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"We start fast because we have two full scout teams and our No. 1 and 2 offenses will both run 100 snaps in a practice," says Osborne calmly, as he says everything. "Most teams get only 50 or 60. I don't think we get worse as the season progresses. I think closing slowly has something to do with playing good teams at the end."
Indeed. But now Nebraska has lost a big one early, too. The Huskers are 2-1 this season and, amazingly, have lost three of their last six games.
The UCLA offense, which started tentatively in last year's game in Lincoln, came out in a fury this time. On the sixth play of the day, Aikman hit tight end Charles Arbuckle over the middle for a 57-yard touchdown. The play should have gone for five yards, but the 233-pound Arbuckle plowed over All-Big Eight linebacker LeRoy Etienne and outran cornerback Charles Fryar to the end zone.
Then in rapid-fire succession UCLA scored three more times—on a 50-yard run by backup tailback Shawn Wills, on a three-yard pass from Aikman to Arbuckle and on a 75-yard punt return by cornerback Darryl Henley. And that's not including a 54-yard scoring run by starting tailback Eric Ball that was called back because of a holding penalty. Not only did UCLA look faster and more sophisticated than Nebraska (in the first quarter alone Aikman completed five of five to four different receivers for 101 yards and two scores), but the Bruins also looked—wait a minute here, all you punk surfers and Wilshire Boulevard dandies—stronger than the Huskers. "We just got a good whipping," said Osborne after the game. "UCLA was very physical. They knocked us off the ball about the whole half."
The drama behind that statement was set up the previous Monday when Donahue told the press that some of the old Nebraska teams had been bizarrely strong. "In [1983 and 1984], those were the most unusual teams I've played in 13 years of coaching," Donahue said. "They were not a normal college team. They had unusually big, active and fast players.... You can take that for what it's worth. You can interpret that any way you want."
Well, there was only one way to interpret the coach's remarks—Nebraska players used steroids. The veiled charge upset Osborne, who called Donahue to talk about the matter. Donahue denied any malicious intent. "If I would have wanted to charge Nebraska with being on steroids," he said, "I would have said, 'Those——are on steroids.' "
To say Nebraska is sensitive to charges of steroid use among its players is like saying Elizabeth Taylor is sensitive to charges of being fat. In the past, Husker players have admitted using steroids (Dean Steinkuhler, a guard from 1981-83, told SI that he was a regular user during his junior and senior years, and last week, Bill Lewis, a Los Angeles Raider center and a Cornhusker from 1983 to '85, told the Los Angeles Times that some of his teammates were using steroids).
On Friday, while the Huskers practiced in shorts in the empty Rose Bowl, Nebraska strength and conditioning coach Boyd Epley talked passionately about the unfairness of any new allegations: "I have said on TV that if any of my staff ever recommends steroid use to any of our players, I will resign immediately. As far as we know, with our best efforts, we don't have players on steroids. We still hear all the rumors and it eats away at you. People recruit against us by saying to kids, 'You go to Nebraska and they'll put you on steroids.' It takes away from the hard work of our players."
Epley added firmly that not all Huskers are as strong as oxen. He pointed at one huge player running through drills. "For example, look at number 70, Doug Glaser, a starting offensive lineman. He's 6'7", 295, biggest guy on the team. Across the country the average bench press for offensive linemen is probably 400-410. Glaser benches 299."
Ah, what a curious world college football has become. Here's a strength coach proudly pointing out how weak one of his best players is.