MANHATTAN, Kan. — Perhaps it was an omen. The Nebraska-Kansas State football game was barely under way Saturday when the officials discovered that four of the six Cornhusker game balls were underinflated.
The footballs were sent to the locker room to be pumped up to standard, but the Husker offense played the rest of the way with a semi-flat offense that produced seven fumbles, five lost.
Nebraska got away with it and won 21-12 only because K-State returned charity with charity, losing four of six fumbles and four interceptions, including a school record-tying three by NU sophomore cornerback Ric Lindquist. The Huskers also did a better job of picking their spots.
Nebraska lost four of its fumbles inside the Wildcat 30-yard line. K-State lost three from its own 32 on in, and the Huskers’ third- and fourth-quarter touchdowns that overcame a 12-7 Wildcat lead came on mini-drives of 15 yards following fumbles.
So instrumental were the 13 turnovers before the fourth-largest crowd in KSU Stadium history — 43,210 — that four of the five touchdowns were direct results.
Husker Coach Tom Osborne said it: “If we would have held onto the ball, we could have won easily. If they would have held onto the ball, they would have won.”
The only semblance of continuity in this wacky giveaway contest was a 10-play, 80-yard drive that gave the Wildcats a 12-7 lead on the opening series of the third quarter.
Twice, Nebraska had to overcome leads to keep its record unblemished against a high-spirited opponent that grudgingly dropped its sixth game in nine tries.
With fortunes swinging so dramatically, a 14-12 Nebraska lead into the last 7-½ minutes was precarious indeed. Especially since K-State freshman quarterback Darrell Dickey showed a knack for completing passes in critical situations when he wasn’t throwing interceptions. Dickey completed 10 of 23 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown.
The putaway touchdown was accomplished in typical fashion this day. Lindquist’s second interception set the Huskers up at their 44. Fullback Andra Franklin broke away for 38 yards to the KSU 11.
The march was interrupted when Tim Hager, who started at quarterback and was relieved by Jeff Quinn in the second quarter, reentered and lost a fumble on his first play. Quinn had gone out when he lost a hip pad.
On the following play, Wildcat Darryl Black handed the ball back to Bill Barnett, and the Huskers continued on in with three runs by Craig Johnson and a 1-yard touchdown shot by Franklin.
With the nation’s leading rushing team 100 yards below its 372-yard norm and No. 2 total offense 157 yards off its 495-yard pace, defensive end L.C. Cole, the Blackshirt captain, put in a bid for both defensive and offensive player-of-the-game honors.
Cole scored Nebraska’s first touchdown on a 60-yard interception return that overcame a 6-0 lead in the first quarter. He also recovered a fumble, made a hit to cause another and led the tackle chart with seven unassisted and seven assists.
The NU offense was largely responsible for the Wildcats’ lead before the game was a minute old. Craig Johnson lost a fumble at the KSU 25 on the second play, and Dickey followed right up with a touchdown pass to split end John Liebe. Jim Ginther, however, missed the PAT.
“I didn’t think the defense was going to have to do this and that to win. Usually, the offense and defense are pretty balanced,” Cole said.
However, Defensive Coordinator Lance Van Zandt said, “I wouldn’t say the defense won the game. The Huskers won it. We win and lose together.”
The Blackshirts limited Wildcat rushers to 79 yards. Five Husker backs, led by Johnson’s 102 on 21 carries, gained more yards than the 26 by K-State leader L.J. Brown. Nebraska held a 338-251 edge in total offense.
Cole added: “I knew K-State was going to give us a good game. But the tradition at Nebraska is to just keep playing hard. Overall, there ain’t no slouch in the Big Eight.”
Kansas State certainly was not on this near-freezing afternoon. On offense, the Wildcats played with a verve that included a 30-yard halfback pass by Black on their long scoring drive. They pulled off a fake punt-pass from their own 28 in the second quarter and tried an onside kickoff, which was unsuccessful.
On defense, K-State gambled with an eight-man front much of the game and held the Huskers to 66 yards passing while playing man-to-man in the secondary.
“We told the team that we needed to play error-free football to win,” Wildcat Coach Jim Dickey said. “But I’m happy that we were able to compete for 60 minutes. Nebraska is an excellent football team. Their defense is almost unreal.”
Osborne, who coordinates the offense, said, “You’ve got to give K-State a lot of credit. They played about as well as they could and hit hard. They really went after us.
“I was disappointed in the way we played, especially on offense. We didn’t do anything consistently all day. We played just well enough to win. That reflects the fact that we didn’t have a real intense week of practice.
"There was a little natural letdown, especially when we had a lot of people beat up after the Missouri game.”
With Johnson and I.M. Hipp playing with injuries, Osborne turned to leading rusher Jarvis Redwine in the third quarter. He had hoped Redwine would be allowed to rest an ailing knee. But he was needed with the Huskers down 12-7.
Redwine retired with an ankle injury in the fourth quarter, and Tim Wurth, who normally plays fullback, alternated at I-back with Johnson late in the game.
“All three of our I-backs were hurt and practically all of our fullbacks,” Osborne said. “But that’s no excuse. K-State just hit the tar out of us. That’s part of the price you pay for being No. 2 in the country.”
Defensive tackle Rod Horn also was a victim of the heavy contact. He did not return after suffering a jammed neck on the second play of the third quarter.
In the subdued Husker locker room, Johnson sat with head down despite a 100-yard day in his first starting assignment. He fumbled three times, and two were lost.
“There’s absolutely no excuse for it,” Johnson said. “I just wonder why it happened to me this week. Team-wise, it’s a good feeling to win. Our defense played a super game. They were the biggest factor.
“But personally, I’m at about the lowest point in my career. I’ll have to bounce back. You can gain 200 or 300 yards, but if you put the ball on the ground, those yards don’t mean anything. The only thing worse than seeing the ball rolling around is the feeling you’re letting your teammates down.”
Johnson started with a 3-yard loss on the first play of the game. On the second, he gained 11 yards but lost the ball to Wildcat Phil Switzer. Following an incompletion, Dickey lofted a 26-yard pass to Liebe, who had worked behind Mark LeRoy and Andy Means.
"That Dickey is a good quarterback,” end Cole said. “Watch out for Kansas State in a couple of years. That kid is going to be a great player.”
But Cole outfoxed Dickey late in the first quarter. With Dickey rolling right, Cole dogged tight end Eddie Whitley near the sideline. Dickey threw anyway, and Cole set off with the interception, cut back toward the middle behind blocking near the Wildcat 30 and scored untouched.
“The monkey got on my back at about the 25. I was completely dead. Then I had to go back out on the kickoff team,” Cole said.
Between turnovers, K-State managed to regain the lead in the third quarter with its long drive, mainly on the halfback pass to flanker Phil Pickard and Dickey passes of 17 and 18 yards. Brown scored from the 1, but a 2-point conversion pass to Pickard was incomplete after a penalty nullified a successful attempt to Liebe.
A fumbled snap by Dickey and recovery by end Jimmy Williams at the K-State 15 preceded NU’s go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.
On the first play, Quinn completed a 9-yard pass to Junior Miller. The big tight end, who is regarded as Nebraska’s top All-America candidate, ended a two-game reception drought with two catches for 29 yards. He also was guilty of one of the lost fumbles.
Wurth skipped up the middle the last three yards on a fullback trap, and Dean Sukup’s foot made it 14-12.
After Lindquist’s third interception ended the last Wildcat threat with 1:31 remaining. Van Zandt said, “Ric sure broke in a big way. Those were his first, second and third interceptions. That Dickey is a doggoned good freshman.
“I never did get faint-hearted, but I felt a hell of a lot better when we got that last touchdown. I knew that as long as we didn’t get quick death on a quick touchdown, they’d have a hard time coming back.”
With the Husker record at 9-0 and only Iowa State waiting in Lincoln Saturday before the Big Eight showdown with Oklahoma, also unbeaten in the conference, Osborne was asked if the Huskers will be able to fully concentrate on the Cyclones.
“We’d darn well better,” he answered. “We’d better not think about Oklahoma or we’ll get beat.”
Kansas State emphasized the point Saturday.
|Yards per carry||1.9||4.3|
Nebraska is 78-15 all-time against Kansas State.
|Utah State||Sept. 15|
|Penn State||Sept. 29|
|New Mexico State||Oct. 6|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 20|
|Kansas State||Nov. 10|
|Iowa State||Nov. 17|
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