MANHATTAN, Kan. — Nebraska’s 45-8 victory over Kansas State Saturday turned into a kicking because of the kicking game.
The Huskers, who led just 3-2 until the final seconds of the first half, used 170 yards in punt returns and 153 yards in kickoff returns to score or help set up 31 of their 45 points.
“The big difference in the game was the kicking game,” NU Coach Tom Osborne said. “We had a punt blocked that cost us two points.
“But other than that, our kicking game was dominant.”
Wingback Tyrone Hughes had one of the most prolific days running back kicks in Nebraska history with a school-record 153 yards on three kickoffs and 94 yards on five punts.
His 66-yard punt return set up NU’s first score, a 33-yard Gregg Barrios field goal.
Then the junior from New Orleans brought a roar from the KSU Stadium crowd of 35,757 — of which about 15,000 were in red — with a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. The runback was NU’s longest in 41 years.
Split end Jon Bostick returned a punt 29 yards to spark a touchdown drive and caught two touchdown passes.
Wingback Nate Turner also hauled back a punt 28 yards to set up I-back Leodis Flowers’ 21-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
“It was weird,” Turner said. “We just had this feeling something big was going to happen on returns today. And it did.”
With No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Florida State losing Saturday, did those returns run 5-0 Nebraska — No. 3 in the coaches’ poll and No. 8 according to sportswriters and broadcasters — into the top spot?
“I definitely think we should be considered for No. 1,” NU center David Edeal said. “We’ve beaten everyone we’ve played.
“We want to be in position by the end of the season to be No. 1. So if we’re No. 1 now, it’s up to us to hold it.”
Nebraska already has the nation’s No. 1 defense, and that unit did nothing Saturday to hurt its ranking.
The Huskers held 3-2 Kansas State to 159 total yards — 281 below average — and no touchdowns.
NU, which forced 11 punts and no penetration inside its 12-yard line, now has limited four opponents to under 200 total yards. The last defense to do that was the 1986 crew — in 12 games.
But the only thing Nebraska’s offense was No. 1 in Saturday was Osborne’s list of things to worry about.
Against the No. 79 defense in the country, the Huskers struggled for 372 yards — 127 below average. They also had only two drives longer than 34 yards and had 10 rushing plays in the first half that gained 1 yard or less.
“It sounds crazy to see 45 points and say you’re mad,” Osborne said. “But I’m not very happy with the way we moved the ball.
“We have got to be able to move it better than this. We know what we wanted to do, and we have good individual athletes.
“But we’re still not functioning as a unit. And five games into the season, you hate to see that. So that’s a little scary.”
The quarterback situation remains clouded.
Starter Mike Grant threw for two touchdowns and 125 yards. Backup Mickey Joseph ran for two touchdowns.
But Osborne said changing plays at the line of scrimmage was a problem all day against a Kansas State defense that blitzed frequently out a four-man stack formation. The Wildcats usually use a five-man standard front.
“It threw us off a little,” Osborne said. “But they’ve shown it before, and we’ve practiced against it. It wasn’t like we didn’t know how to block it.
“We just have to execute better. We would get an audible wrong or miss a block. It wasn’t any one thing. We were just disjointed.”
Osborne said Grant, who completed 7 of 17 passes and ran six times for 10 yards, still isn’t “in the flow.”
“Mike’s got some talent that we need to use,” he said. “But he’s still feeling his way, and that’s a worry.
“Then Mickey is coming in kind of disjointed. So things are kind of goofed up. But we’ll get them straight.”
Nebraska goofed up enough to come within 11 seconds of not scoring a first-half touchdown for a second straight game.
The Huskers’ biggest play of the half came on the game’s first play when Grant hit Bostick for 25 yards to the K-State 46. But NU went three downs and out from there.
K-State also stumbled early. On the Wildcats’ second possession, back-to-back sacks by defensive tackles Kenny Walker and Joe Sims forced K-State into a fourth and 22 at its own 41. The Huskers had six sacks overall for minus 35 yards.
Chris Cobb boomed a 47-yard punt, but Hughes made Cobb make the tackle on the return by racing 66 yards up the middle to the KSU 22.
Fullback Lance Lewis ran for 4 yards and Grant for 4 to create third and two at the 14. But 200-pound Flowers ran head on into 265-pound Kansas State defensive tackle Ekwensi Griffith and lost 2 yards.
So Barrios kicked a 33-yard field goal to give Nebraska a 3-0 lead with 4:47 left in the first quarter.
Sims’ third sack stifled Kansas State on its next series, forcing a punt that drove NU back to its own 19. Three plays netted minus 1 yard, so Mike Stigge dropped back to punt for the Huskers.
Kansas State overloaded its rush on the right side and cornerback William Price broke free to block it through the end zone for a safety, bringing the Wildcats within 3-2 with 1:49 left in the first quarter.
Joseph relieved Grant to start the second quarter. He led Nebraska to two first downs before K-State forced a punt by drilling I-back Derek Brown for a 1-yard on third down at the KSU 49.
After Stigge punted out of the end zone, Kansas State embarked on a 13-play, 57-yard drive.
Quarterback Paul Watson’s 14-yard pass to split end Frank Hernandez and his 12-yarder to flanker Michael Smith — with 5 yards tacked on for a grabbed face mask — were the big plays in the drive.
The Wildcats reached the NU 23 before stalling. Wright tried a 40-yard field goal, but it hooked badly to the right to preserve NU’s one-point lead with 4:54 left in the half.
After an exchange of punts, Nebraska got the ball at its 19 with 2:20 left.
Grant returned and hit Turner for 15 yards and Brown for 9 and 17 to help the Huskers reach the KSU 5.
On first and goal from there, Bostick and Grant missed connections on a slant route toward the goal post.
But on second down, Bostick faked inside and faded toward the sideline to catch Grant’s 5-yard touchdown lob with 11 seconds left. Barrios’ extra-point kick put NU up 10-2.
Osborne said that drive was important.
“I thought we were going to win anyway,” he said. “But at least it showed we did something.
“Other than that, we didn’t do anything the first half.”
The defense helped get the offense started in the second half. Outside linebacker Travis Hill deflected a screen pass that Sims intercepted and returned 7 yards to the K-State 31.
“Joe had a great day,” Osborne said. “He’s usually our power guy, but he blew in there hard a lot today.”
Two plays later, Joseph ran in from the 10 on an option play for a 17-2 lead.
Barrios missed a 49-yard field-goal attempt on NU’s next possession. But Turner’s 33-yard punt return set up Flowers’ TD on the next drive. Flowers gained 112 yards in 16 carries, his third 100-yard day of the season.
“It was a tough 100 yards,” he said. “I didn’t know I got that many.”
K-State got within 24-5 with 8:51 left in the game on Tate Wright’s 37-yard field goal.
But Hughes ran the kickoff back 28 yards from the 4, and the offense took it the other 63 to the end zone. Grant finished the drive by hitting Bostick with a 45-yard touchdown pass for a 31-5 lead.
Wright kicked a 48-yard field goal to cut the gap to 31-8. But Hughes’ 99-yard TD return and Joseph’s 26-yard TD run in the two minutes finished the scoring.
The late burst didn’t impress Osborne.
“We can’t worry about beating people bad,” he said. “We’ve just got to win.”
|Yards per carry||1.1||5.0|
Nebraska is 78-15 all-time against Kansas 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|
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