Starters returning: 6
Starters returning: 7
Rankled by five consecutive losses to Oklahoma and the ensuing succession of bowls less juicy than Orange, Coach Tom Osborne has adjusted his offense to enable I. M. Hipp and Rick Berns to operate at the same time. After a flirtation with the veer in the spring, Osborne has decided to stick with the I, with Berns, the better blocker, at fullback and Hipp at I-back.
A walk-on replacement when Berns suffered a hip pointer in the Baylor game last season, Hipp, a sophomore, went on to average 6.3 yards per carry and set Cornhusker single-season (1,353 yards) and one-game (254 yards) rushing records. After scouting Nebraska's spring game, California Assistant Coach Skip Stress said, "Most backs run on the balls of their feet. Hipp runs on his heels, which allows him to make those quick cuts." Berns came back to gain 700 yards in 1977. The potent rushing duo operates behind a line led by Kelvin Clark, whom Osborne calls "the best offensive tackle we've had in my years at Nebraska."
But if Nebraska is to improve on its 9-3 record, the defense is going to have to tighten up. Last season it surrendered an average of four yards per opponent's rush, and in its opening-game loss to Alabama last Saturday night, Nebraska allowed 264 rushing yards. Defensive coordinator Lance Van Zandt says, "We'll still be based in an odd-man alignment, but we'll try to figure out a scheme where there is somebody who isn't being blocked so he can make the hit. Maybe some eight-man fronts or over-shifts." If Van Zandt's masking tactics don't do it, Nebraska will be in trouble. The defense is comparatively light, the standouts being six-foot, 207-pound Kerry Weinmaster at middle guard, 6'4", 233-pound George Andrews at end and 6'3", 206-pound Linebacker Lee Kunz, who is also Big Eight discus champion.
If Osborne's revamped defense comes together, and he gets results from Hipp and Berns in the same back-field, he should be able to make his best run yet at the Big Eight title.