LINCOLN — Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne’s halftime speech Saturday was short but far from sweet.
Down by four points to 51 1/2-point underdog Oregon State, Osborne informed his undefeated and sixth- and eighth-ranked team that it was about to make the kind of history no Husker would want to remember.
“I told them that they were on the verge of maybe the biggest embarrassment this school had ever had,” he said, “and maybe the upset of the year if they didn’t get with it.”
The Huskers finally did get with it in the second half, rolling to four touchdowns and 377 yards to rally for a 31-7 victory over the 0-5 Beavers before an often numb crowd of 76,061 at Memorial Stadium.
“Certainly if there ever was a team that was going to play flat, this would be it,” Osborne said. “We didn’t have anything to give us an idea we were going to be in a game.”
Oregon State had lost 22-15 to Division I-AA Montana after trailing 22-0: to Big Eight doormat Kansas 38-12: to Nevada-Las Vegas 45-20 after fumbling the ball away on six straight possessions: and to Stanford 37-3.
Adding to the lack of motivation for Nebraska was a point spread that started at 50 and grew to 51 1/2, plus comments from Oregon State’s own coaches and players that “we aren’t very good.”
“It was a touchy situation,” NU linebacker Pat Tyrance said. “It was so easy to go into the game thinking we could blow these guys away without putting forth any effort at all.
“Meanwhile, these guys are back in wherever their campus is reading all this stuff and getting fired up. And it showed in the first half. Those guys came ready to play.”
Oregon State took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, held Nebraska at the 5-yard line to force a field goal late in the quarter and limited the Huskers to two first downs in their first five possessions to take a 7-3 halftime lead.
But I-back Leodis Flowers, who gained a career-high 151 yards in 16 carries, popped a 66-yard run on the first series of the third quarter to set up I-back Scott Baldwin’s 1-yard run for a 10-7 NU lead.
Then the Huskers added three fourth-quarter touchdowns — on quarterback Mike Grant’s 24-yard pass to wingback Tyrone Hughes, Flowers’ 3-yard run and Baldwin’s 3-yard run — to pull away.
“Well, so much for 51-point spreads,” Osborne said. “It certainly wasn’t a masterpiece.
“About all I can say is we won and we got better as the game went along.”
Last week’s 56-0 pounding of Minnesota might have led some Huskers to believe there wasn’t much room for improvement.
“We’ll learn from this,” Tyrance said. “After the Minnesota game, we got to thinking we were really good and maybe unstoppable.
“Then to have Oregon State drive the ball on us to score seven, well ... there were some guys on ‘D’ whose eyes got real big. This just proves you have to play week in and week out.”
The defense limited Oregon State to 133 total yards, and has given up just 21 points in four games, the best start since the 1939 unit allowed only 14.
But the NU offense struggled in the first half to just 131 yards, going without a first-half TD for the second time in four games.
Osborne said four things contributed to Nebraska’s problems.
The first was that Oregon State modified its 3-4 defense into a five-man front with several line stunts and twists.
“It wasn’t anything exciting or unusual,” he said. “But they had one linebacker up on the line of scrimmage and one linebacker deep, almost like an extra defensive back, trying to use him on the option.”
Osborne said the coaches knew by the second quarter what to run against the OSU defense.
“But it wasn’t until late in the second quarter that we had it all translated to the players,” he said. “At half, we made sure of what we wanted to do, and then we did a pretty good job of taking it to them.”
Problem No. 2 was that Grant (knee), Flowers (knee), Baldwin (turf toe) and wingback Nate Turner (broken collarbone) were seeing their first extensive action since suffering injuries. Also, tight end William Washington, an excellent blocker, missed the game to attend his grandfather’s funeral.
“We really had some guys feeling their way along for the first time,” Osborne said. “Mike Grant wasn’t really into the flow. He did get into it the second half.
“Scott Baldwin was still banged up. And Nate Turner wasn’t real sharp. He did OK, but he showed the effects of not having played.”
The third and fourth reasons for NU’s struggles, Osborne said, were that Oregon State played its best game of the season and Nebraska didn’t.
