.”
Nebraska, too, wasted several opportunities. Klein missed his first two fieldgoal attempts, snapping his streak of successful attempts at nine. The Huskers let another touchdown slip through their hands in the fourth quarter when Turner’s pass to wide-open split end Rod Smith was dropped with about seven minutes left.
“I thought our offense got better as the game went on,” Osborne said. “We had some things set up well that we just weren’t able to execute until later. Travis Turner played very well.”
Turner completed 4 of 10 passes for 97 yards and had one pass intercepted. Colorado’s Keenan didn’t fare nearly as well. He hit 6 of 11 passes for 55 yards.
“I thought we could run against them,” Keenan said. “We just messed a few things up in the first half and that was my fault. I thought if we could clear those things up in the second half, we could have moved the ball.”
Nebraska’s defense had a lot to do with the Buffs’ inability to move the ball. In the first half, NU defensive tackle Jim Skow slanted into the backfield, grabbed Wheeler and fullback Eric McCarty at the same time, and squeezed. The ball popped free and Skow sat on it at the Nebraska 31, snuffing out a CU threat.
In the second half, Nebraska linebackers Marc Munford and Mike Knox both Colorado high school graduates recovered Buffalo fumbles. Munford’s recovery set up Klein’s field goal.
The big play in that NU scoring drive was an 18-yard gain by Sheppard on a double reverse. When officials flagged CU’s John Bennett for a late hit, the Huskers reached the Colorado 18. The Buffs, though, stopped Nebraska, and Klein’s field goal made it 17-7 with 9:34 left in the game.
Colorado’s only serious second-half threat came after DuBose fumbled at the Husker 34 and Colorado’s Rodney Rogers recovered. Two plays later, Keenan fumbled and Munford recovered for Nebraska.
The best weapon for Colorado in the second half was the foot of Barry Helton, the country’s third-ranked punter. Helton averaged 50.5 yards on eight punts.
Despite the defeat, Colorado played well against Nebraska, particularly on defense. McCartney said CU’s defenders were “magnificent.”
“I’m really proud of them,” McCartney said.
Nebraska’s offense struggled for the second straight game, but Osborne said Colorado’s play had something to do with that.
“I think we beat a very good football team today,” Osborne said.
|Yards per carry||3.2||5.5|
Nebraska is 49-20 all-time against Colorado.
|Florida State||Sept. 7|
|New Mexico||Oct. 5|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 12|
|Kansas State||Nov. 2|
|Iowa State||Nov. 9|
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