AMES, Iowa — Nebraska once again used a punishing ground game to take the wind out of the Iowa State Cyclones.
The Huskers ran for a season-high 557 rushing yards and turned a 10-3 deficit into a 45-13 win Saturday before a Cyclone Stadium-record 54,475 fans.
The second- and fourth-ranked Huskers improved to 8-0 overall and 4-0 in the Big Eight heading into this week’s showdown with No. 8 and 10 Colorado. The Buffaloes improved to 7-1-1 and 4-0 with Saturday’s win over Oklahoma.
“There have been times when they’ve faltered a little bit,” NU Coach Tom Osborne said. “But they’ve still won games, and they’ve played a very tough schedule. There’s no question they’ve played a tougher schedule than we have.
“I think it’ll be a great ballgame.”
Iowa State, 3-4-1, came into Saturday’s game off its first win over Oklahoma in 29 years. But like Coach Jim Walden’s first three ISU teams, this one couldn’t stop Nebraska’s basic running plays.
The Huskers have topped 500 rushing yards in all four games. Saturday’s total was their seventh-best in history, and their best since a 566-yard day against Iowa State two years ago.
“I didn’t think we were going to be able to do that today on them,” NU offensive tackle Tom Punt said. “We thought they were going to be fired up from last week’s game.
“We came out a little fired up, too. We thought we had something to prove to the nation.”
The Huskers threw just four passes. Mickey Joseph completed all four, including two for touchdowns to freshman tight end Johnny Mitchell. Their 67 passing yards gave them 624 altogether, another season high.
“We’ll probably get criticized for not throwing enough,” Osborne said. “We get criticized for something. But we did what we felt like we had to do.”
Joseph and I-back Leodis Flowers had their biggest rushing days at Nebraska. Flowers, a junior out of Omaha Central, ran 25 times for 208 yards and three touchdowns.
It was his sixth straight game with more than 100 rushing yards, and that tied him with Mike Rozier for the third-longest streak in NU history. Rozier had 11 straight 100-yard games in 1983 and six straight in 1982. Bobby Reynolds had eight straight in 1950.
Joseph added 123 in eight carries. Since taking over at quarterback three games ago, the junior from Marrero, La., has gained 278 yards in 26 carries — 10.7 a crack.
“I thought Mickey Joseph had a real fine day,” Osborne said.
While Joseph was revving up Nebraska’s option game, Nebraska’s defense was shutting down Iowa State quarterback Chris Pedersen.
Pedersen, who gained 148 yards in 29 carries against Oklahoma, got just 18 in 11 carries against Nebraska. He was sacked four times.
The Sooners had tried to stop the Cyclones by dropping eight players back in pass coverage and sending three after the quarterback. Nebraska usually rushed Pedersen with four players, Osborne said, and the inside pass rushers pinched inside to shut off the quarterback draw.
“We told our people we were going to try to stop the run first,” Osborne said,”even though Iowa State has a passing team.”
The Cyclones’ passing game was hampered by a northwest wind gusting from 15 to 30 mph across the north-south field. They completed 4 of 4 passes for 104 yards in the first quarter. But after that, they were just 4 for 14 for 87 yards, with an interception.
“The wind probably helped a little bit,” Osborne said. “This was more of a running-game day.
“When you play seven Big Eight games, probably three of them are going to be days that aren’t very good to throw the ball in.”
The Cyclones’ passing game looked good early. They stunned Nebraska for six points on the game’s third play. On third down and five from the ISU 36, Pedersen threw deep to freshman Brandon Hughes against a Husker blitz.
The wind held the ball up, and Hughes came back to catch it in front of NU safety Tyrone Byrd. Byrd then collided with cornerback Bruce Pickens, and Hughes, a high school track star from Grandview, Mo., sprinted into the end zone for a 64-yard touchdown. The extra point by Jeff Shudak out of Council Bluffs St. Albert made it 7-0 just 1:34 into the game.
Nebraska had won the coin toss and deferred. Osborne said he was surprised Iowa State chose to take the ball instead of the wind.
