LINCOLN — Whew!
That was the operative word for Nebraska football fans and players Saturday night, and not just because the game-time heat index was 104 degrees.
The Huskers, 17 1/2-point favorites over Baylor, lost a fumble, threw an interception, missed two field-goal tries, failed on their only fourth-down conversion try and didn’t score a touchdown until the final 22 seconds of the game.
But behind a defense that allowed just 164 yards and no points, seventh- and eighth-ranked Nebraska started its second century of football with a victory — 13-0 before 76,184 fans at Memorial Stadium and a national television audience on ESPN.
Two Gregg Barrios field goals in the second quarter — from 20 and 37 yards — put Nebraska up 6-0 at halftime.
Baylor threatened to take the lead early in the fourth quarter with a 15-play drive to the NU 5.
But senior linebacker Pat Tyrance jarred the ball loose from fullback Frankie Smith at the NU 3 and outside linebacker Travis Hill recovered with 10:15 to play to preserve the shutout.
Nebraska lost an almost-sure touchdown on the next possession when quarterback Mike Grant fumbled into the end zone and Baylor’s Lee Bruderer recovered.
The Huskers finally crossed the goal line with 22 seconds to play on I-back Scott Baldwin’s 2-yard dive, though that took a discussion of officials in the end zone after he bobbled the ball.
Line judge Roger Rogers of Hot Springs, Ark., ruled a touchdown, while referee John Laurie of Springfield, Mo., signaled a touchback. “After further review,” Laurie said, a touchdown was awarded.
And Husker fans, players and coaches finally relaxed a little.
“I’m pleased with the win,” NU Coach Tom Osborne said. “We played a good football team.
“I was very apprehensive going in. If I had been told before the game that we were going to win by 12 or 13 points, I’d have been very happy.”
Aside from Baylor’s one push to the Nebraska 3-yard line, the Huskers didn’t allow the Bears past the NU 30 and stuck the Southwest Conference school from Waco, Texas, with just its second shutout in 113 games.
The Huskers sacked sophomore quarterback Steve Needham, making his first collegiate start, four times for 34 yards and held the Bears to an average of 2.6 yards a play.
Tyrance, NU’s leading tackler a year ago, shook off a minor groin pull to lead the Huskers with 10 stops and the crucial hit on the fumble.
“I was really pleased with the shutout,” Osborne said. “We knew the defense was going to be the strength of our team early, and they showed it tonight.”
Offensively, Nebraska rushed for 249 yards and passed for 86 for 335 total yards.
Not bad, Osborne said, for a team using two untested players at quarterback, I-back and fullback.
“I thought our offense played reasonably well,” he said. “I wasn’t that disappointed. I thought they held up pretty well.”
Grant missed most of the second quarter with a knee strain, but returned to complete 5 of 6 passes for 86 yards. He rushed for 16 yards in eight carries.
Three of Grant’s completions for 69 yards went to roommate Jon Bostick, the junior split end from Bellevue, Wash.
Backup quarterback Mickey Joseph threw an interception and an incompletion in two passing attempts, but helped set up NU’s first field goal with a 14-yard run that turned into 29 yards because of a Baylor late hit.
“We’ll probably pass a little more as time goes on,” Osborne said. “But we’re always going to do what we think we have to do to win the ball game.”
As for which quarterback will start next week against Northern Illinois, no decision has been made.
“Mike and Mickey both did a good job,” Osborne said. “We’ll continue to play them both for another week or maybe two weeks — who knows.
“I don’t even know who will start next week.”
Another battle for playing time is at I-back.
Starter Leodis Flowers ran 11 times for 40 yards. But Baldwin, a sophomore seeing his first extensive playing time, earned ESPN player of the game honors on his 21st birthday with 92 yards on 14 carries, including a 53-yard burst in the drive that ended with Grant’s end zone fumble.
“Baldwin breaks a lot of tackles,” Osborne said. “But Leodis can be a great back, too. So we’ll use them both.”
Nebraska alternated players early and often in the first half, partly to give newcomers a chance to play and partly because of the heat.