“I don’t fault the effort,” he said. “Everybody was trying. I just don’t think we did a good job.”
At the start, it took Oregon State just three plays to do something Minnesota failed to do in a whole game last week — reach Husker territory.
Quarterback Matt Booher’s 15-yard completion to flanker Maurice Wilson 38 seconds into the game pushed the Beavers to the NU 49. They continued to the 39 before having to punt.
Both sides went three downs and out on their next possessions, but Oregon State got a bonus on its punt. Nebraska safety Steve Carmer fumbled it and wide receiver Kenyan Branscomb recovered at the NU 18.
The Huskers were penalized 5 yards for a face-mask penalty on the next play, leaving the Beavers just 12 yards to cover, which they did in three plays.
Booher rolled left and found tailback Dwayne Owens with a 4-yard touchdown pass in front of cornerback Tahaun Lewis. Jamie Burke added the extra point to give Oregon State a 7-0 lead with 7:35 left in the first quarter.
NU and OSU swapped punts again before the Huskers got their initial first down 11 minutes into the game. Fullback Omar Soto popped out of a pile and scampered 43 yards to the Oregon State 22. Soto finished with a career-high 95 yards in 10 carries.
“We went out there,” Osborne said,”and when it wasn’t quick and easy, we got a little out of kilter.
“It was like, ‘Hey, what’s happening? We’re not moving the ball.’”
After Soto’s run, the Huskers caught a bad break when Grant, rolling left on the option, took a shot on his sore left knee after a 2-yard gain. Grant limped off, forcing backup Mickey Joseph in with no warmup time.
On third and four from the 5-yard line, Joseph rolled right with tight end Chris Garrett open in the end zone. But Joseph fired the ball into the ground at Garrett’s feet. So Gregg Barrios came on to kick a 22-yard field goal and cut Oregon State’s lead to 7-3 with two minutes to go in the first quarter.
Garrett later left the game with a broken ankle and will undergo surgery today.
Split end Jon Bostick tried to jump-start the NU offense with a 26-yard punt return early in the second quarter to the Oregon State 37.
But the offense shuffled off the field four plays later without a first down.
Baldwin ran for 4 yards, Joseph for 2 and Baldwin for 3 to set up fourth and one at the OSU 28. The 200-pound Baldwin slammed up the middle again, but 239-pound Oregon State linebacker Eric Davis slammed him back for no gain.
In the final two minutes of the first half, Nebraska made four first downs against the Beavers’ prevent defense. But the Huskers stalled at the OSU 32 with one second to go. Barrios tried a 49-yard field goal into an 8-mph northeast wind, but it fell short, sending the Beavers sprinting to the locker room leading 7-3.
But Nebraska came sprinting back out after Osborne’s lecture.
Flowers’ 66-yard run up the middle on the second play set up Baldwin’s first touchdown and gave NU its first lead — 10-7 — with 14:12 left in the third quarter.
Flowers lost a fumble at the OSU 21 on the next series to stop a Husker drive, but Grant capped the next NU series with a 24-yard touchdown pass to Hughes for a 17-7 lead with 13:55 left in the game.
That was Nebraska’s first pass of the second half after 23 straight running plays.
Grant lost another fumble on the next series at the Oregon State 27, but defensive tackle Kenny Walker’s third sack of Booher stopped any Beaver comeback hopes.
Flowers and Baldwin added 3-yard TD runs to complete the scoring.
“I told the guys just before the game,” Osborne said,”that I had a feeling this was going to be a really tough and physical game, so don’t be surprised.
“But my saying that didn’t mean anything. We still had to go play.”
Several Oregon players said Nebraska’s Kenny Walker, No. 57, was the story of the day...Walker, who forced quarterback Matt Booher to throw an incompletion on this play, finished with three quarterback sacks, five tackles for losses, two pass deflections and seven total tackles.
|Yards per carry||0.9||6.7|
Nebraska is 9-2 all-time against Oregon 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 15 games on Sept. 29. See them all »
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