There were a lot of questions raised Saturday by the conservative nature of Washington State’s offensive play calling in the first half of its 35-21 loss to Nebraska.
Especially after WSU came out in the second half and aired it out for 203 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns against a Nebraska defense that had been brilliant in the first two quarters.
The Cougars took an early 7-0 lead on an 87-yard touchdown run by Frank Madu and seemed content to keep the ball on the ground. At one point in the half, however, they ran nine consecutive plays that produced zero or negative yardage and finished the half with only 162 yards of total offense.
Not counting Madu’s run, the Cougars rushed 13 times for zero yardage.
After intermission, quarterback Chad Davis went to the air and orchestrated a pair of long scoring drives that ended with touchdowns passes of 33 and 30 yards to Shawn Tims.
Several WSU players said the pass was there for the taking the entire game, but coach Mike Price said he stayed conservative because of horrible field position.
“I felt our plan going into the game was real sound,” Price said. “(Offensive coordinator John) McDonell came up with a good plan as far as throwing the football. We just needed to get into a position where we could do that.”
Due in part to Nebraska’s excellent kick coverage, WSU was forced to start drives from its own 15, 10, 17, 8 and 16-yard lines in the first half.
“We would have liked to have (passed), but you can’t question the coaches,” said slotback Jay Dumas, who caught nine passes, including seven in the second half.
“We felt like we could run the ball as well as throw it.”
Davis defended the conservative strategy, saying it might have been suicide to throw the ball from deep in his own territory.
“With 75,000 people, it’s loud and you’re on your own 5-yard line, yeah, it matters,” he said of the poor field position. “You’re really at a loss with what you can do. You can try to throw it down there and have somebody jump offside and you’re back even further. Or you can try to bust a run up in there and try to get some kind of field position so you’re able to throw.”
WSU lost several defensive starters to injuries during Saturday’s game and their status for next Saturday’s home game against Oregon State was not immediately known after the game.
Linebacker Johnny Nansen and tackle Gary Holmes sustained concussions and end Dwayne Sanders sprained an ankle.
Defensive Coordinator Bill Doba said Nansen’s injury was of the most concern because it is the second concussion he has had this fall.
Nebraska played without starting middle linebacker Phill Ellis, who broke his foot near the end of Wednesday’s practice.
Price said he had hoped to exploit Ellis’ absence with some wide running plays, but admitted he was unable to do it because of the solid play of backup Doug Colman, who finished with four tackles.
“They didn’t work very darn good to be honest with you,” Price said. “I thought we could sweep them like we’ve been doing. We felt like (Colman) was a little slower than (Ellis), but they stopped the sweep cold when we tried it.”
Maybe the Cougars didn’t shock Nebraska the way they’d planned, but running back Frank Madu certainly shocked the Huskers with his 87-yard TD run midway through the first quarter. Running out of a two-back set, the Cougars ran a misdirection play and caught Nebraska in a safety blitz.
It tied the longest scrimmage run in WSU history - Chuck Morrell having gone 87 against Pacific in 1958. Perhaps more impressive: it was the longest run against the Cornhuskers since a fellow named Gale Sayers romped 99 yards for Kansas in 1963.
“I was surprised,” Madu said. “The play was really executed well. When I seen it open up like that, I was like, oh well, if opportunity calls, you’ve got to take it to the end zone. I knew once I got in the open like that, there was no chance of any of them catching me because my game is based on speed.”
Ahman among boys
Lawrence who? Freshman I-back Ahman Green is rapidly making a name for himself in Lincoln. For the third straight game, Green - a true freshman from Omaha - topped 100 yards rushing, this time with a whopping 176. Included in that were runs of 24, 36 and 54 yards.
He now has 525 yards rushing on the season, and seems to be filling the void left by the suspension of troubled senior Lawrence Phillips.
Cougars linebacker James Darling was impressed, but not as impressed as he was with UCLA’s Karim Abdul-Jabbar a week ago.
“Jabbar is probably the best back we’ll see all year - he’s the best back in the conference,” Darling said. “Green kind of just wants to run, while Jabbar is always coming up field. I don’t think he’s as good as Jabbar - but he will be. He’s only a freshman.”
Cougar defensive coordinator Bill Doba has certainly seen enough.
“Green gets my vote for the Heisman now,” he said. “I don’t care about the guy they suspended.”
The last name’s Frazier, which is apropos because the Nebraska quarterback can deliver a hit with power reminiscent of Joe.
He got his chance on the Huskers’ first drive, when wingback Clester Johnson took a reverse and headed around left end. WSU defensive end Dwayne Sanders was bearing down on Johnson from the inside when Frazier blasted him from the blind side.
“It was designed for me to look outside and that’s where he happened to be coming in on (Johnson),” Frazier said. “There are times when I’m not supposed to throw a block, but everybody’s called on sometimes. I haven’t seen the film yet, but it felt pretty good.”
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