SAN ANTONIO — Nebraska turned Saturday's Big 12 Conference championship game into one bad Aggie joke.
The punch line: Nebraska 54, Texas A&M 15.
"If they're No. 2," Aggie offensive tackle Chris Ruhman said, "I'd sure hate to play No. 1."
The second-ranked Huskers' lopsided win likely won't change the makeup of the national polls when they are announced today. Top-ranked Michigan can all but close out the national championship race with a win on the field against Washington State in the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl.
But for the purpose of off-field debate, Nebraska made some points in its argument for No. 1 with a dominating performance before the largest crowd - 64,824 - to see a football game in the Alamodome. The turnout watched quarterback Scott Frost direct an offense that piled up 536 yards and rush end Grant Wistrom lead a defense that pile-drove the Aggies.
"I think this game, along with our win over Kansas State and our win over Washington, shows what this team can do when it gets cranked up against a good team," Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne said. "When this group senses a challenge, it can play awfully well."
Nebraska's next challenge in a 12-0 season will come in the Jan. 2 Orange Bowl. Saturday's win locked up the Huskers' invitation to the game that matches the top two schools that are members of the Bowl Alliance. Michigan won't be a Bowl Alliance team until next year, and that leaves Nebraska headed for a matchup against third-ranked Tennessee or No. 4 Florida State.
Nebraska played Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl last season, when the stakes were considerably less.
"We're going back!" Nebraska's Wistrom shouted to Husker fans as he left the field. "We're going back!"
The Huskers will go as Big 12 champions, a title that eluded them last year when Texas sprung a 37-27 upset in the conference championship game at St. Louis' Trans World Dome.
"Our battle cry throughout summer workouts was that we always had a big chip on our shoulders with what happened to us in St. Louis," Wistrom said later. "It was what I focused on in the heat during the summer. We were convinced it wasn't going to happen again, that we wouldn't let down with our season on the line.
"This is not redemption for us, but it definitely helps out and eases the pain a little bit. But that loss last year will stick with me forever. It's a game that we definitely should have won, and we let it out of our hands."
The Huskers' had a firm grip on Saturday's game from the start, turning Texas A&M Coach R.C. Slocum's pregame nightmare into reality. Slocum had said that he hoped the Aggies could avoid an early knockout so that they could make a game of it at the end.
Instead, the Aggies were kissing the canvas after one quarter as Nebraska built a 16-0 lead. Three second-quarter touchdowns put the Huskers ahead 37-3. About the only thing Aggie fans had to cheer about before the second-half kickoff was the superiority of the A&M band over Nebraska's.
"I don't think we got knocked out early, but we certainly had some bumps and bruises," said Slocum, who might not have been watching the same game as everyone else in the Alamodome. "I was disappointed in our offense because we didn't make it very hard for them."
Nebraska's defense had something to do with that. Texas A&M's first 14 plays, covering five possessions, netted a grand total of 3 yards. At halftime, the Aggies had 83 total yards - with 63 coming on one pass play - and two first downs.
"I was pleased with the way we played, especially defensively," Osborne said. "I thought we played very good football defensively, even at the end when our turnovers put a lot of pressure on the defense."
Nebraska's defensive effort came with All-America defensive tackle Jason Peter on the bench for most of the game. A bad back limited Peter to just a dozen plays, but Nebraska already owned 23-0 lead when Peter was forced to leave for good.
"Losing Jason hurt us because he is such a good player," Osborne said. "But we had some other guys step up today."
Texas A&M ran 24 plays in the first half to gain its 83 yards. Subtract the 63-yard pass from Branndon Stewart to Derrick Spiller, and the Aggies averaged less than a yard on their other 23 snaps.
"It was weird because we really thought coming in that A&M had a great offense," Husker rush end Chad Kelsay said. "We thought we were really going to have to work hard to shut down their run.
"But it was one of those days where you get things rolling right from the start. The coaches told us at halftime that it was the best half we've played. We put everything together."
Texas A&M, which had averaged 223 rushing yards a game in winning nine of its first 11 contests, had a minus-5 yards rushing at halftime. Junior back Sirr Parker was the Aggies' leader with 4 yards in the first two quarters.
