By Malcolm Butler
Twenty-five years ago, Louisiana Tech fans watched one of the greatest performances in the history of college football when Tim Rattay and Troy Edwards teamed up to torch the Nebraska Cornhuskers for what are still today NCAA single game records.
Rattay threw for 590 yards with an NCAA single game mark of 405 of those going to Edwards, who was on his way to the 1998 Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver.
None of the current day Bulldogs were even alive when that performance took place at Memorial Stadium, a 56-27 win by the Cornhuskers.
Fast forward and Louisiana Tech returns to the scene of that offensive crime today when Sonny Cumbie and Co. face the present-day Huskers at 2:30 p.m. in a game that will be on the Big Ten Network.
Coincidentally enough, Troy Edwards son, Tru, is on the LA Tech team and will be making the trip to Lincoln.
However, it’s another Bulldog receiver that Nebraska head coach Matt Rhule specifically mentioned during his weekly press conference earlier in the week.
“They are going to get the ball into Smoke Harris’ hands,” Rhule told Nebraska beat writers. “He is one of the more dynamic players that you will see.”
Truer words have not been spoken. Harris has caught 24 passes for 288 yards and three scores this season through the first four games. His ability to make defenders miss has led to multiple big time plays, including the 36-yard scoring catch that tied the ballgame against North Texas in the final two minutes last week.
“It is a high compliment and high praise,” said Tech coach Sonny Cumbie on Tuesday when talking to Bulldog beat writers. “Coach Rhule is a phenomenal coach. I competed against him when he was at Baylor. He has done a phenomenal job in terms of rebuilding programs and is very clear on what he wants in his programs and how he wants his teams to play. He has seen a lot of football coming from the Carolina Panthers. For him to say that about Smoke I think it is a very high compliment.”
Harris may not touch Edwards 405-yard record today, but in order for the Bulldogs to have a chance to come out on top, the sixth-year senior will need to make some plays — whether on special teams and/or in the slot receiver position.
Cumbie points to Harris’ passion for playing football as a key for his success.
“It is a lot of joy to coach someone who practices the same way he plays with a lot of intensity and a lot of speed,” said Cumbie. “I kid our guys all the time if you talk about the guys that have played a lot of football. There is a lot of miles on those tires. He has a lot of miles on his tires and he is still running like he is brand new. It shows his passion for the game.”
Today’s game is the final non-conference game for Tech (2-2) as the Bulldogs will then play seven straight CUSA contests, including the next four on non-traditional midweek dates. Today starts a stretch where Tech plays four games in 17 days.
The Bulldogs could be without starting QB Hank Bachmeier, who is still recovering from an injury suffered in the third quarter of last week’s loss to North Texas. Red-shirt sophomore Jack Turner could get his first college start. Turner completed 9-of-14 passes last week in 20 minutes of game time while throwing for one TD and running for a second.
“They are the opposite of us,” said Rhule. “They are going to drop back and throw it. They are going to spin it. They are going to play with tempo. They will run it too. They are going to RPO you. Offensively, they will present us with a lot of challenges.”
Nebraska (1-2) will look to pound the football on the ground. The Cornhuskers have utilized a pair of signal callers through the first three games but have settled on Heinrich Haarberg.
“We are going to have to figure out ways to get extra hats in the box,” said Cumbie. “Both quarterbacks do a great job of running the football with zone reads and quarterback draws and with quarterback power. We are going to have to find ways to get extra hats to the box.”
Jeff Sims and Heinrich Haarberg have combined to throw only 64 passes while rush 52 times in the first three games of the season. Rhule named Haarberg the starter for today’s game earlier this week after he rushed 21 times for 98 yards in last week’s win.
“It is a lot different in terms of a structure standpoint than what we just faced,” said Cumbie. “Chandler (Rogers) created plays with his feet because of the spread he was able to get some running lanes and take off. This is a little bit different because you have an idea where everyone is going to be at it is just in terms of executing. They are really good at what they do. From a defensive standpoint 40 snaps out of 40 snaps, we have to be exactly where we are supposed to be to be able to stop their run.”
Rhule said the Bulldogs defense will present some obstacles.
“Defensively, they are going to bring pressure,” said Rhule. “They are going to play man. They are going to challenge you. They are going to try to disrupt you.”
Nebraska leads the all-time series 2-0, including a 47-10 win in 2006.