The final score was 59-14 Nebraska the only time the Cornhuskers have played Akron. The date was Aug. 30, 1997. The location was Memorial Stadium before 75,124.
And yes, Scott Frost directed the opening-game victory. By halftime, he had rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries. I-back Ahman Green, before a back problem sidelined him, had carried nine times for 99 yards and three touchdowns. And Nebraska led 38-0.
Thanks for coming Zips. And drive (or rather fly) safely on the way home – after picking up your guarantee of a reported $450,000, of course.
More about the first step in Coach Tom Osborne’s third national championship in his final season; but first some history about the nickname “Zips,” which like Cornhuskers is unique.
And no, there isn’t a connection to Zippy the Pinhead.
While the nickname “Cornhuskers” dates to 1900 and Cy Sherman, the nickname “Zips” was picked from suggestions by students, faculty and alums and made official in 1926. “Zips” was a shortened form of “Zippers,” a reference to the popular “Zipper Boot,” first produced by B.F. Goodrich in 1923.
B.F. Goodrich signed off on the nickname, which was officially shortened in 1950.
Zippy the Kangaroo became Akron athletics’ official mascot in 1953.
So if someone asks on Saturday where “Zips” comes from, you’ll have the answer, compliments of the Akron athletics website.
Now back to that warm (89 degrees, with 69-percent humidity, at kickoff) afternoon in late August.
Offensively, “I think we’re ahead of where we were last season at this point,” said Frost, who was in his second season as the starting quarterback.
He felt “more comfortable” running the option, Frost said. He carried only once in the second half, for 7 yards, and completed 7-of-13 passes for 67 yards for the game.
Because of the fast start, the second half belonged mostly to Nebraska’s reserves, including second-string quarterback Frankie London, a sophomore from Lake Charles, La., as well as true back-up quarterbacks Bobby Newcombe, a true freshman, and walk-on Jay Runty, a redshirt freshman.
Freshman Eric Crouch, another quarterback, was redshirted while dealing with injuries.
Newcombe went the wrong way on a play and gained 22 yards, a reflection of his athletic ability, according to Osborne. Newcombe, who also returned kicks, would move to wingback three games into the season before returning to quarterback to compete with Crouch for the starting job in 1998.
London would move to wingback in 1998.
By game’s end, Osborne had used 101 players, including five true freshmen besides Newcombe – the most to earn letters during his 25 seasons. The others were I-back Correll Buckhalter, split end Matt Davison, rush end Kyle Vanden Bosch, cornerback Erwin Swiney and rover Joe Walker.
Like Newcombe, Walker also returned kicks.
Buckhalter was among two others who scored two touchdowns, carrying 11 times for 61 yards. The fullback was still an integral part of Nebraska’s offense, and junior Joel Makovicka carried seven times for 59 yards and two touchdowns, to earn praise from Osborne. He had a chance to “play about as well” as any fullback “we’ve had in a while,” Osborne said.
The Huskers amassed 644 total yards, including 472 rushing. Frost scored the first touchdown on a 26-yard run with 6:18 remaining in the first quarter, Nebraska’s second possession.
The Huskers would score on their next eight possessions.
Akron managed only 99 yards rushing and didn’t score a touchdown until 5:17 remained in the third quarter, with the score 45-0.
Even so, “we really didn’t get any pressure on the quarterback and seemed to lack enthusiasm as a unit once we went up 14-0,” said co-captain and defensive tackle Jason Peter. “The way we played today won’t cut it once we really start getting through the season.”
Defensive enthusiasm wouldn’t be an issue in Nebraska’s title run.
Neither would offensive enthusiasm.
As for Coach Lee Owens’ Zips, they would finish 2-9, ranking 107thout of 112 nationally in points-per-game allowed (39.5) and 89thin points-per-game scored (19.8), not exactly zip, but in the late 90s close.
Mike is in his 40th year covering Husker athletics, after seven years of community-college teaching. He has written and edited a dozen books, all on Nebraska football except one, a brief history of Husker basketball. He previously wrote for the Lincoln Journal and Star and Huskers Illustrated. He enjoys music, from the Grateful Dead and Jack Johnson to Van Morrison, Bob Wills, Glenn Miller and pretty much anyone else.