Meanwhile, Nebraska had rolled up 348 yards by halftime, with Frost throwing for 176 while completing 10 of 11 passes. He finished with a season-high 201 yards, marking the second time in 25 games as Nebraska's starter that he has passed for more than 200 yards.
Frost ran for 79 yards, while junior I-back Ahman Green pitched in 179 and scored on runs of 25, 1 and 6 yards. Green's production, which came on a career-high 34 carries, pushed his season total to 1, 877 yards, the second-best, one-season total in Nebraska history.
When Frost and Green weren't pounding the Aggies' defense, kicker Kris Brown was showing off the leg that has now produced 16 straight successful field goals, a school record for continuing accuracy.
Brown had four against the Aggies, converting from 27, 26, 31 and 44 yards.
"Our kicking game was solid," Osborne said, "since that was all we seemed to be doing at one time in the first half."
Frost got the Huskers off to a fast start with an eight-play, 55-yard drive on their opening possession. He had two big plays on the march - a 12-yard pass to Matt Davison and a key block that sprung wingback Bobby Newcombe for a 25-yard gain on a reverse. Frost scored on the next play, barreling into the end zone on a 6-yard run.
Texas A&M's defense kept the Huskers from taking complete control by forcing Nebraska to settle for field goals on its next three possessions. Brown delivered kicks from 27, 26 and 31 yards, the last one coming on the final play of the first quarter, to put Nebraska ahead 16-0.
The Aggies started the second quarter with another 1-2-3-kick possession, and the Huskers followed with a four-play, 64-yard drive to hike their lead to 23-0. Green opened the possession with runs of 6 and 7 yards, and Frost put the football at the Texas A&M 25 with a 26-yard completion to Jeff Lake.
Green then took a late pitch from Frost, raced down the sideline and found the end zone with a dive that wiped out an official.
"I thought Scott was going to tuck it under and run," Green said. "Then he pitched it, and I had open field. I saw the pylon, jumped for it and the referee gave it to me."
Green capped Nebraska's next possession with a 1-yard scoring run, and Frost drove the Huskers 73 yards late in the first half for the touchdown that gave them their 37-3 lead. Frost and Davison accounted for most of the yardage with a 51-yard completion, and Frost got the touchdown, with 25 seconds left in the half, on a 2-yard run.
"The offense really executed well," Frost said. "We threw the ball well and had a good day in our passing game. We were able to hit some big plays on offense, and any time you can make that many good plays on a defense, it really lifts your spirits."
Nebraska's halftime statistical advantage was staggering. It held a 15-2 edge in first downs and a 17:13-12:47 advantage in time of possession.
"At halftime, I talked to the team about pride," Slocum said. "I told them that Nebraska might be a better team and could beat us bad, but they weren't going to make us lie down and quit. I'm very proud that I didn't see any quit in our team."
The Huskers refused to let up, although their second-half error was plagued by four lost fumbles. The Huskers eventually built their lead to 47-3 on Brown's 44-yard field goal and Green's final touchdown, a 6-yarder with 11:13 remaining.
The Aggies scored a pair of late touchdowns as they picked up 142 of their 277 total yards in the final quarter. Spiller got the first on a 13-yard pass from Stewart, and Jason Glenn returned a fumble 35 yards for the second. Backup quarterback Frankie London capped Nebraska's big day with a 3-yard scoring run with 1:03 to play.
"I was disappointed with our sloppy play at the end," Osborne said. "It is hard to hold focus for 60 minutes, and I guess with a big lead those things happen."
Nebraska's focus now turns to the Orange Bowl, where the Huskers have a chance to play for their third national championship in four years if they can catch a break in the form of a Washington State upset of Michigan on Jan. 1.
"The media and the coaches control who's No. 1," Wistrom said. "All we can control is how we play. If we win out, we still have a chance to get a piece of the national championship. If we don't, it's not going to take anything away from the year we've had."
|Yards per carry||0.6||5.0|
Nebraska is 10-4 all-time against Texas A&M.
|Central Florida||Sept. 13|
|Kansas State||Oct. 4|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 18|
|Iowa State||Nov. 15|
|Texas A&M||Dec. 6|
Nebraska hasn't played any other games on Dec. 6.
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