LINCOLN — In the hottest season opener on Nebraska's football record books, the Huskers stewed in their own juices.
Florida State upset Nebraska 17-13 in Saturday's 96-degree heat before a national television audience and 75,943 fans, extending the Cornhuskers' NCAA record to 137 sellouts in a row. The onfield temperature soared to 132 degrees, according to NU officials.
NU officials said the hottest season opener they could find in the past 19 years was in 1980, when the temperature was 90 degrees for the Nebraska-Iowa game.
The Seminoles stayed cool when the heat was on, never losing their poise or the football.
But Nebraska lost two fumbles, threw an interception, botched punts, field goals and extra points and finally boiled away their chances.
In the end, one of the key plays in a game of pivotal plays proved to be an errant punt snap.
Late in the first half, Husker punter Dan Wingard managed to scoop up Brian Blankenship's low snap and tried to run to the left but the Florida State rush buried him at the Husker 6-yard line.
Fullback Cletis Jones plowed in two plays later from the 2 and the Seminoles led 17-13 with 3:27 left. It was the final score of the game.
Blankenship, the Huskers' backup snapper, was in the game because regular snapper Mark Cooper was groggy from taking a hit to the head earlier in the game. Cooper returned for secondhalf snaps.
Blankenship, Nebraska' starting left guard, was wearing protective gloves, as he normally does.
"In practice they work OK," NU Coach Tom Osborne said. "In the ball game when you have a lot of perspiration, the gloves are just soaking wet. I think the ball just slipped out of his hands."
Osborne also said that tape was wrapped around Blankenship's gloved hands.
"The whole thing happened so fast," Osborne said. "There was no opportunity for him to cut the tape and get the gloves off. It was an unfortunate set of circumstances."
Wingard took most of the blame for the punt debacle.
"My first and foremost job is to catch the ball," said Wingard.
"I thought about running back into the end zone, but that was after the play was over. If I could have run to the right, I could have still kicked the ball. But being a right-footed kicker, I had no chance.
"It was kind of a Murphy's Law type of day. I don't expect this to happen again."
Murphy's Law says that if anything can go wrong, it will. For Nebraska, it did.
Once, the Huskers were penalized for having 12 men on the field, then later called a timeout because they only had 10. They lost two fumbles and an interception. Osborne said the low snap on the punt amounted to another turnover.
"We had three turnovers, really four. They had zero," Osborne said. "That's the key stat. That's really quite a credit to their football team, especially on a day as hot as this, to play a whole game without a turnover."
It was the second time in the last five years that Bobby Bowden's Seminoles had beaten Nebraska in Lincoln. They upset the Huskers 18-14 in 1980. It was the fourth time in 13 years that Osborne's team lost its season opener.
"We have mixed feelings," Osborne said. "It always feels bad to lose. At times we looked like a sloppy football team. Any time you have inexperience at key spots, you're going to make mistakes.
"As the game went along, we settled down and I thought we showed signs of being a good football team.
"It wasn't that we got kicked all over the field. It's very disappointing to lose, but the critical thing is how well we bounce back."
Bowden said his team had a decided advantage by having opened its season last week with a 38-12 win over Tulane.
"We were very fortunate to win the game," Bowden said. "I think if Nebraska had had a game and we hadn't, they would have won. If Nebraska would have had a game under their belts, it would have been different."
The main bugaboo for Nebraska was its kicking game. Besides the errant punt snap, the Huskers muffed an extra point and missed a key second-half field goal.
But even though the Seminoles profited from Nebraska's errors, they earned the win. Sophomore quarterback Danny McManus ran Florida State's ball-control passing attack well in the first half the first touchdown drive took 14 plays.
McManus finished with 15 completions on 27 passes for 172 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown strike to flanker Darrin Holloman in the first quarter.
Then the Seminole defense hung on in the second half. McManus went out of the game in the fourth period after taking a hit from Husker tackle Jim Skow.
There were other Nebraska woes. The Huskers recovered an apparent Florida State fumble only to have the officials rule it an incomplete shovel pass. Still, they had chances to win the game in the second half.
Sophomore quarterback McCathorn Clayton, in for starter Travis Turner, drove Nebraska to the Seminole 14. The big play was a 31-yard run by sophomore wingback Von Sheppard.
On the next play, the first of the fourth quarter, fullback Tom Rathman fumbled and Florida State's Stanley Shiver recovered at the 8. On Nebraska's next possession, Clayton again guided the Huskers to the Seminole 14, but the drive stalled and Dale Klein's 31-yard field goal attempt hooked to the left.
On Nebraska's final possession, facing a fourth and 5 at Florida State's 42, Turner fired a pass toward tight end Todd Frain, only to see it bounce off the helmet of 6-foot-6 Husker center Bill Lewis.
It was that kind of day for Nebraska.
Not that Nebraska did everything wrong. The Husker ground game, led by junior I-back Doug DuBose, racked up 372 yards. DuBose had 129 yards on 21 carries and scored Nebraska's second touchdown on a 1-yard run. Rathman added 113 yards on 12 carries and Clayton gained 97 on nine carries.
Nebraska finished with 412 total yards. The Huskers completed just 3 of 14 passes for 40 yards. Florida State had 290 yards in total offense. The Seminoles' leading rusher was freshman tailback Sammie Smith who used his 216 pounds to bull for 73 yards on 12 carries.
Nebraska opened the game in flawless fashion. The Huskers scored on the first possession, running just three plays before Rathman broke free over right guard and raced 60 yards for a touchdown just 90 seconds into the game.
But McManus drove the Seminoles right back, passing 79 yards in 14 plays. He hit 4 of 6 passes for 54 yards in the drive, including the 15-yard touchdown dart to a wide-open Holloman.
After the game, McManus spoke charitably of a Nebraska secondary that sprung first-half leaks. The Huskers have no returning starters in their secondary and Florida State wasted little time in probing it.
"Their defense did a great job and we were just lucky to find guys open," McManus said.
Derek Schmidt gave the Seminoles a 10-7 lead at 12:52 of the second period with a 20-yard field goal.
Clayton then replaced Turner and guided the Huskers 69 yards for the goahead score. Clayton's 43-yard keeper to the Florida State 3-yard line was the big play.
It took Nebraska all four downs to get the touchdown, but DuBose skated around the left side untouched after taking an option pitch from Clayton. Then snapper Blankenship and holder Wingard missed connections on the extra-point attempt, and Klein never got to kick it. Nebraska led 13-10 with 8:05 left in the first half.
After Florida State took the 17-13 lead with 3:27 left, Nebraska wingback Dana Brinson fumbled and Seminole tackle Stanley Scott recovered at the Husker 39. Two plays later, most fans thought Florida State fullback Tony Smith had fumbled after taking a handoff from McManus on a draw play. Husker linebacker Kevin Parsons pounced on the loose ball at the Husker 42.
But officials ruled that Smith had taken a short shovel pass from McManus and the play was ruled an incomplete forward pass. More of Murphy's Law...
The second half turned into a bruising and exhausting defensive struggle. Nebraska's depth began to wear down the Seminoles, but their grit and the Huskers' mistakes allowed Florida State to hold on.
"I thought we were running out of gas," Bowden said.
But the Huskers never could make the big play and Florida's defenders never broke.
"If I had a game ball," Bowden said. "I would give it to them or else take it home with me."
|Yards per carry||2.7||6.8|
Nebraska is 2-6 all-time against Florida State.
|Florida State||Sept. 7|
|New Mexico||Oct. 5|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 12|
|Kansas State||Nov. 2|
|Iowa State||Nov. 9|
Nebraska has played 8 games on Sept. 7. See them all »
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