SI Vault
 
It Ain't Broke
Tim Layden
October 05, 1998
Though Tom Osborne has given way to a more vocal, blue-collar successor, Nebraska and its multiple-threat offense just keep rolling along
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
October 05, 1998

It Ain't Broke

Though Tom Osborne has given way to a more vocal, blue-collar successor, Nebraska and its multiple-threat offense just keep rolling along

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2

Solich, 54, might have liked that. He weighs 160 pounds, just five more than when he played fullback—and rushed for more than 1,000 yards—on Devaney's teams from 1963 to '65. He could be called an overachiever, as a player and as a coach, and it is a label that he would not shun. Solich's 79-year-old father, also named Frank, worked in the coal mines near the family's home in Smokeless, Pa., 10 miles outside Johnstown, and is now in poor health as a result of that work. "He instilled a work ethic," says Frank Jr. "He taught me never to expect anything to be given to me."

The elder Solich knows that his son's Cornhuskers possess two of the elements common to all of Osborne's great Nebraska teams: a skilled, multidimensional quarterback, Bobby Newcombe, and an explosive I-back, DeAngelo Evans. With Newcombe and Evans, both sophomores, starting together for the first time last Saturday, the Huskers cranked out 527 yards in total offense, including 434 on the ground. Evans rushed for 146 yards and three touchdowns in his first start since the 1996 Big 12 championship game, and Newcombe ran for 79 yards and three scores and completed five of eight passes for 84 yards.

The deft option work of the six-foot, 195-pound Newcombe resembles that of his predecessors, Tommie Frazier (1992-95) and Frost (1996-97). Newcombe is a more refined passer than either of them, however, and while he is smaller than both, he is more elusive than Frost and faster than Frazier. "It took me about one day to see how much athletic ability Bobby has," Frost says. Newcombe played wingback a year ago—Nebraska was desperate to get his talent on the field—but he also attended quarterback meetings with Frost and begged for instruction at every turn.

Newcombe was uneasy in the days leading to Saturday's game, not because he had sat out the two previous games with a partially torn left knee ligament and not because Washington was a daunting opponent, but because a pressing academic week was hampering his preparation. Newcombe, who is double-majoring in business management and psychology, carries a 3.0 GPA and plans to graduate in 3½ years or less, had tests last week in economics, accounting and art history and papers due in two other courses. He was up past 1 a.m. on Monday and Tuesday nights. "I was calling plays wrong on the field all week because my concentration wasn't on football," Newcombe said after Saturday's win. His father, Robert, who talked to him on the phone several times during the week, said, "He seemed just plain nervous because he puts so much pressure on himself, academically and athletically."

The father and son have shared an unusual life. Robert Newcombe was a Peace Corps volunteer who was assigned to Sierra Leone, in West Africa. He arrived there in August 1974 and worked as a teacher in the Mende tribal village of Geoma Jargoh, where he met and married Jandeh Sandi, a member of the village. Bobby was born to the couple in August 1979, and they moved to the U.S. before his first birthday. His parents divorced when Bobby was 16, but he remains close to both. Newcombe is the rare college player who was raised on a diet of beans and cassava leaves and who called his mother from the stadium before his first start.

"I believe Bobby is goal-oriented and competitive from me," says his father. "From his mother he has a calmness. And he definitely has the [athletic] Mende physique." Whatever the source, his natural athleticism has long been transcendent. In his senior year at Highland High in Albuquerque he won five events at the New Mexico state track and field meet.

Washington couldn't touch him. After coming out of the tunnel screeching before the kickoff ("I had never seen Bobby do that," said Heskew) and jumping on his teammates like a linebacker, Newcombe exploited the Huskies' Buddy Ryan defense with killer reads. Most of Newcombe's pitches went to Evans, who was back on the field after twice undergoing surgery (in July and October 1997) to repair damage to the nest of groin and abdominal muscles known as the pelvic floor. Both times Evans was cut horizontally on his lower abdomen, as if for a cesarean section, and he is just now approaching full strength. This is a harrowing thought for future opponents facing what Newcombe blithely calls "pitch-and-run football."

It is a satisfying thought for Osborne, who holds to one last ritual of his former life. On Sunday afternoons he watches tapes of the previous day's game. He holds a coach's clicker in his right hand, stopping and starting the tape, watching each Cornhusker's every move. It is tedious work, consuming long hours, but for Osborne it brings a familiar joy. He sees plays that he once called and players he recruited winning games on a field named in his honor.

Best of all, he sees the line unbroken, at least for now. He sees the machinery still humming.

1 2