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Rick Telander
September 21, 1987
UCLA ambushed Nebraska's ground game but then was headed off with the pass
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September 21, 1987

A High Time For The Huskers

UCLA ambushed Nebraska's ground game but then was headed off with the pass

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EVERY OPTION OFFENSE HAS ONE: an unsung yet inspirational fullback who plows holes for the better-publicized runners, scrambles his brains in the process and gets to carry the ball every fourth series or so just to prove he isn't a guard. For Nebraska that player is 6'1", 225-pound senior Micah Heibel. He rushed only three times for five yards in Nebraska's 42-33 win over UCLA at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln on Saturday, but he blocked hard and then, two hours after the final gun sounded, appeared at Chesterfield's on 13th Street, singing with his band, Brain Hammer.

The group, which patterns itself after the parodistic heavy-metal rockers Spinal Tap ("We don't do Sex Farm, but we do Hell Hole" Heibel says), should play for UCLA every time it challenges the Big Eight. Nebraska beat the Bruins 40-13 in 1973, 42-10 in '83 and 42-3 in '84. If you throw in Oklahoma's 38-3 win over UCLA last year and Saturday's loss to the Huskers, over the last 15 years the Bruins have been brain-hammered 204-62 by the corn-fed conference.

Several theories have been advanced to explain this phenomenon: 1) the Big Eight features the option offense, an attack unfamiliar to UCLA, which plays in a passing conference; 2) the Big Eight, and particularly Nebraska, has stronger, beefier players than those gentle souls raised near the beaches of Los Angeles; 3) the games have been played in September, before UCLA has finished tanning itself and has gotten serious; 4) for the past five years the Bruins have started each season with a new quarterback. In each case he hasn't gotten his act together until nearly bowl time.

"Yeah, we have a problem," said UCLA coach Terry Donahue earlier in the week. "It might be like the Big Ten playing the Pac-10 in the Rose Bowl. But our scores against the Big Eight are even worse than the Big Ten's in the Rose Bowl. The last few games haven't been football games, they've been slaughters."

Do we sense a man crying out for the revisionist schedule? "Very candidly, yes. I would rather have Cupcake U than Nebraska every time," said Donahue. "Absolutely. Is that plain enough?"

Pretty plain. Still, the Bruins didn't show up in Lincoln wearing ear-of-corn costumes with HUSK ME signs around their necks. UCLA boasted tailback Gaston Green, who had eight 100-yard games in 1986 and 135 yards in the '87 opening win over San Diego State; a speedy defense led by linebacker Ken Norton Jr., whose dad once broke Muhammad Ali's jaw; the usual pair of sure-handed, gaily named wideouts, Flipper Anderson and Paco Craig; a strong-armed quarterback named Troy Aikman, who transferred from the University of Oklahoma; and a 6'5", 313-pound offensive tackle, David Richards, who lumbered in last spring from SMU's shuttered stable.

"This year I think we can compete with Nebraska," said Green, a model of optimism. "Our team is a little better than it's been. Why? Because we believe it's better."

That sort of tautological brainwork will only take you so far. "I'll show up," said Donahue, making a less-than-confidence-inspiring promise. "They'll drag me in screaming, but I'll show up."

Before showing up, the Bruins had steeled themselves to stop the Cornhuskers' vaunted I-formation attack, which had cranked out 515 rushing yards the week before in a 56-12 rout of Utah State. "We expect them to run it down our throats," Norton said before the game, "to see how tough UCLA is."

At the start Nebraska did just that, and UCLA stopped the Huskers cold. With Norton and fellow linebacker Carnell (the Human Blur) Lake—perhaps the only Division I-A linebacker who returns kicks—sprinting to the outside and noseguard Terry Tumey slipping past the Nebraska center time and again, the Huskers' option offense was strung out on the green carpet like a broken necklace. At the end of the first quarter UCLA led 7-0 after a 4-yard Green TD run. Nebraska had gained just 30 yards on the ground, had committed three fumbles and had permitted an 11-yard sack of junior quarterback Steve Taylor.

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