Tom's Time
Photo Credit: Randy Hampton

Tom’s Time: Shutting Out the Cyclones in ’78

January 02, 2018

During the week before Nebraska’s game at Iowa State in 1978, Husker linebacker Lee Kunz told a Lincoln reporter he didn’t just want to beat the Cyclones, he wanted to shut them out.

He was quoted in the Sunday World-Herald: “We want to beat them by three or four touchdowns. We won’t be satisfied unless we really show them we have a superior team.”

He was looking for payback. Iowa State had beaten Nebraska the previous two seasons.

Tom Osborne wasn’t happy with Kunz’s comments. The Cyclones could use them as motivation.

And so they did, posting newspaper clippings in their locker room.

As it turned out, Osborne needn’t have been concerned. In fact, at halftime of the game in Ames, with Nebraska leading 9-0, he encouraged the defense to post a shutout.

And so the Huskers did. Iowa State managed only 82 yards of offense, including 50 yards rushing on 45 carries, and seven first downs – five of them in the second half.

Kunz led the Nebraska defense with nine tackles. Middle guard Kerry Weinmaster had three quarterback sacks. The Huskers intercepted two passes and recovered two fumbles.

Iowa State punted nine times, Nebraska eight. Defense dominated.

The game was the Big Eight opener for both teams. Iowa State was 4-0 and ranked No. 15 by the Associated Press. The Huskers had won three in a row after a 20-3 opening-game loss at preseason No. 1 Alabama, climbing back to No. 10 (where they had begun) in the rankings.

Kunz, a senior from Golden, Colorado, was among “the finest athletes ever to play at Nebraska,” according to the Husker media guide. He was in his second season as a starter. In addition to football he competed for the track and field team, and was a conference champion discus thrower.

He even returned to Nebraska after a season with the Chicago Bears to complete his eligibility in that sport. He was a seventh-round draft pick and played three seasons with the Bears.

Kunz led the Huskers in tackles for a second consecutive season in 1978, with 119. As a junior he was credited with 141 tackles during the regular season (bowl games weren’t included – he made 18 in the Liberty Bowl), a school record at the time and still the fourth-most in Husker history.

His 63 unassisted tackles in 1978 are the ninth-most at Nebraska all-time.

Notre Dame and Texas were among the schools he considered out of high school. But Osborne sealed the deal in recruiting. “He’s the one who sold me,” Kunz said years later.

“I was extremely impressed with the loyalty the players and coaches had toward each other.”

Nebraska’s defense funneled ball carriers to the linebackers. Bruce Dunning, the other starting linebacker in the Huskers’ “50-front” alignment, was second on the team with 103 tackles.

Dunning was also from Colorado, walking on from Arvada. He was listed as the strongside backer, Kunz the weakside, “Sam” and “Will” – or, yes, “Sara” and “Wanda.”

The Huskers’ final touchdown was set up by some trickery, a play Osborne had put in a couple of weeks before. Late in the game, on fourth-and-1 at the Iowa State 36-yard line, they lined up as if to go for the first down, as they had done five times already. Then quarterback Tom Sorley dropped back as if shifting to punt, and Iowa State jumped offsides, giving Nebraska a first down.

The officials were told about the play beforehand, Osborne was quoted in newspaper accounts. Sorley wasn’t the Husker punter; split end Tim Smith was. So Osborne was asked if Sorley would have punted if the Cyclones hadn’t been offsides. He might have, Osborne said

I-back Tim Wurth scored the final touchdown on a 15-yard run with 5:13 remaining. Billy Todd, who had kicked two field goals, added the extra point.

Final: Nebraska 23, Iowa State 0. Kunz got the shutout. And the Huskers were off to a good start in conference play in Osborne’s sixth season.

Iowa State, which had managed only a tie with a Bob Devaney-coached team (in 11 tries), would defeat Nebraska only once more during Tom’s Time, a frustrating upset in 1992.

Tom's Time is a regular feature that will take a closer look at the life of Tom Osborne. Nebraska has a storied history in football that dates back to the earliest years of the game, but the tradition to which Husker fans hold Nebraska is mostly a reference to Osborne's 25 years as head coach. And that will always be worth exploring in greater detail. Click here for all of the entries in the series.

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