Joe Dailey threw four touchdown passes and ran for two more as Nebraska kicked off the Bill Callahan era with a 56-17 thrashing of Western Illinois Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.
Operating in the West Coast offense, Dailey completed 15-of-30 passes for 218 yards, but four interceptions blemished his first career start. "I played two games today," he said. "I played a great first half and not even a mediocre second half." All of Dailey's TD passes and his first scoring run came in the opening 20 minutes as Nebraska broke out to a 35-0 lead. The lead stretched to 42-3 at halftime against the Division One-Double A Leathernecks. "We couldn't slow Nebraska down," said WIU coach Don Patterson. "Their passing game was sharp, and we couldn't get pressure on Dailey. I thought what helped them was their running game. It seemed like they were able to get runs of 8 to 10 yards consistently."
Cory Ross ran 13 times for 125 yards and Tierre Green seven times for 112 yards and two touchdowns. "All in all, a good way to start, but I'm very realistic with where we're at and that we have greater challenges ahead of us," said Callahan.
The Huskers got sloppy after their fast start, committing six turnovers and the equivalent of two others when they failed to field two pooch kickoffs. They also gave up a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by James Norris after he carried another 75 yards. "We made a lot of mistakes we shouldn't have made," said NU cornerback Fabian Washington. "Against a better opponent, we would have paid for it. We got away with some silly mistakes."
The Huskers reverted back their old ways in the second half, turning to the run after Dailey threw his third interception. Matt Herian tied a school record for receptions by a tight end with seven catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns. Six other receivers caught balls for Nebraska. "Everybody was on the same page, everything was clicking, and we had them on their heels," said Herian. "They didn't know what to expect with all our motion. We kind of stuck it to them."
Nebraska's defense had seven sacks and held the Leathernecks to 220 yards. Starting WIU QB Adam Smith was 10-of-15 for 111 yards and a touchdown, and Steve LaFalce was 10-of-26 for 112 yards, with four interceptions. Travis Glasford, a 1,000-yard rusher last season, was limited to 25 yards on 14 carries. With all the talk about the West Coast offense, the defense served notice that it hasn't gone away. The Blackshirts had four interceptions and sacked the Leatherneck quarterbacks seven times. "From one to 10, we played an eight," said Washington. "They put us in some tough situations, and we got out of it with a field goal or an interception almost every time. You can't do better than that. You're never going to play a perfect game."
Linebacker Barrett Ruud agreed that the Blackshirts played well, but said it was the kind of performance that should have been expected against an outmatched opponent. "The team we played tonight was a little outmanned, obviously. They played hard and their back (Travis Glassford) was a good player, but we made some plays today on straight athleticism that aren't going to be there against some better teams. We'll definitely have to play better next week."
Dailey scored on a 6-yard run less than two minutes into the game, then he flipped a 5-yard touchdown pass to Herian. Western Illinois' best chance to make a game of it came when Norris ran back the ensuing kickoff 75 yards to the Nebraska 8, but Smith fumbled the snap on first down and the Huskers' Jay Moore recovered.
The Huskers were ahead 21-0 after the first play of the second quarter, with Willie Amos catching a 36-yard pass for his first career reception. Dailey's other TD passes went 22 and 18 yards, respectively, to Herian and Amos. "He managed the system very well, and I'll tell you there aren't many quarterbacks in the National Football League who could have handled what he handled tonight mentally," said Callahan of Dailey. "I know he's a little down for how he finished the game, but I'm positive about where he can take us this season."
The Huskers were woeful on special teams. Kade Pittman muffed two punts and the Leathernecks recovered two short kickoffs that the Huskers failed to field. After a Kris Coffee punt bounced off Pittman's chest and William Penn recovered, Justin Langan kicked his school career-record 43rd field goal from 24 yards late in the first half for WIU's first points. WIU's Michael Woods recovered the ensuing flop-shot kick that the Huskers watched hit the ground. The Leathernecks drove to the Nebraska 3 before Ira Cooper intercepted LaFalce to end the threat. Norris' 98-yard kick return and Boomer Moore's 6-yard touchdown catch accounted for the rest of the Leathernecks' scoring.
Callahan joins the last three Nebraska head coaches, Frank Solich, Tom Osborne, and Bob Devaney, as winners in their first games leading the Huskers. Nebraska won its nation-leading 19 straight opener. "A lot of Nebraska fans wondered what they were getting, but tonight should give them a lot of cause for enthusiasm," said WIU coach Patterson.
Nebraska-Western Illinois by the numbers:
Western Illinois 0 3 14 0 - 17
Nebraska 14 28 7 7 - 56
Neb: Dailey 6-yard run (DeAngelis kick) 13:07
Neb: Herian 5-yard pass from Dailey (DeAngelis kick) 5:47
Neb: Amos 36-yard pass from Dailey(DeAngelis kick) 14:54
Neb: Herian 22-yard pass from Dailey (DeAngelis kick) 12:34
Neb: Amos 18-yard pass from Dailey (DeAngelis kick) 10:03
Neb: Green 28-yard run (DeAngelis kick) 4:45
WIU: Langan 24-yard field goal 0:58
Neb: Dailey 10-yard run (DeAngelis kick) 11:54
WIU: Norris 98-yard kickoff return (Langan kick) 11:42
WIU: Moore 6-yard pass from Smith (Langan kick) 0:10
Neb: Green 34-yard run (DeAngelis kick) 5:22
WIU / Neb:
First downs 12 / 30
Rushes-yards 3-minus-35 / 39-363
Passing 223 / 218
Comp-Att-Int 20-42-4 / 16-31-4
Return Yards 31 / 114
Punts-Avg. 9-36 / 1-48
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 / 3-2
Penalties-Yards 7-41 / 6-55
Time of Possession 35:53 / 24:07
Western Illinois: Glasford 14-25, Yellin 4-7, Norris 1-3, Rivers 1-0, Smith 6-minus 30, Gray 1-minus 1, LaFalce 7-minus 2, Lawson 1-minus 5
Neb: Ross 13-125, Green 7-112, Jackson
13-79, Dailey 4-28, Nunn 1-21, Team 1-minus 2
Western Illinois: LaFalce 10-26-4 112, Smith 10-15-0 111
Neb: Dailey 15-30-4 218, Goodman 1-1-0 0
Western Illinois: Glasford 8-76, Gray 4-85, Yellin 2-7, Langan 1-18
Neb: Herian 7-98, Amos 2-54, Ross 2-32, Mulkey 2-12, Nunn 1-11, Pilkington 1-10, Todd 1-0