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We will not get beat 42-10 by Nebraska like we did last year," vowed UCLA coach Terry Donahue last Friday. "I'll guarantee you that." As it turned out, he was correct. This time the Huskers, ranked second by SI going into the game, trashed the No. 1 Bruins 42-3.
Nebraska put on a display of power football that was as bruising as it was effective. The preliminary count showed two Bruins with separated shoulders, one with a concussion, one with a pinched nerve in his shoulder, three with severely sprained ankles and another 100 or so with badly hurt feelings. "It's difficult to get beat bad like this," said Donahue.
All the more so because this UCLA team is, in a word, good. Honest. At season's end, assuming the Bruins can muster enough survivors to get through the next few weeks, they may well find themselves in the Rose Bowl for a third straight year. Last season, you'll recall, UCLA was winless in its first four games but wound up routing fourth-ranked Illinois in Pasadena. Certainly, having to play on Saturday without first-string quarterback Steve Bono, who was out with a sprained ankle suffered the week before against Long Beach State, hurt the Bruins. With him, the score would have been, oh, about 42-10.
The point is, UCLA was simply outclassed by Nebraska. Indeed, believe it or not, the Huskers may be even more formidable than they were last season, when they ripped off a 12-0 regular season and evoked strong, albeit hardly unanimous, sentiment that they weren't only the top team of '83 but the best college team in history as well. Nebraska lit up scoreboards for an NCAA-record 624 points. Minnesota fell 84-13, Iowa State 72-29, Colorado 69-19. Then in the Orange Bowl, Miami played a near perfect game to upset the Huskers 31-30.
Besides losing the national championship, Nebraska lost its entire backfield: I-back Mike Rozier, the Heisman winner; quarterback Turner Gill; wingback Irving Fryar, the first pick in the NFL draft; and fullback Mark Schellen. Among them, the four signed pro contracts worth nearly $10 million. Another big loss was Outland and Lombardi trophy-winning guard Dean Steinkuhler, Houston's first selection in the draft.
Each of these standouts was replaced with someone not nearly as talented. Not even close. Too bad, Huskers. You had the national title in your grasp, and you blew it. Such opportunities don't come around that often. Tough.
So guess what? Nebraska just may go all the way this year. True, wins over Wyoming (42-7), Minnesota (38-7) and UCLA do not a season make, especially with first-rate teams like Oklahoma State and a revitalized Oklahoma on the schedule. But no less an authority than Cornhusker coach Tom Osborne says, "I don't think our offense has fallen off much, and our defense is a little better."
Nonetheless, how is it possible that Nebraska could be better this year than last? Around Lincoln, people don't like to talk about it, but late in the '83 season there was an alarming drift away from one-for-all, all-for-one to a weekly production of the Irving, Turner & Mike Show. It played to high ratings and rave reviews. However, it also began irking some of the supporting players who felt left out.
Charlie McBride, the Cornhuskers' defensive coordinator, likes to tell his players, "There's no 'I' in 'team.' " You'll notice a lot of "Is" in Irving Fryar, Turner Gill and Mike Rozier. The situation worsened when Rozier, having trouble handling the Heisman pressure, grew surly with the press. Gill and Fryar fell in step with Rozier. And at a school like Nebraska, where dealing with the media is considered a necessary—and educational—evil, this attitude wasn't considered good form.
But in more typical Husker style, the underclassmen who were on hand for the Orange Bowl defeat came back to Lincoln, kept their mouths shut and redoubled their efforts in strength coach Boyd Epley's gargantuan weight facility. Most of all, they set their jaws and kept in mind there is no "me" in "together," either. That was particulary true of those who replaced last season's stars: