Manhattan, Kan. — Possession, the saying goes, is nine-tenths of the law. But it doesn’t necessarily win football games.
As Kansas State found out.
For parts of the game Saturday against Nebraska, the Wildcats played like men possessed. They controlled the football more than two-thirds of the game, but they still lost 51-25.
The Wildcats, who entered the game ranked 100th nationally in total offense and 94th in total defense, stunned the top-ranked Cornhuskers with their play in the second half.
“They hadn’t done anything,” said Cornhusker defensive tackle Mike Keeler. “They went from nothing to playing the best football they could possibly play.”
Before a sellout crowd of 44,150 at KSU Stadium, Nebraska went from a 38-5 halftime lead into danger of possibly losing.
After a scoreless third quarter in which Nebraska had the ball for only four plays from scrimmage, Kansas State stormed back into contention with three quick touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
As Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne watched the second half from the sideline, he said he started thinking his team wouldn’t win the Big Eight Conference if it didn’t start to play better.
“If we had a team that just couldn’t move the ball when we finally did get it, we’d have had a lot of problems,” Osborne said.
The Huskers, leading 38-25, did get it at the Wildcat 48-yard line with 8:56 left in the game when an onside kick by KSU’s John Chandler didn’t go 10 yards.
Five plays later, quarterback Turner Gill scored on a 3-yard run to make it 44-25. After strong safety Mike McCashland intercepted a Stan Weber pass at the 29, the Huskers moved in for their final score — a 5-yard run by Gill with 3:48 left.
Nebraska, 9-0 (4-0 in the Big Eight), won its 19th straight game because it possesses enough offense to overcome a defense that sagged badly in the second half.
I-back Mike Rozier provided most of the big plays with 23 carries for a season-high 227 yards. Rozier scored three first-half touchdowns on runs of 4, 5 and 22 yards. Gill also scored three times.
Rozier and Gill, as well as wingback Irving Fryar, are Heisman Trophy candidates.
But Gill said the whole contest is down to one candidate.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s decided,” Gill said. “I think Mike’s going to win the Heisman. It’s a great thrill for me just to be involved in it.”
With his 227 yards, Rozier pushed his career total to 4,078 and climbed to the 15th position on the all-time NCAA rushing chart. Only 18 backs in history have gained more than 4,000 yards.
Rozier also moved into the No. 2 spot on the all-time Big Eight chart, passing Steve Owens of Oklahoma (3,867) and Joe Washington (3,995). With three games remaining, Rozier needs 504, an average of 168 yards per game, to break the Big Eight record of 4,582 by Terry Miller of Oklahoma State.
Miller set his record over four years. Rozier has played just three at Nebraska.
Rozier has had only one better game in yardage production, 251 against Oklahoma State last year. He downplayed his performance Saturday as being less impressive than others this season.
“Just because I had 200 yards, I don’t think that’s my best game,” Rozier said. “Maybe other people think so. I think Penn State was my best game. It was a hard-hitting game, and I only got 76 yards (actually 71), but I earned all of them. I didn’t have any long runs like today.”
The day ended fine for Rozier. It didn’t start so great. He’s the nation’s leading scorer, but the first points he produced didn’t help his total any.
Kansas State scored a safety on the opening kickoff when Rozier downed the ball in the end zone after he had taken a step out and stepped back in.
Kansas State took its 2-0 lead with just six seconds elapsed in the game.
Rozier redeemed himself quickly with 127 yards on 13 carries in the first half. Although the Wildcats controlled the ball 16:40 to 13:20 for Nebraska in the first half, nothing really happened to indicate what would happen in the second half.
“The big thing is we didn’t play with as much intensity,” Osborne said. “They had a few things go right. They controlled the ball, and momentum got away from us. We had to struggle to get it back.”
Nebraska struggled mostly on defense.
The second half was a lot different from the first, when NU outgained K-State 310 yards to 118. In the second half, KSU outgained Nebraska 259 to 119.
In the end, Nebraska, the nation’s No. 2 team in total offense, and K-State, No. 100, finished almost equal in yards gained: 429 to 377, Nebraska’s favor.
Osborne said the Huskers couldn’t stop Kansas State’s off-tackle plays.
