LAWRENCE, Kan. — Nebraska’s hangover from its loss to Colorado hung on through the first half of Saturday’s 41-9 victory at Kansas.
“Our kids were as low as they’ve been in a long time,” NU Coach Tom Osborne said.
And it showed.
Kansas, ranked 63rd nationally in total offense, pounded the ball into NU territory on its first five drives.
Sophomore Chaka Johnson, KU’s No. 3 tailback, ran for 102 yards in the first half against a defense allowing just 106 rushing yards a game.
And the Nebraska offense needed a fourth-down play to score its first touchdown, then didn’t strike for another until the final series of the half while trying cautiously to reach field-goal range.
But that second touchdown — on NU’s last play of the first half — and I-back Scott Baldwin’s 67-yard TD sprint on NU’s first play of the second half got the 10th- and 13th-ranked Huskers rolling before a KU Memorial Stadium crowd of 36,000, including about 8,000 dressed in red.
>> Boosted Nebraska’s record to 9-1, extending its NCAA record of consecutive seasons with at least nine victories to 22.
>> Appeared to secure a Jan. 1 Citrus Bowl bid for the Huskers. “If our prospects work out,” Citrus Bowl representative Jerry Banks said,”we are very much looking forward to having Nebraska in Orlando, Florida.”
>> Increased NU’s winning streak over 3-6-1 Kansas to 22 games.
But Osborne could see all that crashing down at halftime.
“Even though we were ahead 17-3, we felt like we had done it with mirrors,” he said. “We hadn’t really dominated the game at all, and we weren’t too pleased.
“They easily could have been ahead.”
So what woke Nebraska up?
“Reality slapped us in the face,” wingback Nate Turner said. “We knew we had to forget last week and get with it now.”
Among the Huskers who responded best were Baldwin, quarterback Mickey Joseph and tight end Johnny Mitchell.
Baldwin, still bothered by turf toe, gained 170 yards in 21 carries in his first career start and scored touchdowns of 2 and 67 yards.
“He’s still not 100 percent,” Osborne said. “But he had an extremely good game.”
Joseph ran 10 times for 58 yards and completed 7 of 16 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns.
“Mickey did a good job getting them off our backs with his passing,” Osborne said. “And we threw a lot because we weren’t controlling the line of scrimmage and because Kansas was playing its secondary way up.”
Those 28- and 35-yard scoring passes were to Mitchell, who became the first Husker to catch touchdown passes in five straight games since another Johnny did it in 1972 — a Heisman Trophy-winner named Rodgers.
The freshman also caught another 45-yard pass from Joseph to set up a field goal.
Baldwin, Joseph, Mitchell and Turner were key figures in the probable turning point in the game.
Nebraska, leading 10-3, got the ball back with 1:29 left in the first half after Kansas’ Dan Eichloff missed a 39-yard field-goal attempt.
Eichloff, the league’s most accurate kicker, was 15 of 18 before missing twice in the second quarter from 36 and 39 yards — his first misses inside the 40 in 12 tries this season.
On first down from the NU 22, fullback Omar Soto was stuffed for no gain. On second down, Joseph’s pass for Turner was broken up and nearly intercepted by KU outside linebacker Guy Howard.
That left the Huskers facing third and 10 at their 22 with 50 seconds to play and only one timeout.
“We weren’t going to try to go ahead and score unless we got a big play,” Osborne said. “But then we got a big play.”
It came from Baldwin, who bolted 21 yards on a draw play.
The Huskers quickly lined up, and Joseph hit Turner for 29 yards before he ran out of bounds. Then Joseph faked a handoff and found Mitchell with a 28-yard TD pass with 11 seconds to spare for a 17-3 lead.
“That was about like a gift,” Osborne said. “I was just hoping we’d get a little field position and maybe try a field goal.
“So that was a huge drive.”
It was huge because it gave the Huskers some breathing room after having the wind knocked of them most of the first half.
“We had very few yards at halftime, and they did a better job of controlling the line of scrimmage than we did,” Osborne said. “And that’s usually the name of our game.”
Kansas outgained the Huskers 104 yards to 67 in the first quarter and 183 to 156 through the first five drives of the half.
The final totals were NU 536 and KU 410.
But a dropped pass near the goal line, a bad onside kick and two missed field-goal attempts left the Jayhawks down at halftime.
Nebraska went three downs and out on the game’s first possession, with Baldwin losing 3 yards on third and one.
Kansas came back to drive to the NU 26, and completed a pass to the 20. But offensive pass interference was called, and the 15-yard penalty plus loss of down eventually forced KU to punt.
Nebraska had to punt after one first down, and Kansas’ Charley Bowen returned it 19 yards to the KU 35.
From there, the Jayhawks drove to the NU 19, facing a third and three. On a play-action fake, quarterback Chip Hilleary lobbed a pass to wide-open tight end Pete Vang. But the freshman walk-on couldn’t hang on at the 5.
So Eichloff kicked a 36-yard field goal for a 3-0 Jayhawk lead with 3:16 to go in the first quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Kansas gambled and lost.
Eichloff tried an across-the-field lob kick that went out of bounds after just 6 yards, giving Nebraska the ball at the KU 41.
“We weren’t expecting an onside kick that early,” Osborne said. “I guess they felt if they scored that they would try to put one on us early. It just didn’t work.”
The Jayhawks forced Nebraska to fourth and four at the 35. But Joseph faked an option and hit Mitchell with a 35-yard touchdown pass. Gregg Barrios’ extra point gave NU its first lead at 7-3 with 2:28 left in the first quarter.
After exchanging punts, Kansas threatened again.
Hilleary hit tight end Dwayne Chandler for 23 yards to the KU 45. Then Johnson, who finished with 120 yards on 16 carries, ripped off 31 yards on a sweep to the NU 24.
The Huskers called a timeout, regrouped and held on three downs, forcing KU to try another field goal. Eichloff flared this 36-yard try wide right to keep the score 7-3.
Nebraska used the bootleg pass to the tight end to set up its next score.
Joseph hit Mitchell for 45 yards to the Kansas 23. But a wingback reverse lost 5 yards, stalling the drive. Barrios salvaged three points with a 40-yard field goal for a 10-3 NU lead with 6:10 left in the half.
Kansas again moved inside the Nebraska 25 as Johnson ran for 20 and Hilleary saved the drive with a 10-yard quarterback draw.
But Nebraska stiffened at its 21. Eichloff tried a 39-yard field goal, but missed again to the right with 1:20 to play in the half.
Then the Husker offense exploded with the Joseph-to-Mitchell TD just before half and Baldwin’s long TD run just after halftime.
Kansas got stubborn again in the third quarter, holding the Huskers on downs after cornerback Bruce Pickens’ interception and forcing a 41-yard Barrios field goal after outside linebacker David White recovered a fumble.
Hilleary hit Vang with a 16-yard touchdown pass with 13:29 left in the game to cut NU’s lead to 27-9. A two-point conversion run failed.
But touchdown runs of 2 yards by Baldwin and 22 yards by I-back George Achola capped the scoring.
“That was a hard game to prepare for after last week,” Osborne said. “We weren’t overly inspired early in the game.
“But I think we had what it took to hang in there and win. That’s the important thing.”
Osborne said he considers it a good victory.
“Kansas is much improved,” he said. “They are a lot stronger physically, and that’s typical of the conference this year.
“I don’t think we’re that much worse. I just think everybody else is a couple or three touchdowns better.”
|Yards per carry||4.8||6.9|
Nebraska is 91-23 all-time against Kansas.
|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 Nov. 10. See them all »
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