The game time temperature was 92 degrees. With an east wind at 15 mph and relative humidity of 58 percent, that created a heat index or “feel-like” temperature of 104.
Neither team made a first down on its first possession, but Nebraska used Bostick’s 12-yard punt return to start its second possession at the NU 43.
Grant hit Bostick with a 12-yard pass to start a 10-play drive. Fullback Omar Soto’s 12-yard run and Flowers’ 9-yarder helped the Huskers reach second and goal at the Baylor 4.
An illegal-procedure penalty pushed NU back to the 9. Flowers gained 6 on second down, then Grant threw incomplete for backup wingback Brad Devall to stop the drive.
Barrios came on to try a 21-yard field goal, but nudged it wide left. That was the shortest miss of his career and only his fifth misfire in four years. His previous short miss in 21 career attempts was a 27-yarder last year against Kansas.
Baylor came back with its first two first downs, reaching its own 47-yard line. Then NU left tackle Joe Sims spun Needham down for an 8-yard loss to force a punt.
Nebraska got the ball at its own 41 when Baylor’s Kent Brentham wobbled his punt out of bounds after only 21 yards.
Grant optioned right on the first play, but suffered a right knee strain when Baylor free safety Mike Welch cut him down after a 3-yard gain.
With Joseph at quarterback, fullback Lance Lewis ran for 3 yards and Baldwin for 3 to create a fourth and one at the 50.
Three Huskers scrambled on to the field with a play after Osborne decided to go for it. But Baylor linebacker Curtis Hafford and tackle Santana Dotson walloped Baldwin for no gain with 19 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Bears powered to the NU 30 before middle guard Pat Engelbert trapped Needham from behind for a 2-yard loss, snuffing a potential end-around.
Baylor place-kicker Jeff Ireland tried a 49-yard field goal, but it sailed wide right to keep the game scoreless with 11:55 left in the half.
Nebraska scored eight plays later with Joseph making the big play.
On second and nine from the NU 33, he rolled left on the bootleg, escaped outside and gained 14 yards. Then the Huskers got a 15-yard bonus for a late hit when Welch shoved Joseph after he was out of bounds, moving the ball to the BU 38.
Nebraska got as far as the 20 before Joseph missed wingback Tyrone Hughes with a pass. Barrios tried a 37-yard field goal, and this time drilled it for a 3-0 lead with 8:21 left.
After a Baylor punt, Nebraska got the ball back at its 41. But on second down, BU’s Welch intercepted Joseph’s bomb to Devall at the 8.
Baylor stalled again when Tyrance sacked Needham for a 9-yard loss, giving Nebraska one more chance before halftime.
Grant returned and fired an 11-yard pass to Hughes before cranking up a 34-yard sideline bomb to Bostick, who came back for the ball and hauled it in over cornerback Malcolm Frank at the BU 3.
But Nebraska couldn’t get in the end zone.
Grant was stuffed for no gain, Soto lost 2 yards and Flowers gained 2 back, leaving time for one more play.
Osborne chose to try the field goal, and Barrios converted from 20 yards out with two seconds left for a 6-0 lead.
Barrios was short with a 48-yard field-goal try in the third quarter, keeping the lead at six and allowing Baylor a chance to go ahead with its 15-play drive at the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth.
Needham’s first pass completion of the game came with 1:57 left in the third quarter. That 15-yard floater to split end Greg Anderson got Baylor to its own 46.
Tailback Eldwin Raphel, BU’s leading rusher with 76 yards on 18 carries, contributed 16 yards in the drive.
Needham caused a gasp from the crowd on fourth and three at the NU 13 when he spun left on a naked bootleg and outran outside linebacker Mike Croel for 7 yards and a first down to the 6.
But two plays later, Tyrance pounded fullback Smith and Hill recovered the ball at the 3 to preserve the shutout with 10:15 to play.
Baylor never got into Nebraska territory again.
“This was a good game from a maturity standpoint,” Osborne said. “Our players got a lot more from playing a game like this than one where we would have won easily.”
|Yards per carry||2.4||5.1|
Nebraska is 11-1 all-time against Baylor.
|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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