“We thought that would work to our advantage — that we’d get good field position and score a couple early,” he said. “That put us in a heck of a hole.”
But the Huskers came right back, taking 5:40 to churn 69 yards in 12 plays and set up Gregg Barrios’ 37-yard field goal. Joseph sustained the drive by scrambling 24 yards on third and seven from the NU 26.
Iowa State matched the field goal thanks to three big Pedersen passes to split end Chris Spencer out of Millard South, who finished with a game-high five catches for 106 yards.
The first was a 17-yarder to the NU 43. On the second pass, 5-foot-9 cornerback Tyrone Legette was called for interfering with the 6-4 Spencer, putting the ball at the NU 25. Spencer’s second catch of the drive, a 19-yarder on third and 25, put the ball on the 9 and set up Shudak’s 26-yard field goal.
Flowers said he wasn’t worried.
“We knew they were going to come in intense,” he said. “I thought maybe if they did get out to a 14-point lead, or something like that, it would be hard. But we kept our poise.”
The defense shut the Cyclones down the rest of the half. In the second quarter they gained just 20 yards in 14 plays.
They finished with 317 total yards, but many came late on long runs by running back Jason Williams, a freshman out of Omaha Creighton Prep who gained 81 yards in five carries.
“Defensively,” Osborne said,”we really played well after we settled down. The first five, six minutes of the game weren’t too good. From that point on, we played very well.”
Nebraska tied the game two plays into the second quarter. Another Joseph scramble, a 28-yarder, and a 20-yard reverse by Derek Brown set up Flowers’ 1-yard touchdown run.
But booming punts with the wind by Iowa State’s Jon Schnoor kept the Huskers pinned near their goal line most of the quarter. They started their next three drives at the 2, 9 and 1.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game where people punting with the wind had the ball bounce dead two or three times,” Osborne said. “I don’t know whether their punter is just a Houdini, or if he had good fortune. Maybe a little of both.”
The Huskers, though, almost got to Schnoor with two minutes left in the half, and his 25-yard punt gave them the ball at their own 39. Nate Turner sprinted 29 yards on another reverse. Four plays later, with 38 seconds left, Mitchell grabbed a pass at his knees, broke two tackles and rumbled into the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown.
“I don’t think it was the deciding factor,” Osborne said. “But the touchdown right before the half was a big play. Obviously, it put us in pretty good field position.
“The thing we wanted to do was take Iowa State out of the game early. We didn’t do that.”
Instead, they took them out in the third quarter. On the third play of the half, Flowers took an option pitch and raced 70 yards for a touchdown. On Nebraska’s next series, Joseph’s 70-yard run on another set up Flowers’ 5-yard touchdown.
Punt said the option opened up in the second half when the Cyclones went back to their 6-1 “tilt’’ defense, featuring two players lined up across from the center at 45-degree angles and just one linebacker playing off the line.
In the first half, using an alignment more like Nebraska’s, Iowa State allowed Nebraska just 9 yards on four options.
“We were trying to establish the counter sweep,” Punt said. “We ran a lot of counter sweeps and a lot of draws. Kansas really hurt them with that.
“Then they started catching us from behind on the counter sweeps. We noticed the pitches and the options were starting to open up. So we switched to those.”
The Huskers built their lead to 38-10 late in the third quarter on the second Joseph-to-Mitchell touchdown, a 33-yarder.
After Shudak’s second field goal, a 36-yarder in the fourth quarter, Nebraska capped the scoring on George Achola’s 1-yard touchdown and Barrios’ fourth extra point.
“We played well today,” Osborne said. “I thought Iowa State played well.
“We beat a good team.”
|Yards per carry||3.2||8.0|
Nebraska is 86-17 all-time against Iowa State.
|Northern Illinois||Sept. 8|
|Oregon State||Sept. 29|
|Kansas State||Oct. 6|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 20|
|Iowa State||Oct. 27|
|Georgia Tech||Jan. 1|
Nebraska has played 19 games on Oct. 27. See them all »
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