LINCOLN — The scoreboard Saturday showed that Nebraska defeated Kansas State 45-28.
But you wouldn’t have guessed it from the quiet in the Husker locker room. Or the unsmiling faces in the interview room. Or the uncomfortable hum from the crowd of 75,721 at Memorial Stadium.
Or the statistics sheet.
The Wildcats, No. 24 in the USA Today-CNN Top 25, gained 565 yards against the fifth- and sixth-ranked Huskers — the second most against Tom Osborne in his 21 years as NU head coach and the fifth-highest total against NU in its 104-year history.
They threw for 489 yards — the second-best total in Big Eight history — as junior quarterback Chad May completed 30 of 51 passes, including touchdown tosses of 70 and 58 yards.
May’s 489 yards broke the Big Eight individual passing record of 480 yards set in 1985 by Kansas’ Mike Norseth and equaled last year by Missouri’s Jeff Handy. Kansas holds the single-game team record with 498 against Vanderbilt in 1985.
May, a transfer from Cal State Fullerton, rallied Kansas State from a 17-point halftime deficit to close to 31-28 with 7:44 left in the game.
But K-State, 5-1 overall and 1-1 in the Big Eight, committed three turnovers to none for Nebraska, 6-0 and 2-0.
The first, a fumble recovered by linebacker Ed Stewart at the KSU 21, led to NU’s first touchdown. The second, an interception by cornerback Tyrone Williams at the NU 4, stopped what looked like a sure touchdown drive. The third, an interception by linebacker Ernie Beler in the final two minutes, ended the Wildcats’ upset hopes.
“That’s probably the best thing we did was go plus-three in turnovers, “ Osborne said. “If it hadn’t been for that, I’m not sure we would have won.
“I’m a little disappointed in some things. But I’m pleased we had enough in us to win. Sometimes that’s all you can do is just win.”
But Nebraska wanted more.
After three comeback victories in the past four games, the Huskers were looking for 60 minutes of polished football to prove their worth.
Instead, they needed the following heroics to nail down a 25th straight victory in this series:
Williams’ interception on a K-State trick play in the second quarter.
Quarterback Tommie Frazier’s career-high 312 total yards, including a career-high 158 yards rushing.
Wingback Abdul Muhammad’s career highs in receptions (six) and yards (91), including three catches in a drive that set up Byron Bennett’s career-long field goal of 48 yards.
Fullback Cory Schlesinger’s 13-yard touchdown run with 5:25 to play.
A goal-line stand with 3:04 to play.
Having to scuffle to the end produced some unsettled looks among the Huskers after the game.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a panic situation. We are 6-0, “ said I-back Calvin Jones, who ran for 138 yards and two touchdowns. “But there is still room for improvement, without a doubt.
“We’re not quite where we’re supposed to be yet. The coaching staff will have us working on improvement. Hopefully it will start showing up a lot better than it has been.”
Osborne, who questioned early last week how good his team is, said Kansas State Coach Bill Snyder had the same questions about the Wildcats before the game.
“I hope today he feels like he’s a pretty good team, “ Osborne said. “Because if they’re not a good team, we’re in big trouble.”
Osborne said Saturday’s game reminded him of a contest two years ago when Kansas State got a 340-yard passing day from quarterback Paul Watson to take Nebraska into the final 30 seconds before succumbing 38-31.
“It seems like every time we play these guys, their quarterback plays out of his head, or maybe he’s that good all the time, “ Osborne said. “But it’s hard for me to believe that this same team only scored 10 points on Kansas last week.
“I didn’t see the guy throw the ball like that before.”
Nebraska will see a guy who has thrown like that this week when it plays Missouri. Tigers quarterback Jeff Handy passed for 424 yards against the Huskers last year.
“Missouri will see this film, “ NU outside linebacker Trev Alberts said, “and lick its chops.”
Kansas State fans were drooling with delight Saturday as the Wildcats rallied from a 31-14 halftime deficit with touchdown drives of 74 yards in the third quarter and 80 yards early in the fourth quarter.
