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Huskers not happy with offense

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Posted: Tuesday September 04, 2001 1:01 PM
Updated: Tuesday September 04, 2001 1:09 PM

Eric Crouch says the Nebraska offense isn't playing up to par. AP
1   Oklahoma
2   Texas
3   Nebraska
4   Kansas State
5   Texas Tech
6   Texas A&M
7   Colorado
8   Iowa State
9   Kansas
10   Oklahoma State
11   Missouri
12   Baylor
Estimated number of Oklahoma fans who bought Air Force season tickets in order to attend last week's game at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs.
"I told him if he didn't have anything else to do, he could always come to Baylor Stadium, don the headsets and see if anything is different."

-- Baylor coach Kevin Steele on his open invitation to Crawford, Texas, neighbor George W. Bush to join him on the sidelines for one of his games.

By Tim Griffin, Special to

The guys in the red jerseys haven't been like the familiar Nebraska teams of the past so far this year.

The Cornhuskers have piled up rushing yardage between the 20-yard-lines, ranking 16th in the country with an average of 244.5 yards per game.

But inside the 20, it's been a different story.

The Cornhuskers came up empty four times on possessions inside the Troy State 15-yard line in their 42-14 triumph over the Trojans. Twice, they were snuffed out with no points on goal-line stands inside the Troy State 3.

"Troy State was a very good football team," Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch said. "And they played like winners. ... But we're Nebraska football and we need to power people over the goal line. Really, there are no excuses."

Those struggles are enough to cause a few raised eyebrows heading into Saturday's big test against Notre Dame in Lincoln.

"I want everybody to know that the offense is OK, but I don't want to pump it up like we're doing great, because we're not," Crouch told reporters after the Troy State game.

The Cornhuskers rushed for 330 yards and produced 25 first downs against Troy State after producing 159 yards rushing against TCU. In that game, the Cornhuskers failed to produce a gain on 15 of 68 plays against the quicker Horned Frogs defenders.

"Against TCU, it was kind of like breaking ice but we got a lot better last week," Crouch said. "There were some discouraging things that happened in the red zone, like not putting it in. There are definitely some things we can work on and get better at."

Nebraska coach Frank Solich said he's not surprised by some of the early struggles, considering the turnover on his offensive unit from last season. The Cornhuskers lost starting I-back Dan Alexander, wide receivers Bobby Newcombe and Matt Davison and three starters in the offensive line.

"Our line is starting to play better and we will continue to get better," Solich said. "A lot of young players are handling the ball for us. All of our wideouts have little experience. We've got a lot of young players offensively and that attributes to what's happened so far."

The return of I-back Dahrran Diedrick against Troy State brought an element of tough running that was missing in the first game. Diedrick, suspended for the first game for his role in a disturbance outside a Lincoln bar, rushed for a career-best 177 yards on 25 carries and scored three touchdowns in his first career start.

Even though Solich wondered if Diedrick was in top condition, his numbers indicated otherwise. No Nebraska I-back has had more carries in a game since Ahman Green ran 34 times against Texas A&M in the 1997 Big 12 Championship Game. His development should help the Cornhuskers get back to their old ways.

Notre Dame officials reportedly aren't happy about a game that was supposed to be the season opener for both teams when the original contract for the game was drafted.

Instead, the Cornhuskers scheduled two games before Saturday's game. Their performance likely has given Notre Dame something to consider in the Irish's first visit to Memorial Stadium since 1948.

"It's an advantage in a small way having played two games," Solich said. "But the other team has a small advantage in they've been able to zero in on us."

The buzz could be heard at Royal-Memorial Stadium as soon as he touched the ball. Fans were chanting "Ced-ric, Ced-ric" before his first collegiate carry.

Heralded freshman running back Cedric Benson started his career with Texas, adding a fourth-quarter exclamation point to the Longhorns' 41-7 triumph over New Mexico State.

"[Texas running backs] coach [Bruce] Chambers said they were going to run me until I dropped," said Benson.

Benson rushed for a team-high 64 yards in 15 carries, added a 17-yard reception and scored a touchdown despite participating in only two drives. It was the fifth-best debut in Texas history.

Texas teammates said Benson's running style and his dreadlocks reminded them of former Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams.

"You could feel something go through the crowd as soon as Cedric went in," Texas wide receiver Montrell Flowers said. "For a minute there, I thought it was Ricky."

