LINCOLN — Nebraska’s defense made its point Saturday night by hardly allowing any.
The Husker defenders, gouged for 24 points and 377 yards last week at South Carolina, gave up just a field goal to Oklahoma State and held the 2-3 Cowboys to 63 total yards in the second half and 229 in the game in a 30-10 win.
The Big Eight opener for both schools drew an announced crowd of 76,041 at Memorial Stadium. That was the 146th straight home sellout, though press box observers estimated about 2,-000 seats were empty at kickoff, a number that grew to an estimated 10,000 by the start of the second half.
What produced the no-shows and nostays were 39-degree temperatures, 31-mph wind gusts and a steady mist that the Huskers ranked third and fifth nationally had to play through to win their fifth straight game.
“It was not a good night to play offensive football,” Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne said. “The field was wet, the ball was wet and the cold was a fairly big factor.”
What all that meant was the Huskers’ defensive effort was even more important than usual.
“We thought our defense played very well,” Osborne said. “We gave up one touchdown on our own interception which was really a shame. So the scoring as far as the defense was just three points.”
Nebraska allowed Oklahoma State no second-half rushing yards in 15 attempts. The Cowboys had just 62 rushing yards on the night, marking the fifth straight game the Huskers have held an opponent to fewer than 100 yards rushing. That’s a first at Nebraska in the 1980s.
OSU running back Thurman Thomas, the defending Big Eight rushing champion, had the fourth-worst rushing game of his career Saturday.
The junior from Missouri City, Texas, carried 22 times for 33 yards. Thomas’ all-time rushing low came against Nebraska in 1984 with 12 yards in six carries. In three games against the Huskers in his career, Thomas has 116 yards for a 2.3-yard average per carry.
While the defense provided the power, the kicker came from the kicking game.
Wingback Dana Brinson hauled the opening kickoff back 58 yards to set up Nebraska’s first score.
Then seven minutes later, split end Rod Smith ran a punt back 63 yards for a touchdown to give the Huskers a quick 14-0 lead. It was the first varsity score for the junior from Thornton, Colo., and Nebraska’s first punt return touchdown since Shane Swanson’s 49-yarder against OSU in 1984.
“The kicking game was very dominant in our favor and was one of the best things we did,” Osborne said. “We work hard on it, and it’s getting to the point where people are afraid to kick to us.”
Besides Nebraska’s early burst, the Huskers scored 9 more points in a oneminute span in the third quarter to stretch their 21-10 halftime lead to 30-10. The score could have been more lopsided. But the Huskers threw two interceptions one of which OSU returned 45 yards for a touchdown and lost fumbles at the Cowboys’ 14-and 2-yard lines to stop threats.
That provided one bright spot for for Oklahoma State Coach Pat Jones.
“I told the squad very sincerely that I’m very proud of them,” Jones said. “We had ample opportunity to get slaughtered and we didn’t.”
Nebraska’s scoring burst in the third quarter started with a 58-yard drive in 10 plays, and involved three personal foul penalties against Oklahoma State.
Runs of 10 yards by Brinson and 9 by Keith Jones, who led Nebraska in rushing with 85 yards and two touchdowns, moved NU to the OSU 36.
Two plays later, quarterback Steve Taylor rolled right for 2 yards, stepped out of bounds and was clobbered by Cowboys’ free safety Mark Moore. That 15-yard penalty nearly started a rumble on the NU sideline as the injured Taylor had to leave the game. Backup Clete Blakeman replaced him.
“It would seem to me like Oklahoma State’s players, after what happened, would go back in the huddle,” Osborne said. “But they didn’t seem to want to do that.
“Fortunately, we got everybody separated and none of our guys swung.”
Three plays later, Jones got a first down with a 3-yard run to the 3, then was popped after the whistle by OSU strong safety Mike Hudson for another penalty.
On the next play, Blakeman rolled left on the option, scored easily from the 1 and was belted about five yards deep in the end zone by Moore, who was flagged for 15 more yards assessed on the next kickoff.
OSU’s Bobby Riley muffed that kickoff before recovering at his own 9. An illegal procedure penalty pushed the Cowboys back to the 5 before NU defensive end Broderick Thomas smothered quarterback Mike Gundy in the end zone for a safety that boosted Nebraska’s lead to 30-10 with 5:05 left in the third quarter.
After the safety and ensuing free kick, Taylor returned to lead a Nebraska threat.
Terry Rodgers’ 26-yard burst was a big play in the drive. But Rodgers’ fumble at the 2, recovered by Hudson, blunted the chance.
Nebraska also threatened early in the third quarter when Brinson’s 39-yard punt return moved the Huskers to the Oklahoma State 24. But two plays later, Jones fumbled a pitchout at the OSU 14 and Moore recovered at the 22.
In the fourth quarter, Nebraska tried as much to hold its lead as to extend it.
“Steve’s confidence got shaken a little with the two interceptions,” Osborne said. “He didn’t seem to have a good rhythm tonight.
