LINCOLN — For only the fifth time in Tom Osborne’s 20 years as head coach, Nebraska won a football game Saturday while being outyarded.
The 15th-ranked Huskers were outgained in every quarter by unranked Arizona State — 514 yards total to 369 — but they never trailed during a 45-24 victory.
The 514 yards were the second-most ever against an Osborne-coached team. The only bigger total was Washington’s 618 last year.
“This game was a lot closer than the points are going to say,” said Husker fullback Lance Lewis, whose 50-yard touchdown run with 2:28 left finally sent the Memorial Stadium crowd of 76,138 to the exits.
Nebraska appeared to have the game broken open early in the third quarter.
A touchdown with 2:08 left in the first half and two more in the first 1:05 of the second half put NU ahead 38-10.
“I thought we were sitting real pretty,” Lewis said. “We were going to get some younger guys playing time.
“Then they started racking up the yards, so I strapped my helmet back on and said, ‘I guess this is going to be a four-quarter deal.’ “
Third-quarter touchdown drives of 59 and 80 yards got Arizona State back to 38-24.
The Sun Devils stormed into NU territory again early in the fourth quarter, overcoming a 15-yard chop-block penalty to get to the 23. On fourth-and-two from there, an ineligible receiver penalty nullified a 9-yard gain. That was one of 12 ASU penalties for 92 yards compared to six for 27 for Nebraska.
On fourth down again, outside linebacker Travis Hill nailed backup quarterback Grady Benton from behind to halt the drive with 7:49 to play and give NU some breathing room.
Most of Defensive Coordinator Charlie McBride’s breath came from sighs.
“I’m discouraged,” he said. “When somebody gets 500 yards on you, you’re in trouble.”
Osborne wasn’t exactly delighted.
“We were hanging on in the last quarter and a half, and I don’t like that feeling,” he said. “I don’t like to play football like that.”
But Osborne said there were extenuating circumstances in light of last Saturday’s 29-14 loss to No. 2 Washington.
“I wasn’t sure how it would work out today because of last week,” he said. “Our players put out a tremendous amount for that game emotionally.
“I was afraid we wouldn’t have quite the same reservoir of energy and enthusiasm we needed to win the game.
“And this is a pretty good football team we played today.”
The 1-2 Sun Devils outgained Nebraska 80 yards to 57 in the first quarter, 137-116 in the second, 170-108 in the third and 127-88 in the fourth.
The only other times Nebraska has been outgained and won under Osborne were:
42-33 over UCLA in 1987 (334 yards to 361).
34-24 over Oklahoma State in 1985 (417-420).
22-14 over Oklahoma State in 1978 (316-323).
31-24 over Alabama in 1977 (417-430).
Overall when being outgained, Nebraska is 5-30-1 under Osborne.
So how did the 3-1 Huskers overcome Saturday’s 145-yard deficit?
“We were able to make some big plays, get some turnovers and get some field position, which we didn’t have last week,” Osborne said.
Three of the biggest plays came from little-known names — wingback David Seizys, split end Corey Dixon and defensive tackle Bruce Moore.
Seizys, a junior walk-on from Seward, recovered a fumbled punt at the ASU 9-yard line with 2:13 left in the first half.
One play later, I-back Derek Brown scored to put NU up 24-10.
Dixon, a junior from Dallas, opened the second half with a 50-yard kickoff return to midfield.
Four plays later, I-back Calvin Jones gained 24 of his 111 yards on a touchdown run for a 31-10 Husker lead.
Then Moore, a junior from York making his first start, stunned the Sun Devils by intercepting a swing pass and romping 54 yards for a touchdown and a 38-10 lead.
“That was probably our biggest play of the day defensively,” McBride said. “We needed something like that.”
It also fit perfectly in NU’s third-quarter game plan.
“What we wanted to do in the second half,” Jones said, ”was come right down and score and take the momentum away.
“We scored. But they did, too. So the momentum didn’t shift.”
ASU rallied behind sophomore tailback Mario Bates.
The country’s No. 2 rusher capped two third-quarter drives with touchdown runs of 6 and 9 yards. Bates, averaging 161.5 yards a game, finished with 118 yards in 23 carries and had a 32-yard run nullified by a penalty.
But the Huskers hung on from there with a ball-control offense that took no chances. Nebraska threw just three passes in its final four possessions.
“If our defense had been stuffing them,” Osborne said, ”we would have been able to open up a little.
“But with the lead we had, we could see no need to do anything crazy.”
Quarterback Mike Grant finished 6 of 14 passing for 50 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He ran 10 times for 28 yards and one touchdown.
