BOULDER, Colo. — If Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne were a betting man, he wouldn’t have touched Saturday’s game with Colorado.
“Everything was right for them to beat us,” he said. “I felt it was 50-50, at best, that we would win. And I could see us coming in here and getting blown out if we weren’t right.”
But the Huskers were right. And that made most everything 14 1/2-point underdog Colorado did the pep rallies, the first-ever use of all-black uniforms, the bowl game-type atmosphere all wrong.
Nebraska, embarrassed last week in a loss to Oklahoma, responded with one of its best efforts of the season to pound the Buffaloes 24-7 and vault into the Jan. 1 Fiesta Bowl against 10-1 Florida State with some momentum. About 7,000 to 8,000 Nebraska fans were among the sellout crowd of 52,026 at Folsom Field, where about 600 student seats were empty at kickoff.
No one from Nebraska was more right than I-back Keith Jones.
“This was my last regular-season game,” said the senior from Omaha Central, “and I wanted to go out with a pretty good game.”
Pretty good? How about great?
Jones carried 26 times for a career-high 248 yards, including touchdowns of 50 and 44 yards.
» Was the fifth-best single-game effort in NU history, just 37 yards shy of Mike Rozier’s record of 285.
» Made him the ninth back in NU history to top the 1,000-yard mark in a season at 1,232.
» Moved him to third in career rushing with 2,488 yards. He leapfrogged Jeff Kinney, Roger Craig and Rick Berns Saturday to trail Rozier at 4,780 and I.M. Hipp at 2,814.
Of all the runs Jones made Saturday, one might stick out as the epitome of Nebraska’s effort to restore its pride after the loss to Oklahoma.
On the first play of the second quarter, with the score tied 0-0, the Huskers faced fourth and two at the Colorado 22. Osborne, forgoing a field-goal try, called for Jones to blast up the middle.
At the same time he did, a blitzing Colorado linebacker hit him head on.
“He stuffed the fullback into the backfield,” Jones said. “And one of their defenders had me by the face mask a little.”
But as Jones modestly put it, “I just spun outside and picked up some yards.”
That spin helped him elude three tacklers and created a 13-yard run that sucker-punched a raucous crowd and kept NU’s first touchdown drive alive.
“That was a miraculous recovery,” Osborne said. “Probably 90 percent of the backs in the country would have gone down. That was a real key play.”
Two plays later, quarterback Steve Taylor scored from the 5 on an option to give Nebraska its first lead over Colorado in two years. And the No. 5 Huskers, 10-1 and alone in second in the Big Eight at 6-1, never let go.
NU’s defense held the nation’s No. 18 offense to 226 yards almost 190 below average and recovered a fumble, swiped a pass and blocked a field-goal attempt.
The Husker offense, held to 235 yards by Oklahoma, bounced back for 422 against CU. And in the kicking game, Chris Drennan made his longest college field goal a 50-yarder and John Kroeker continued his solid punting with a 40.7-yard average.
“I was impressed,” Osborne said.
He was also relieved.
“I had no reading at all that we were going to play a great football game, and I think we did,” he said. “This was probably as good an effort as we’ve had.”
What gave him doubts was the sting associated with the loss to Oklahoma.
“I was real proud, because this was probably the toughest psychological situation I’ve been in with a football team in 15 years,” Osborne said. “We had been talking a lot about a national championship, and that was taken away from us at least a real sure chance at it.
“I wasn’t sure how they would react. We had a lot of players beat up physically and emotionally early in the week. And we were playing a team that already had a lot invested in this game.”
Colorado, bitter from bowl rejection, made Saturday a one-game season.
The school honored 25 seniors, scheduled a week of activities called Gold Rush II and even greased the goal posts in expectation of a celebration to match last year’s when the Buffaloes beat Nebraska for the first time in 19 years.
The capper came when the Buffs warmed up in their traditional gold pants, returned to the locker room and came back out in black slacks.
CU’s “investment” attracted a lot of interest, but no final return.
Nebraska started the game playing giveaway, forking the ball over on its first two possessions.
