Nebraska’s offense was “much like” Oklahoma’s Wishbone, Coach Tom Osborne said. As a result, the Huskers were “a little difficult to blitz consistently without getting burned.”
That was never more apparent than during Nebraska’s game against Minnesota at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in 1983. The Gophers blitzed on just about every down.
And they got burned, big-time. The final score was 84-13.
Nebraska finished with 790 yards of offense, including 595 rushing. Neither was a record.
The Huskers ran 70 plays. You can do the math. They had a sense of symmetry, scoring 21 points in each quarter. Seven of their 12 touchdowns came on plays of 27 yards or longer. Two others were set up by a 37-yard punt return and a 55-yard interception return.
What Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer had nicknamed Nebraska’s “Triplets” reflected how the 1983 offense was promoted by the sports information office as the “Scoring Explosion.”
Quarterback Turner Gill carried four times for 100 yards. I-back Mike Rozier carried 15 times for 196 yards and three touchdowns. Wingback Irving Fryar caught two passes, both for touchdowns on plays of 68 and 70 yards, on back-to-back series in the first quarter.
On the second of those series, I-back Jeff Smith ran 58 yards for a touchdown, only to have it nullified by a clipping penalty. After a Gill incompletion, he teamed with Fryar for the score.
The game was “feast or famine” for Nebraska, according to Osborne, who couldn’t be criticized for running up the score. Minnesota just kept blitzing, and on occasion guessed right.
The Big Eight limited travel rosters to 60 players, even for non-conference games. Osborne had used 50-of-60 players by halftime, and all 60 had seen action by the end of the third quarter. Reserves played much of the game, with starters occasionally giving them a breather.
Nebraska threw only four passes in the second half, and for the last eight minutes or so, Osborne said, his biggest concern was avoiding injuries to starters.
Minnesota ran more plays, and punted 13 times.
The score could’ve been even worse. Nebraska lost two fumbles, had one pass intercepted and was penalized eight times for 89 yards. So much happened during the 3:11 game that the official statistics released immediately afterward weren’t entirely accurate and had to be corrected later.
For example, Nebraska was credited with 780 yards on 66 plays, though the statistics show 52 rushes and 15 passes. The Husker record book now shows the 790-yard, 70-play totals.
“I don’t feel so bad,” Gophers Coach Joe Salem said. After all, the Huskers were ranked No. 1, a clearcut No. 1. “I even had a couple of chuckles out there . . .”
Minnesota had opened the season the week before with a 21-17 victory at Rice. It wouldn’t win another game, and Salem would be fired at season’s end.
Ironically, perhaps, Salem’s first job as a collegiate head coach, after five years as an assistant at Minnesota following a playing career there, was at South Dakota in 1966, a job for which Osborne also had applied after completing his doctoral degree at Nebraska.
So Osborne had become a full-time Husker assistant in 1966.
In the late-morning that Saturday, the Minnesota Twins played the Toronto Blue Jays in the Metrodome, before an audience of 6,300. The game ended a little after 2 p.m. The football game, which kicked off at 7:07 p.m., drew 62,687, including an estimated 12,000 Nebraska fans.
The 84 points remain a modern-era Nebraska record. The Huskers scored more five times from 1905 to 1917, including 119 against Haskell in 1910 and 117 against Kearney State in 1911. And though the victory was the Huskers’ 11th in a row against Minnesota, a streak that would reach 16 before it won back-to-back, in 2013 and 2014, Minnesota still leads the all-time series 31-24-2.
The series dates to 1900, with Nebraska managing only two victories and two ties in the first 18 meetings. Prior to Bob Devaney’s first game against Minnesota in 1963, a 14-7 victory at Minneapolis, Nebraska’s record against the Gophers was 6-29-2.
The Huskers almost certainly need a 25th victory in the series on Saturday at Minneapolis to keep their bowl hopes alive. They need at least two more victories total, with games at Penn State and against Iowa to finish the regular season.
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.