Both Arizona State quarterbacks surpassed Grant in total offense by more than 50 yards.
Freshman Garrick McGee, making his first collegiate appearance, hit 8 of 14 passes for 124 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He ran for 3 yards.
Benton, the sophomore backup who entered in the third quarter, completed 11 of 14 passes for 139 yards and one interception. He also ran seven times for 53 yards.
Though Grant’s statistics didn’t match his counterparts’, he earned Osborne’s praise.
“Mike did a real good job of doing what we asked him to do,” the coach said. “He really took care of the ball.”
That’s something Arizona State didn’t do. Sun Devil turnovers at the beginning and the end of the first half gave Nebraska a 14-point cushion at halftime.
On the game’s first play, McGee’s pass over the middle was tipped by NU free safety Troy Dumas and intercepted by inside linebacker Ed Stewart at the ASU 38.
Six running plays later, Nebraska led 7-0.
On third-and-goal at the 5, Grant optioned left, pivoted 360 degrees around cornerback Lenny McGill and scored.
Nebraska forced a punt after three plays and struck again quickly from midfield.
Grant broke an option for 20 yards. Then ASU allowed one more first down before the defense stiffened. So Byron Bennett kicked a 37-yard field goal to put NU ahead 10-0 with 7:21 left in the first quarter.
Despite the fast start on defense, McBride said, he noticed early problems.
Some stemmed from free safety Tyrone Byrd’s absence. The senior with 32 consecutive starts missed the game with a hamstring pull. He is the defensive quarterback.
“We had a lot — and I mean a lot — of mental mistakes,” McBride said. “We had physical ones, too.
“But we didn’t have our edge. We were sloppy. We busted coverages. Mentally, it’s probably the worst game we’ve had as far as mistakes since I’ve been here.”
The Sun Devils threw the ball to close to 10-7 early in the second quarter.
McGee’s passes of 32 yards to flanker Kevin Snyder and 12 yards to fullback George Montgomery moved ASU to the NU 19. Two plays later, tight end Brian Ryder — open at the goal line — flagged McGee’s wayward pass with one hand, tipped it up and grabbed it falling into the end zone. That capped an 80-yard drive in nine plays.
Nebraska responded with a 12-play, 79-yard drive for a touchdown.
Grant capped it with a 7-yard pass to tight end Gerald Armstrong that put NU ahead 17-7 with 8:34 left in the half.
Arizona State drove 72 yards from its own 8 on its next possession, but stalled. So Mike Richey kicked a 37-yard field goal to close the gap to 17-10 with 3:19 to go.
Jones said Arizona State’s success didn’t cause fear on the NU sidelines.
“Just because they were running up and down the field,” he said, ”didn’t mean they were going to win.”
The Sun Devils stopped Nebraska at midfield and appeared ready to get the ball back with about two minutes left in the half.
But free safety Adam Brass muffed Mike Stigge’s punt at his own 10 and Seizys recovered for the Huskers at the 9.
On the next play, Brown zipped left for a touchdown that put Nebraska ahead 24-10 with 2:08 to go.
ASU still wouldn’t quit.
On first-and-10 at the Sun Devils’ 48, Bates blew up the middle for 32 yards to the NU 20. But an illegal motion penalty — which brought screams of protest from the ASU sideline — nullified the play.
Two plays later, Bates fumbled. McGee appeared to scoop the ball up and bounced out of the pile with it, but officials awarded Nebraska the ball at the Husker 47 with 29 seconds left.
“I thought I recovered it,” NU inside linebacker Darren Williams said. “At the last minute, he snatched it away. That was kind of a break.”
As the teams left the field at halftime, ASU Coach Bruce Snyder raced out to the west hashmarks to talk to referee Steve Usechek and umpire Robert Holliday.
Though the Sun Devils never got closer than 14 points in the second half, the Huskers never got comfortable.
“We were comfortable early,” linebacker Ed Stewart said. “Then they started moving the ball and we started wondering what was going on.”
Stewart said the quiet in the NU interview room after the game didn’t mean the Huskers weren’t happy.
“You’re always happy to win,” he said. “But we’re always striving to play our best.
“The guys realize we didn’t play our best. We never want to get satisfied.”
|Yards per carry||4.7||5.9|
Nebraska is 6-2 all-time against Arizona State.
|Middle Tennessee State||Sept. 12|
|Arizona State||Sept. 26|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 10|
|Iowa State||Nov. 14|
|Kansas State||Dec. 5|
|Florida State||Jan. 1|
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