On the opening drive, the Huskers moved to two first downs before Taylor hobbled off with a sore ankle. Clete Blakeman came in, and on his first play, threw an interception to safety Mickey Pruitt at the CU 44.
Nebraska held on three plays and Taylor returned, but the offense coughed the ball up again on the next series.
Jones carried three times for 17 yards to top the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Then the Buffaloes stripped the ball from Taylor on the option, and defensive tackle Arthur Walker recovered it at midfield.
Colorado moved 29 yards in six plays before stalling. Dave DeLine tried a 39-yard field goal, but Neil Smith blocked it to keep the game scoreless.
Nebraska then marched 76 yards in 15 plays for a touchdown, thanks to Jones’ highlight reel run.
Backup I-back Tyreese Knox gained 43 of his 66 yards on the next drive. An intentional grounding penalty, which Osborne complained in vain about, stalled the drive, so Drennan capped it with his field goal for a 10-0 lead.
The Huskers could have been up by another touchdown at half. Free safety Mark Blazek intercepted a tipped pass to set NU up at the CU 46 with 2:44 left in the half.
But time ran out after Taylor tried a quarterback sneak at the 1. Osborne, his assistant coaches and several players protested that time out had been called, but to no avail.
Jones, though, wiped away any bad feeling with a 50-yard touchdown bolt on NU’s third play of the third quarter for a 17-0 lead.
Jones said his spinning, tackle-breaking style Saturday was in response to a pregame plea from Osborne.
“He told us to make sure we didn’t leave the field with the feeling that you could have played a little harder,” said Jones, whose previous best was 240 yards against Iowa State three weeks ago.
“We wanted to leave the field exhausted after the game.”
CU responded with a 14-play, 77-yard touchdown drive capped by Mark Hatcher’s 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end George Hemingway.
But Nebraska’s defense recovered on the next two series.
On third and six at the CU 21, defensive end Broderick Thomas forced Hatcher to pitch wildly for a 10-yard loss, and the Buffaloes had to punt.
Then with 11 minutes to play and CU facing third and one at the NU 31, free safety Tim Jackson flew out of the secondary to smash J.J. Flannigan for a 2-yard loss. That forced CU to try a 50-yard field-goal attempt, and Ken Culbertson’s kick drifted wide right.
CU Coach Bill McCartney called Jackson’s hit the key play of the game.
“We needed to get at least three points on that possession to stay in the game,” he said. “When we missed the field goal, it put our defense in a position from where I didn’t think they could rally again.”
NU’s Thomas said he also could tell it was the beginning of the end.
“They were bad-mouthing each other for making mistakes and calling each other names,” he said.
That was something Nebraska tried to avoid all week, Osborne said.
“We took the approach that we weren’t going to point fingers and be down on them after Oklahoma,” he said. “We tried to lift them up every chance we got.”
Jones struck again in the fourth quarter to provide the final lift.
After back-to-back runs of 22 and 1 yards, he sprinted 44 yards for the score that put NU up 24-7 with 9:34 left in the game.
CU, 7-4 and 4-3, never crossed midfield again. And adding injury to insult, Hatcher suffered a broken leg and torn knee ligaments in the final minutes.
Nebraska suffered several bumps and bruises, but might have repaired its biggest injury a broken heart with the victory.
“This will lighten up that heartache from last year out here and from last week,” Thomas said. “It makes us feel good.”
Especially going into a five-week break before the Fiesta Bowl.
“This obviously will help,” Osborne said. “I felt we were one of the top two or three teams in the country. Then we lost.
“That affects confidence and momentum. But we got some of that back today.”
|Yards per carry||3.3||6.8|
Nebraska is 49-20 all-time against Colorado.
|Utah State||Sept. 5|
|Arizona State||Sept. 26|
|South Carolina||Oct. 3|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 17|
|Kansas State||Oct. 24|
|Iowa State||Nov. 7|
|Florida State||Jan. 1|
Nebraska has played 15 games on Nov. 28. See them all »
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