LINCOLN — It was the type of situation that could make or break a football season.
With 8 minutes, 37 seconds left in the third quarter Saturday, Nebraska gave up its third big-play touchdown to Texas Tech and fell behind by one point.
In trying to marshal a comeback in front of a hushed sellout crowd of 75,771 at Memorial Stadium, NU Coach Tom Osborne knew that:
Preseason All-America I-back Calvin Jones was on the sidelines in street clothes with an injured knee.
No. 1 quarterback Tommie Frazier was limping back onto the field with a sprained right ankle.
No. 2 quarterback Brook Berringer was nursing a sore throwing elbow.
No. 3 quarterback Tony Veland was getting treatment for a potential season-ending knee injury suffered in the second quarter.
And a wind howling out of the south at 20 to 30 mph was blowing into the Huskers’ faces.
So how did the seventh- and ninth-ranked team in the country respond?
By driving 68 yards into that wind for a go-ahead field goal, then turning two fumble recoveries into two touchdowns just three minutes later before rolling on to a 50-27 victory over the Red Raiders.
“We had to dig down and see what we were made of in the third quarter,” said NU outside linebacker Trev Alberts, who forced the first of those game-turning fumbles. “Three games from now, we might look back and see this as a really key game.
“Beating teams by 70 points every week doesn’t do us any good. This will make us a lot better down the road.”
Osborne said he hopes the 2-0 Huskers get some credit for beating 1-1 Texas Tech, considered a dark-horse contender for the Southwest Conference title.
“There are a lot of fans who understand the situation,” he told reporters after the game. “And a lot of you guys understand football.
“But I’m getting just a little bit irritable about complaints about our schedule and who we are playing. This was a GOOD football team we played today.”
Much better, Osborne said, than the 21 1/2-point line listed by oddsmakers.
“I’d have taken a two- or three-point win going into the game,” he said. “The point spread that I heard was unbelievable. I couldn’t even imagine that kind of spread.
“We thought we were in for a dogfight with the injuries we had and the team we were playing, and we got it.”
Osborne said he knew late last week that Nebraska’s task might be even more difficult than he originally had thought.
Frazier, who hit 12 of 27 passes for a career-high 206 yards and a touchdown, had little significant practice work before Thursday.
And Berringer’s elbow, which he first injured as a high school baseball pitcher, got sore again toward the end of the week, which limited his preparation.
“It got down to where it was pretty desperate out there for us,” Osborne said. “I can’t ever remember a week when we were as disjointed in terms of getting ready at quarterback.”
Frazier led Nebraska to a 10-0 lead after two possessions. Berringer came on in the third series, but lasted only three plays.
After Frazier led another TD drive, Veland came on in the second quarter. But on his third play, the sophomore out of Omaha Benson was hog-tied on an option play and spun to the ground with his right knee locked under him.
Veland suffered a torn patellar tendon near the kneecap, which might sideline him for the season.
“That was just tragic,” Osborne said. “Tony was playing very well. He really knows the offense and is a great athlete.”
Texas Tech used touchdown passes of 34 and 51 yards to rally from two 10-point deficits and close to 20-14 at halftime.
Then the Red Raiders took the lead after defensive end Damon Wickware batted away a Frazier pitchout and cornerback Donny Brooks recovered at the NU 26. Brooks’ romp to the end zone with the loose ball was called back because laterals — unlike fumbles — can’t be advanced.
But in just one play, Tech was in the end zone anyway.
Quarterback Robert Hall lobbed a screen pass to Bruce Hill that the 221-pound fullback turned into a touchdown. That put the Red Raiders up 21-20 with 8:37 left in the third quarter.
NU’s Jones said he nearly tore off his knee brace and ran to the locker room after that score.
“I wanted to come in and suit up when they went up 21-20,” he said. “But I knew the offense would come through.”
Frazier hit Jones’ replacement — redshirt freshman Damon Benning — with a 14-yard shovel pass to start the comeback drive. Benning, making his first career start, finished with 127 yards on 19 carries and touchdown runs of 45 and 2 yards.