Tailback J.J. Smith, who ran for 102 yards and had a 70-yard touchdown catch among his three scores, capped the first with a 1-yard run.
Flanker Kevin Lockett’s 58-yard reception of May’s bomb finished the second and brought K-State back to 31-28 with 7:44 to play.
NU’s Frazier, who limped off early in the fourth quarter after re-spraining his right ankle, came back to lead a 76-yard drive. Schlesinger’s 13-yard run put Nebraska ahead 38-28 with 5:25 to go.
Kansas State responded by driving to the NU 4 where on fourth and goal Husker free safety Troy Dumas stopped Smith at the 2 with 3:04 to play.
After forcing NU to punt, Kansas State started at the Husker 46. But Beler’s interception with 1:35 left ended K-State’s hopes. I-back Lawrence Phillips capped the scoring three plays later with a 46-yard touchdown run.
Should Kansas State have kicked a field goal on fourth and goal from the 4, then tried an onside kick since it needed to score twice to win?
“I’d be the last guy to second-guess Bill Snyder, “ Osborne said. “After he comes in and does what he did today, I’d better write him for suggestions.”
If not for a strange twist of events in the final 10 minutes of the second quarter, Nebraska might have been the team trying to rally in the fourth quarter.
Nebraska, leading 21-14 early in the second quarter, appeared stopped at its 14 when a third-and-22 running play gained only 2 yards.
But Kansas State linebacker Kirby Hocutt punched Nebraska offensive tackle Lance Lundberg in the head after Lundberg blocked him to the ground.
“He must have thought it was after the whistle or something, “ Lundberg said. “But he came up swinging.”
The officials came up with a personal foul, and because it was a dead-ball violation, NU got an automatic first down.
And 12 running plays later, Frazier scored from the 2 for a 28-14 lead. All of which made Lundberg glad he didn’t retaliate.
“Your first thought is to react aggressively, “ the senior co-captain said. “But Coach Osborne has a real strict policy against fighting.
“That’s the reason you don’t fight back. It kept a drive alive, and we got something positive out of it.”
Kansas State romped right back, using passes of 12, 18 and 47 yards — the last one to split end Andre Coleman — to reach the Nebraska 3.
But after a 1-yard loss, a trick play blew up on the Wildcats.
May handed off to Smith, who rolled right, stopped and tried to throw back to May. But Williams, NU’s sophomore cornerback, intercepted at the 4 and returned it 15 yards with 45 seconds left in the half.
“When the quarterback took off, I knew something was up, “ Williams said, “Then I saw the I-back’s arm go up, so I just went to the flat and waited.”
Nebraska wasn’t done. Frazier hit Muhammad with passes of 15, 14 and 19 yards to the KSU 31. From there, Bennett kicked a 48-yard field goal on the final play of the half to give Nebraska a 31-14 lead.
Osborne again might have to scramble for answers this week about how good his team is.
The Huskers gained 545 yards — their second-highest total of the year — against a Kansas State defense ranked 23rd nationally. But after rolling into halftime with momentum, they gained one first down in the third quarter.
The NU defense, ranked 13th nationally with a 286.6-yard average, allowed 158 yards in the first quarter, 100 in the second, 160 in the third and 147 in the fourth.
“Defensively, we’re a little hard to figure, “ Osborne said. “I thought the thing we had been doing pretty well the last couple of weeks was play pass defense.
“We didn’t do very well today. We had some busts where we gave up huge plays.”
Lundberg said the Huskers are also wondering when a complete game will come.
“The older guys know it’s time to put it together and play a complete game, “ he said. “I know we haven’t played one yet, but each time we get closer.
“We are 6-0. There’s no way you can frown over that. We just have to keep fine-tuning.”
|Yards per carry||2.5||6.9|
Nebraska is 78-15 all-time against Kansas State.
|North Texas||Sept. 4|
|Texas Tech||Sept. 11|
|Colorado State||Sept. 25|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 7|
|Kansas State||Oct. 16|
|Iowa State||Nov. 13|
|Florida State||Jan. 1|
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