WACO, Texas — The debut of Cody Green as Nebraska’s starting quarterback likely made compelling television only for viewers bleeding Husker red.
Otherwise, this 20-10 NU victory over Baylor Saturday was probably better suited only for the 31,702 in attendance at Floyd Casey Stadium — the smallest crowd to watch the Huskers since a 1991 visit to Oklahoma State.
NU featured numerous freshmen and jumped to a 20-point lead through 21 minutes. But the Huskers (5-3, 2-2 Big 12) struggled to handle Baylor in the second half and limped home toward a meeting with Oklahoma next weekend, facing nearly as many questions as they took to Waco.
“It’s a win,” coach Bo Pelini said. “We won the football game.”
Others Huskers offered similarly telling remarks.
“I’m just really glad we won,” defensive back Eric Hagg said. “It doesn’t really matter what happened.”
Some will argue that it does matter. Like Jared Crick, who collected a school-record five sacks among his 13 tackles as Baylor (3-5, 0-4) turned its attention to fellow tackle Ndamukong Suh.
“It wasn't great or anything,” Crick said, “but we did the job.”
Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini had a similar take. “Win them however you can win them,” he said.
Historians will record this victory not for its sloppy play, but for the first start by a true freshman Nebraska quarterback since Tommie Frazier in 1992.
Green played as you might expect: Some good moments and a handful of mistakes. He finished 12 of 21 for 128 yards with one costly interception and rushed eight times for 43 yards with a fumble.
“First half, things were rolling really good for us,” Green said. “Everybody was making plays. Second half, we kind of went out there and just shot blanks. We were lucky enough that our defense came up big for us.”
Bo Pelini said he went with his gut in starting Green after quarterback Zac Lee failed to ignite the offense last week in a 9-7 loss to Iowa State marred by eight Nebraska turnovers. That game followed a 31-10 defeat to Texas Tech.
“You've got to give yourself the best opportunity to win the football game,” Pelini said. “Today, we thought that was Cody Green. He did some good things. He did a lot of things he needs to clean up.”
Green’s first half was solid. And before he took the field, NU found that spark it desperately needed from an unexpected source.
Fellow freshman Eric Martin relieved some of the pressure on Green by blocking Derek Epperson’s punt on the Bears’ opening possession. Martin came straight through the middle of the protection and shoved a blocker into the path of the punt. Redshirt freshman Justin Blatchford grabbed it for a 25-yard TD return.
Just like that, NU had equaled its touchdown total from each of the two previous games.
“That was really big for us,” Pelini said. “Starting Cody, it kind of took the pressure off him a little bit.”
Green scrambled for 10 yards — his longest run of the day — to convert the Huskers’ first third-down opportunity. The partisan Nebraska crowd roared with approval. Alex Henery’s 45-yard field goal put the Huskers on top 10-0.
A 22-yard field Henery field goal — his 24th straight successful attempt from inside 50 yards — made it 13-0 on the Huskers’ next drive. To get in position, Green hit freshman tight end Kyler Reed for a nice 22-yard gain. Freshman Khiry Cooper converted a third and 6 with an 8-yard catch from Green. Freshman Dontrayevous Robinson gained 23 yards on a third-down burst up the middle.
“It’s kind of a different feel in the huddle,” senior center Jacob Hickman said of all the young blood. “The guys have got good energy. They’re all good workers. They just need to keep focusing in on stuff.”
Green then hit junior Niles Paul for a 45-yard gain to the 1 before Robinson plunged over the top to make it 20-0.
The Huskers could do no wrong. But soon, they got almost nothing right.
Their last drive of the first half stalled. They punted twice to start the second half. Baylor’s Ben Parks kicked a 41-yard field goal to make it 20-3. Cornerback Clifton Odom stepped in front of a Green pass for Cooper and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown to make it a 10-point game.
Green finished 6-of-12 passing after halftime. He lost a fumble on the first play after the Bears’ freshman quarterback, Nick Florence, fumbled at the Baylor 23.
Cooper, playing for benched veterans Menelik Holt and Curenski Gilleylen, couldn't latch on to an important pass. Robinson left with an injury.
Visions of the past two weeks started to emerge.
“There were times we got a little nervous,” Crick said.
The Blackshirts, though, did the rest. They did surrender fourth-quarter pass plays of 40 and 41 yards. But the Baylor threats ended in a missed Parks field goal of 24 yards and then four straight Florence incompletions in the red zone.
When it was over, NU had held a seventh straight foe to fewer than 280 yards.
“We did what we thought we had to do on defense to win the game,” Pelini said. “And it worked.
“It’s pretty obvious, this is real important. We needed a win. We got a win. That’s about all I can say. A win’s a win. It’s No. 5. We've got a lot of work to do. I’m not going to make too much of it, because I’m on to next week.”
|Yards per carry||1.7||3.8|
Nebraska is 11-1 all-time against Baylor.
|Florida Atlantic||Sept. 5|
|Arkansas State||Sept. 12|
|Virginia Tech||Sept. 19|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 17|
|Iowa State||Oct. 24|
|Kansas State||Nov. 21|
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