After Frazier fired a 12-yard pass to split end Corey Dixon, who had a career-high six catches for 116 yards, Benning dragged tacklers for 22 yards to the Tech 16.
“We didn’t get worried,” Benning said. “We just stepped up our game and stayed with our style.”
At the Tech 7, Nebraska faced a fourth-and-one situation, which Osborne was ready to go for. But Frazier called time.
“Tommie was just tired,” Osborne said. “We had a play called already, but he said he was out of breath. So we had some time to think about it.”
Osborne said he had second thoughts about his gamble, so he sent Byron Bennett out to try a 29-yard field goal. The senior hit it — a career-best third field goal in one game — to put NU back up 23-21 with four minutes left in the third quarter.
“Despite what the fans think,” Osborne said, ”I’m kind of a go-for-it guy. I like to go for it on fourth down.
“But the smart play there probably was the field goal.”
After that field goal, Alberts said, Osborne had a message for the defense before it returned to the field.
“He likes to talk to us, but a lot of times he doesn’t make it over," Alberts said. “But he made a point to get to the defense this time, and he said, ‘Guys, we need a turnover.’ “
Three plays later, Alberts forced one. He stripped the quarterback, Hall, and middle linebacker Darren Williams recovered at the Red Raider 23. Alberts finished with 10 tackles, including four for losses.
Frazier produced a first down with an 18-yard pass to wingback Clester Johnson, then hit tight end Gerald Armstrong with a 5-yard touchdown pass for a 30-21 lead with 1:24 left in the third quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Tom Sieler’s sidewinding boot into the wind bounced away from Texas Tech return man Derrell Mitchell. In trying to field it, Mitchell bobbled it, which allowed NU cornerback Tyrone Williams to recover it at the Tech 5.
Benning scored from the 2 to cap the Huskers’ 16-point burst in four minutes.
“If not for that fumble recovery at the 5,” Osborne said, ”we’d have been in the soup for the rest of the day. I think it would have gone down to a last series and a last set of downs.
“But we kind of got it broke open.”
Touchdown runs of 30 yards each by backup I-backs Lawrence Phillips and Jeff Makovicka in the final five minutes helped make the game look more lopsided than it was. Another I-back, Clinton Childs, had an 81-yard run called back because of holding in the final seconds.
The Huskers might have made the game lopsided early if not for nine first-half penalties for 86 yards called by the officiating crew from the Southwest Conference.
Among the costliest were a holding call in the first quarter that nullified a 60-yard gain on a shovel pass from Frazier to Benning and a roughing-the-kicker penalty that bailed Texas Tech out of a fourth-and-18 hole on the way to its second touchdown.
“We had some really critical calls that hurt,” Osborne said. “We’re not in any way blaming the officials. But there were some penalties that kept us from putting the game in pretty good shape the first half.”
Nebraska outgained Texas Tech 534 yards to 323.
By adding 217 yards passing to the Sept. 4 effort of 215 yards against North Texas, the Huskers put together their first back-to-back 200-yard passing days since 1976 when Vince Ferragamo was the quarterback.
But Osborne said the passing total should have been higher.
“The way they were playing us, we had to throw the ball,” he said. “They had eight people at the line of scrimmage.
“That 217 yards should have been 317. We either dropped balls or missed some people we normally don’t miss.’’
Frazier twice overthrew tight end Trumane Bell on deep routes that would have been easy touchdowns.
“Frazier just didn’t have his rhythm,” Osborne said. “It got better as the game went on, but he showed the effects of not having practiced much.”
Nebraska will need to practice better this week, Osborne said, to be ready for Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. CDT game against UCLA at the Rose Bowl. The 0-1 Bruins, who lost 27-25 to California Sept. 4, were idle Saturday.
Said Osborne: “I just told the players — and I mean it — that we’ll probably have to play better next week to get the job done.
“UCLA recruits well every year, and like the last time we played them they’ll have two weeks to get ready. And they’ll be ready-I promise you.”
|Yards per carry||4.0||5.4|
Nebraska is 7-4 all-time against Texas Tech.
|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|
Nebraska has played 9 games on Sept. 11. See them all »
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