HOT: Oklahoma RB Quentin Griffin

Rushed for a career-best 201 yards on 26 carries, becoming the first back in coach Bob Stoops' tenure to crack 200 yards. Five of Griffin's runs were of at least 15 yards.

NOT: Missouri QB Darius Outlaw

Accounted for three fourth-quarter turnovers, including an interception that set up the game-winning TD in the Tigers' 20-13 loss to Bowling Green.

HOT: Colorado's secondary

Previously beleaguered unit provided four interceptions, including TD returns of 41 yards by Michael Lewis and 31 yards by Donald Strickland, in the Buffs' much-needed 41-14 triumph over Colorado State.

NOT: Oklahoma State's offensive line

Allowed five sacks and produced only 45 yards rushing in the Cowboys' 17-9 loss at Southern Mississippi.

Considering ESPN cameras were filming footage for their new Sidelines program highlighting his program, it was understandable that Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum tried to smile after the Aggies' tight season-opening victory over McNeese State.

Texas A&M fell behind 16-0 to the Division I-AA Cowboys early in the game and 24-10 early in the third quarter before rallying for a 38-24 victory. It was the Aggies' largest comeback in Slocum's 13-season coaching tenure.

"We did a good job of not panicking and we were able to come back," Slocum said. "It was 38-8 once we got past the miscues. It's probably better than if we had won 55-0. We might have come out of there strutting and feeling good and having a false sense of where we are."

Texas A&M S Sammy Davis

Provided two second-half interceptions that led to touchdowns to pace the Aggies' 38-24 comeback victory over McNeese State.

Nebraska I-back Dahrran Diedrick

Rushed for 177 yards and three touchdowns in his debut as a starter to lead the Cornhuskers' 42-14 triumph over Troy State.

Kansas QB Zach Dyer

Starting in place of suspended starter Mario Kinsey, Dyer passed for 231 yards and rushed for 45 more to lead the Jayhawks' 24-10 victory over Southwest Missouri State in his first career start.

There might be more attractive games across the conference on Saturday, but no game figures to have the drama and long-term ramifications of UCLA's visit to Kansas.

Embattled Kansas coach Terry Allen desperately needs a breakthrough victory against a ranked team, considering the Jayhawks have lost eight straight games to ranked teams. Saturday game against the Bruins will give him another chance.

Suspended starting TB Reggie Duncan and QB Mario Kinsey are expected back in the lineup after missing the first game of the season. Duncan will start and Kinsey will play, although Zach Dyer will start at quarterback.

Their return will be important after the Jayhawks' sputtering start against Division I-AA Southwest Missouri State in the opening game. The Jayhawks committed four turnovers, converted only three of 12 third-down plays and were penalized eight times.

Air Force players were impressed with Oklahoma's defensive team speed after the Sooners' 44-3 triumph last week -- the first time the Falcons have been held without a touchdown in 70 games. "Maybe we should have brought the Baltimore Ravens in," Air Force QB Keith Boyea told the Colorado Springs Gazette after the game. "I'm not sure even the Ravens were that fast." ... Colorado QB Craig Ochs had his arm in a sling after the victory over Colorado State, but is not expected to miss any time after suffering a minor bruised shoulder. ... Texas Tech coach Mike Leach said he can't believe the lack of publicity received by his QB Kliff Kingsbury . "It's amazing what I see on the covers of the magazines," Leach said. "None of those guys are within 1,000 yards of Kliff." ... Texas kickoff specialist Dan Smith, a walk-on who formerly attended Waldorf Junior College in Charles City, Iowa, saw his first action Saturday night against New Mexico State. Smith did not walk on with the Longhorns until three days earlier on the first day of class. ... Texas WR Kyle Shanahan, son of Denver coach Mike Shanahan , has received clearance to begin practicing after slicing his leg on a wrought-iron fence last month. Shanahan could play Saturday against North Carolina. ... Kansas State coach Bill Snyder figures he is in a difficult predicament for Saturday's game against USC, his team's first game at a nonconference opponent's home stadium since 1997. "If you listen to outside sources, it's a no-win situation," Snyder said. "If you win, they say why don't you do it all the time? If you lose, they say why the devil did you do it?" ... Snyder said that junior QB Ell Roberson III will likely make his first career start against the Trojans on Saturday.

Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express News. His "This Week in the Big 12" column appears each Tuesday during the season.

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