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Archive for Thursday, October 15, 1998

M.

October 15, 1998

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This is not your father's Nebraska football team.

Or your older sibling's, for that matter.

The mighty Cornhuskers -- the winningest team of the 1990s, Top-25 poll-sitters for a record 282 consecutive weeks, defending co-national champions -- are coming off a rare regular-season loss. Last Saturday, Texas A&M beat the Huskers, 28-21, to snap NU's 19-game winning streak and its 40-game regular-season league winning streak.

And, most remarkable of all, the No. 8 Huskers (5-1 overall, 1-1 Big 12) are shaking their heads wondering what has happened to their vaunted rushing attack.

Nebraska led the nation in rushing last season with 392.6 yards per game, but that total is down to 237.8 per game now, and the Huskers are coming off 73- and 141-yard outings against Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, respectively, the past two weeks.

``It's been disappointing,'' first-year coach Frank Solich said. ``We expected to not be where we have been before when we've had an experienced line. I did not expect it to be that type of offense early, but I expected it to be an offense that was capable of moving the ball on the ground and would continue to get better. I still feel that way, but we need to get better.''

Solich thinks NU had its legs taken out from under it by the double-whammy graduation losses of four starting offensive linemen and the starting quarterback. Bobby Newcombe, a wingback last season, took over the QB job this fall and has had to fight through injuries.

Newcombe, NU's fourth-leading rusher at 42.3 yards per game, also has hit 38 of 60 passes for 568 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

``I think inexperience at the quarterback spot always plays a role early on in a season in terms of how you're able to move the ball,'' Solich said. ``I think Bobby is a tremendous athlete, and I think he's getting valuable experience game by game. It is true that he really has not played in a lot of football games where he has been completely healthy. We hope his progress continues and he's still able to make big plays and he's making a lot of good decisions on the football field.

``We're used to experienced quarterbacks running our program. Tommie Frazier was involved with it for four years. Scott Frost gathered a lot of experience through his early games and proved to be a tremendous quarterback. Bobby is that way. I think what he's gaining as far as experience right now is tremendously valuable.''

And though the Huskers have struggled of late on the ground, don't expect them to take to the air. But they just might veer away from the option and go up the gut more.

``We are not about to abandon the ground game,'' Solich said. ``We will continue to work at getting better at the ground game and developing our power game. You might see a few less options and more of some other plays in the mix.''

Now about that loss ...

The Huskers still are coming to terms with their first loss of any kind since the 1996 Big 12 championship game, their first regular-season league loss since 1992 and their first loss on the road since Sept. 21, 1996, against Arizona State.

Solich likened the Huskers' current outlook to that after losing to ASU.

``They came back to work the following week and really picked things up,'' Solich said. ``I see this team being smart enough to understand what it takes to get back where they want to get back to and that they will do everything they can to get to that point again.''

-- Andrew Hartsock's phone number is 832-7216. His e-mail address is ahartsock@ljworld.com.

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