“Then with Keith out and a good enough lead, we were reluctant to put it up. We played it pretty close to the vest, but we won’t always play the way.”
Jones left the game late in the third quarter after a hit left him dazed.
In the first half, after Nebraska won the opening coin toss and elected to defer its choice to the second half, Oklahoma State decided to kick off with the steady north wind.
But Brinson, who averaged 13.1 yards every time he touched the ball, negated that advantage immediately by taking the kick, bolting up the middle and then cutting to the west sideline for 58 yards to the OSU 40 before Moore knocked him down.
Nebraska’s first two plays produced a 1-yard loss before Taylor hit Jason Gamble with a 17-yard bullet to the OSU 24. An offside penalty on third and three gave the Huskers their next first down at the Cowboys’ 12.
Fullback Micah Heibel’s 8-yard run then set up Jones’ 1-yard touchdown burst. Dale Klein kicked the extra point to put Nebraska up 7-0 just more than four minutes into the game.
Nebraska’s defense stuffed Oklahoma State in three downs, forcing Cary Cooper to punt. His kick went 37 yards, but Smith took it back 63 yards in the other direction for a touchdown.
Smith, the upback on the return, caught the ball, raced through a pack of bodies near midfield, then broke to the east sideline. Cleo Miller dumped Cooper, the last OSU tackler, at about the 15, allowing Smith to breeze in. Klein’s PAT made it 14-0 with 8:17 left in the first quarter.
Oklahoma State came back with its first surge into Nebraska territory. Gundy’s 11-yard pass to Hart Lee Dykes and Thomas’ 10-yard run moved the ball to the NU 38.
Three plays later, the Cowboys stalled at the 32 when Thomas was stopped for a loss of 1. Brad Dennis tried a 49-yard field goal that fell short.
Nebraska appeared ready to jump to a three-touchdown lead as Taylor scrambled for 13 yards and hit Todd Millikan for 17 to move the Huskers to the OSU 30. But Cowboys’ defensive end Jerry Deckard thwarted that by intercepting Taylor’s pass intended for Millikan at the OSU 27.
Oklahoma State used Gundy’s 36-yard pass to split end Riley, who outjumped NU defenders Brian Davis and Bryan Siebler, to move to the Nebraska 39. Four plays later, on fourth and seven, Danny Noonan was called for running into the punter. After the 5-yard penalty, OSU chose to go for it, but defensive tackle Neil Smith buried Gundy after a 1-yard gain on the option at the NU 30 to stop the drive.
Where the Cowboys’ offense couldn’t convert, their defense did.
On second and eight from the NU 47, Nebraska’s Taylor rolled nearly to the west sideline to avoid pressure before throwing halfway back across the field on an attempted screen pass to Jones. Deckard stepped in front of Jones and returned his fourth interception of the season 45 yards for a touchdown. Dennis kicked the extra point to cut the gap to 14-7 with 12:32 left in the half.
“That particular play we just put in,” Osborne said. “It has to be thrown on time. If you get it strung out like he did we had a breakdown and then you try to throw it back, you’re just asking for it.”
The interception for a touchdown was the first against Nebraska since Missouri’s Bill Roe returned one 69 yards for a score in 1979.
Taylor, who had just one previous interception this season, hit 3 of 9 passes for 46 yards and rushed 11 times for 51 yards.
“Steve in some ways is still a young quarterback,” Osborne said in evaluating the San Diego sophomore’s performance. “But it was a tough night to play quarterback.”
Nebraska, working with the wind for the first time on its next drive, was stopped on the OSU 38 early in the second quarter. Klein came on to try a 55-yard field goal, which would have tied the school record, but the kick was just short and wide left.
Oklahoma State roared back to within a yard of a touchdown midway through the second quarter before having to settle for a field goal.
A 12-yard gain by Thomas, a 21-yarder by Gundy and a 10-yard pass from Gundy to Thomas got OSU to the NU 34.
On third and 10 from the NU 29, Gundy threw deep to Riley. Husker cornerback John Custard fell on the wet turf, then Riley fell. But Riley got back up first and caught the pass at the 2-yard line.
After Thomas dived for a yard, an illegal procedure penalty cost OSU 5 yards. Thomas then rolled right and looked to throw on the halfback option, but he was chased for a 3-yard loss. An incomplete pass on third down forced OSU to take a 27-yard Joey O’Donnell field goal, chopping Nebraska’s lead to 14-10 with 4:42 remaining in the second quarter.
Nebraska responded to OSU’s charge by zipping 61 yards in four plays for a touchdown. Jones popped a 47-yard run on the first play after the field goal, then finished it three plays later with a 5-yard TD run. Klein’s PAT made it 21-10 Nebraska with 2:56 to play in the half.
|Yards per carry||1.6||4.7|
Nebraska is 37-5 all-time against Oklahoma State.
|Florida State||Sept. 6|
|South Carolina||Oct. 4|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 11|
|Kansas State||Nov. 1|
|Iowa State||Nov. 8|
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