Tom's Time
Photo Credit: Randy Hampton

Tom’s Time: Upset, and Embarrassment, Avoided Against Oregon State

January 09, 2020

Oregon State quarterback Matt Booher said he would happily return to the West Coast and allow Kenny Walker to do his thing in the Big Eight, following the Beavers’ 31-7 loss against Nebraska in the Huskers’ final non-conference game of the 1990 season.

Walker’s thing had been to harass Booher, sacking him four times for 29 yards in losses.

“He’s not ‘about’ unblockable; he is unblockable,” said Husker middle guard Pat Engelbert, who also had one of Nebraska’s eight sacks, for a 6-yard loss.

Redshirt freshman outside linebacker Trev Alberts, who replaced Walker in the “dime,” described the 6-foot-4, 240-pound defensive tackle, as the “best rushing lineman in the nation.”

Walker, who was deaf, was Nebraska’s fastest lineman, and sixth-fastest player overall, according to the media guide, having been electronically timed at 4.58 seconds in the 40-yard dash and 1.68 seconds at 10 yards. His strength index was third-highest on the team.

Husker defensive coordinator, and defensive line coach, Charlie McBride said Walker hadn’t “scratched the surface” of how he was capable of playing.

With Walker leading the way, Nebraska won its fourth in a row, 31-7, a decisive victory one might say, except that the Huskers had been 51½-point favorites. That’s right, 51½.

Oregon State was 0-4, with eight-consecutive losses including the previous season—on its way to a 1-10 record in 1990. Plus, Nebraska had outscored its first three opponents 129-14, while the Beavers had been outscored 142-50 in four games against less-than-imposing competition. So when the Huskers went to the locker room at halftime trailing 7-3, with six first downs to Oregon State’s eight, those in Memorial Stadiums’ 172nd-consecutive sellout of 76,061 were perplexed.

The Beavers had scored following a fumbled punt—the first of three Nebraska fumbles, all of them lost—midway through the first quarter. The Huskers had responded with a 22-yard field goal by Gregg Barrios with 2:00 remaining in the period. But they wouldn’t score again until the second half. 

Thanks to Walker and the Blackshirts, Oregon State was shut out the rest of the way.

At halftime, “I told them that they were on the verge of the biggest embarrassment in the history of this school and possibly the biggest upset of the year if they didn’t get with it,” said Tom Osborne.

Nebraska wasted no time in taking the lead in the second half. The Huskers received the kickoff. On first down, wingback Nate Turner gained 11 yards on a reverse. On second down, I-back Leodis Flowers ran up the middle for 66 yards. An Oregon State penalty moved the ball to the 1-yard line. And from there back-up I-back Scott Baldwin scored. A Barrios kick made the score 10-7.

Only 38 seconds had elapsed on the game clock. 

The Huskers wouldn’t score again until the fourth quarter, however, when they added three touchdowns. “Last week against Stanford we gave up 31 points in the first half, so this was much better,” said Beavers’ Coach Dave Kragthorpe.

Better, maybe. But Nebraska finished with 508 yards of offense to the Beavers’ 133.

“One of the problems we had offensively is that we had some guys that were feeling their way along for the first time,” Osborne said.

Mike Grant, who was competing with Mickey Joseph for the starting job at quarterback, had missed the previous two games because of injury. Flowers, in his first season as the starter following the departure to Ken Clark, had missed the last game with a knee injury.

If his knee hadn’t tightened slightly at about 50 yards, the 66-yard run might’ve gone for a touchdown. Flowers finished with 151 yards and the touchdown rushing. Fullback Omar Soto, who had redshirted after transferring from Arizona Western, rushed for 95 yards on only 10 carries.

Walker was typically modest about his play. “I hate to say things about my performance being normal or not normal because it’s only the fourth game of the season,” he said.

He would earn All-America recognition as well as being named the Big Eight Defensive Player of the Year by the United Press International as a senior, finishing second to linebacker Pat Tyrance in tackles, with 73, and leading the team with 11 sacks for 69 yards in losses, 21 tackles-for-loss (21-105) and quarterback hurries (21). It was his only season as a starter.

“He’s a great player,” Osborne said. “He’s really hard to block.”

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