Cornhuskers await Huskie arrival No. 4 Nebraska meets NIU;

By Thom Gippert

When the football is placed on the kicking tee this Saturday at 1 p.m. in Lincoln, Neb., the Huskies will be taking on a powerful opponent in the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

While NIU is coming off a win, this will be Nebraska’s season opener and the first meeting between the two football teams. The Cornhuskers, from the Big-Eight Conference, are ranked No. 4 in the country among Division I-A college teams, according to the Associated Press poll this week.

Just like the Huskies a week ago, the ‘Huskers enter this week’s contest with some questions they will have to answer about their team. Gone are three starting offensive linemen from last year’s Orange Bowl squad that paved the way for the nation’s leading rushing team that averaged 382.3 yards per game. But one of the two returning linemen is All-America center Jake Young (6-4,270).

The quarterback position is also a shaky area for the Cornhuskers. Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne must replace the graduated Steve Taylor and his 1,893 total offensive yards. Osborne will most likely give senior Gerry Gdowski the nod over sophomore Mickey Joseph.

Whomever the quarterback is, they’ll have a Heisman Trophy candidate to run the ball—senior I-back Ken Clark (5-10,200). Clark ran for 1,497 yards last season, good enough for second best in the Big-Eight behind last year’s Heisman winner Barry Sanders of Oklahoma State. Clark needs 974 yards this season to pass I.M. Hipp as Nebraska’s second all-time leading rusher. Also returning for Nebraska’s offense is versatile wingback Richard Bell. The 6-0, 205-pound senior gained 821 all-purpose yards.

NIU head coach Jerry Pettibone realizes stopping the Cornhuskers potent offense will be difficult, but not impossible.

“We feel we have analyzed what they do best,” Pettibone said. “We’re not going to change our defensive package, we’re going to stay within our system.”

On defense for the Cornhuskers, Osborne will rely on tackle Kent Wells (6-5,280), linebackers Chris Caliendo (6-2,240), Jeff Mills (6-4,235) and safety Reggie Cooper (6-3,205) to stop the Huskie wishbone. Nebraska’s defense must replace seven starters, six of whom were All-Big Eight picks last season, including two-time All-America Broderick Thomas.

NIU will not change its game plan on offense either. Pettibone wants to establish the wishbone and the option offense early in the contest. The Huskies gained 322 yards on offense in their 27-16 win over Cal-State Fullerton last Saturday.

While many people have questioned the scheduling of this match-up, NIU’s players have remained up-beat and are looking forward to playing in front of over 70,000 fans.

“This week’s practices have been intense and the coaches have expected more from us,” Huskie kicker John Ivanic said. “We’re up-beat. We have to believe in ourselves, and we do.”

The Huskies will be the underdogs Saturday, but Pettibone doesn’t put much faith in that label.

“Last week Southern Mississippi was a 30-point underdog to Florida State and look at what happened, Mississippi State won,” Pettibone said.

“All of the pressure is on them. We need to go out and play within our capabilities and play tough, hard-nosed football. They’re the team with everything to lose.”