“We tried everything,” Osborne said. “We finally went to a defensive alignment that seemed a little better — and they ran a dive play up the middle for a touchdown. Which shouldn’t happen against any of our fronts.”
In the first minutes of the fourth quarter, the Wildcats set off a scoring explosion of their own.
Weber faked a handoff up the middle and ran a keeper around right end, untouched for a 1-yard touchdown. After K-State’s Nelson Nickerson recovered an onside kick, Lemuel James ran that dive play 30 yards up the middle for a score.
After Nickerson recovered a fumble by Rozier at the Kansas State 37, the Wildcats drove nine plays until Weber hit Mike Russell for an 8-yard TD pass.
“We have to quit relaxing.” NU’s Keeler said. “We’re just a little too comfortable with leads. From a defensive standpoint, we might be taking the offense for granted.”
After the game, Osborne repeated a point he made last week: The defense needs to keep teams from controlling the ball against the Huskers.
“If we don’t stop people better than that, then we can’t afford to miss any scoring opportunities,” Osborne said.
Gill and his mates of the offense spent a lot of time on the sidelines waiting to go back in, but he said he can’t worry about the defense.
“I hope they get their stuff together,” Gill said. “We’re going to have some tough games down the line.”
Nebraska scored on five of seven possessions in the first half, then the Huskers didn’t score the first two times they had the ball the second half. They also lost a chance at a possession when K-State recovered an onside kick.
A 38-5 halftime lead had dwindled to 38-25.
“I wasn’t uptight,” Gill said. “I just wanted to get the ball. I knew we’d probably score. They hadn’t stopped us all day.”
Mistakes played a part in the outcome. K-State had five turnovers to two for Nebraska.
Scott Strasburger, NU defensive end, recovered two fumbles, and the Huskers intercepted three passes.
Weber, the K-State quarterback, said the big plays were NU defensive end Jim Skow’s 31-yard TD on an interception, and the fumble Weber lost to Strasburger after the Wildcats had driven to the Nebraska 3 in the third quarter.
“I thought I could do OK, but I thought I’d be inexperienced,” Weber said. “That’s what happened. I made dumb mistakes.”
Most would say he played well in his first collegiate start.
Weber became only the second Husker opponent (Shawn Jones of Oklahoma State was the first) to rush for more than 100 yards. Weber carried 24 times for 113 yards. He also passed for 142 yards on 12 completions in 27 attempts.
He called Nebraska a great team and said the Huskers deserve to be ranked No. 1.
“Their defense hits hard,” Weber said, “but their offense is their show.”
Nebraska was such a big favorite to win that Las Vegas oddsmakers didn't even set a point-spread.
“ I think most everybody thought it would be a total blowout,” Osborne said. “People have got good athletes, and they’re going to play hard against us. It’s an opportunity for them. They were real excited over there. You could tell that when they got within a couple touchdowns of us. Our guys were wondering what was happening.”
Some K-State coaches and players wondered what was happening at the end of the first half. In the last 57 seconds with Nebraska ahead 38-5, Gill tried to pass seven times in a row, but NU failed to score.
“I don’t think they showed a lot of class,” KSU assistant coach Don Bocchi said. “I think in the first half they showed they wanted 100 points. I’m glad I’m wearing a purple jacket and not red. I think it helped out kids. You don’t have to be real smart to see what they were trying to do.”
Nebraska was trying to score. It appeared then that another touchdown wasn’t needed. Later, it looked like Nebraska could have used another TD.
If K-State had scored and made a 2-point conversion in the third quarter instead of fumbling at the 2, and if they had scored their 20 points at the start of the fourth quarter, Nebraska would have led by only 39-33.
In the second quarter, Nebraska’s second offensive backfield played part of the time before Gill returned in the final minute.
“We played a lot of second-team players in the second quarter,” Osborne said. “We might have backed off too soon.”
|Yards per carry||4.1||7.1|
Nebraska is 78-15 all-time against Kansas State.
|Penn State||Aug. 29|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 8|
|Kansas State||Oct. 29|
|Iowa State||Nov. 5|
|Miami (FL)||Jan. 2|
Nebraska has played 19 games on Oct. 29. See them all »
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