EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As a novelty, maybe the folks running the Kickoff Classic should invite teams that are not so badly mismatched. Having a contender for the national championship is nice, but not when its opponent is overrated and undermanned.
Just as Florida State did here last season, Nebraska scored seemingly at will yesterday. And just as Kansas did against the Seminoles, West Virginia scored nil. The result was a 31-0 win for the fourth-ranked Cornhuskers over the No. 24 -- but probably not for long -- Mountaineers before 58,223 at Giants Stadium.
Junior quarterback Tommie Frazier, the game's MVP, rushed for three touchdowns and 130 yards on 12 carries and threw for another 100 yards and one touchdown on 8-for-16 passing. It didn't matter that he was intercepted twice and fumbled once because West Virginia gained a net 8 yards rushing and inexperienced quarterbacks Chris Johnston and Eric Boykin were sacked eight times.
"That's the advantage we had going into the game -- at quarterback -- and that was the difference today," said Nebraska coach Tom Osborne. "Everything else wasn't much different."
Not quite. Nebraska's beefy offensive line manhandled West Virginia's vaunted defensive line for all but a few minutes of the third quarter, with the Cornhuskers compiling 368 yards rushing, 256 by Frazier and sophomore tailback Lawrence Phillips. Nebraska led 17-0 before West Virginia made a first down, with a little more than eight minutes left in the second quarter.
It was 24-0 at halftime and could have been worse if the Cornhuskers hadn't dropped a couple of passes -- including one that was intercepted -- inside the Mountaineers' 20.
Nebraska's defense, which has added speed the past two years, didn't allow West Virginia past midfield until its last drive of the game. After an interference penalty in the end zone gave West Virginia a chance to score with first-and-goal at the 2, Nebraska safety Sedric Collins snuffed it out with an interception.
"We wanted to get the goose egg because we hadn't gotten one in a couple of years," said linebacker Donta Jones, a senior from La Plata, Md., who spent the afternoon harassing the West Virginia quarterbacks into several hurried throws. "We only played three defenses. We didn't want to show everything."
West Virginia's most explosive weapon wasn't tailback Robert Walker, who was held to 46 yards on 12 carries. It was punter Todd Sauerbrun, whose 60.1 average broke two Classic records. His nine attempts included a 90-yarder.
An omen for West Virginia came early. After stopping Nebraska on the game's opening series, the Mountaineers were forced to call their first timeout because they had nobody back to field the ensuing punt. It went downhill from there. Coach Don Nehlen wasn't happy about anything his team did, even Sauerbrun's booming punts that often were 20 yards past the coverage.
"We have a lot of work to do on offense; we have a lot of work to do on defense; we have a lot to do everywhere," said Nehlen, whose team also set a Classic record for fewest first downs (nine) and rushing first downs (three). "It's no surprise."
The matchup that Nehlen and Osborne had wanted so badly last New Year's Day in the Orange Bowl turned into another Kickoff Classic mismatch. Not only did it resemble last year's game, a 42-0 victory for Florida State, but the first game as well, a 44-6 blowout by then-third-ranked Nebraska over top-ranked and overrated Penn State in 1983.
"The similarity to '83 was at quarterback," said Osborne. "Turner Gill [the game's MVP and now the team's quarterback coach] had taken a lot of snaps for us, just like Tommie has now. Penn State had good tradition, but they had new quarterbacks."
There was one difference: The Nittany Lions managed to score.