Manhattan, Kan. — In the minds of many Nebraska players Saturday, Kansas State talked a good game and then forgot to play one.
"Those fellas ought to keep their mouths shut before they play us next year," defensive tackle Terry Connealy said after the second-ranked Huskers wore down the 11th-and 16th-ranked Wildcats 17-6, quieting an overflow sellout crowd of 42,817 at KSU Stadium.
In the days before the game, Kansas State players and boosters talked about an undefeated season.
They talked about going to the Orange Bowl.
They talked about breaking their 25-year losing string against Nebraska.
And they talked about how quarterback Chad May, after throwing for 489 yards on NU last year, would pick the Huskers apart again.
But Nebraska (7-0, 2-0 in the Big Eight) silenced Kansas State (4-1, 1-1) with an all-day defensive effort that limited the Wildcats to 242 total yards-105 below their average and 323 fewer than they gained last year.
"Our defense really stepped up," NU Coach Tom Osborne said. "The last two weeks, it has really played well.
"It's the kind of defense we thought we could have all along.''
Offensively, the Huskers used only about 50 percent of their repertoire in trying to protect injured quarterback Brook Berringer (partially collapsed lung) and inexperienced walk-on Matt Turman, who made his first career start and played about half the game.
But the basic power running plays Osborne selected were enough to get I-back Lawrence Phillips 117 yards in 31 carries — his seventh straight 100-yard effort. Those decisions also helped NU outgain KSU 134-5 in the fourth quarter and outscore them 10-0.
"We play the first three quarters so we can be strong in the fourth quarter," Osborne said. "It's a physical style.
"I was really glad about our fourth-quarter performance. We kept coming on as the game went along."
The Huskers said recalling all of Kansas State's bold pregame talk helped inspire them to the end.
"I was reading all week about how they were going to do this and going to do that to us," offensive tackle Zach Wiegert said. "It gave us fuel to play the way we did."
Adding to the fire, Husker Defensive Coordinator Charlie McBride said, were some Kansas State quotes about NU's pass defense.
"That put a little life in our players," he said. "They said if we play man-to-man that it will mean a lot of big plays. And the second thing was that they said they knew where our seams are and that they would pick us apart."
Nebraska did play man-to-man almost exclusively. But May's longest pass was 32 yards. And the 64.8 percent passer completed only 22 of 48 (45.8 percent) for 249 yards.
May, who had been sacked seven times in four games, hit the deck with the ball six times Saturday. He also threw his first interception in 186 passes over two seasons, including last year's Copper Bowl. Strongside linebacker Troy Dumas picked it off with 1:43 left in the first half to stop a KSU drive at the NU 21.
McBride said Nebraska dropped four to five potential interceptions last year against May. Despite a 45-28 NU victory that day, Husker fans howled about a leaky defense.
"That hurt our kids a lot," McBride said. "They were maligned over the summer and all year.
"I even heard a guy at our hotel last night say the only problem with our defense is the secondary. Well, it wasn't today."
Though proud of his defense, McBride said he couldn't have predicted the dominance it showed.
"If you had said we would hold Kansas State to six points," he said,"I don't think I would have believed you."
Osborne said he was similarly concerned before the game, especially with top quarterback Tommie Frazier (out because of blood-clot problems) standing on the sideline next to him.
"With Chad May in there and Tommie Frazier not, these teams are real close," Osborne said. "Coming down here, I wasn't sure they weren't better.
"We thought if we could get any kind of a win today that it would be great."
Nebraska showed how it intended to win on K-State's first pass attempt. Freshman outside linebacker Grant Wistrom sacked May for an 8-yard loss.
"We didn't blitz a lot," Osborne said. "But we tried to keep Chad May off balance by showing blitz and not coming all the time, and then once in a while coming on a blitz.
"Our defensive staff did a great job of mixing things up."
A stiff defense was needed because Nebraska's longest offensive series through three quarters was six plays. The Huskers, third in the country in total offense at 543.7 yards a game, finished with 262 yards Saturday.
Osborne said it wasn't easy to move the ball against the Kansas State defense, ranked sixth nationally. The Wildcats often had nine men within 2 yards of the line of scrimmage.
"They knew when Matt Turman was in that we probably weren't going to pass much," Osborne said. "And they knew when Brook Berringer was in that we weren't going to run many options.
"But I thought Brook did well as the game went along. The thing we wanted to do with him was get him through a game without his lung collapsing. The offensive line did a great job protecting him, and we also protected him by the plays we called."
Berringer, who suffered a partially collapsed lung in each of the past two games, played briefly near the end of the first half, then relieved Turman for good early in the third quarter.
The junior from Goodland, Kan., led an 11-play, 75-yard drive that ended in fullback Jeff Makovicka's 15-yard touchdown run with 11:01 left in the game. The big play before the score that put NU up 14-6 was a 17-yard burst by Phillips that was boosted 5 yards by a face-mask penalty.
After the NU defense forced Kansas State's fifth and sixth straight punts of the second half, Berringer and Makovicka did the heavy work on a game-clinching drive for a field goal.
Berringer hit wingback Abdul Muhammad with a 34-yard pass to the KSU 37. Makovicka then had runs of 15 and 12 yards to help set up Darin Erstad's 24-yard field goal with 1:32 to play. That gave Nebraska a 17-6 lead.
"They were giving a lot of attention to Lawrence Phillips," Osborne said. "So that allowed our fullbacks to hurt them in the fourth quarter."
Phillips attracted K-State's attention by carrying the ball via a handoff or swing pass on 17 of Nebraska's first 18 scrimmage plays. The only other Husker to carry the ball in the first quarter was Turman, who gained 4 yards on an option keeper.
"Lawrence Phillips is amazing," Turman said. "But a lot of credit goes to the offensive line, too. They were really opening some holes, especially as the game went on."
Phillips scored NU's first touchdown on a 2-yard run with 6:12 left in the first quarter. The drive was set up when Kansas State punter Eric Hardy booted the ball just 31 yards with a 20-mph wind at his back, and Tyrone Williams returned it 14 yards to the KSU 28.
While the Huskers struggled early on offense, Kansas State surged into NU territory on four of six first-half possessions.
But the Wildcats' lone score came on a five-play, 62-yard drive that ended when May hit split end Mitch Running with a 29-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the second quarter. When NU's Dumas blocked Martin Gramatica's extra point, the Huskers kept their 7-6 lead.
On its next possession, Kansas State had the ball for 16 plays and 6 1/2 minutes. But Gramatica missed a 37-yard field goal with 5:47 left in the half, allowing Nebraska to keep its 7-6 lead.
When Dumas intercepted May on the next drive and returned it 54 yards to the K-State 29, the Huskers got a chance to boost their lead. But Erstad missed a 35-yard field goal with a minute left to keep the score 7-6 Nebraska at halftime.
A one-point lead might not seem safe, but NU nose tackle Christian Peter said he wasn't worried.
"We knew they weren't going to score again," he said. "We had a great talk at halftime and came out fired up.
"They kept talking-too much. I don't understand who they were to talk like that. It just wasn't right."
Kansas State had little to say after going three downs and out on four of its first six possessions of the second half. The Wildcats' deepest penetration in the final 30 minutes was the NU 44-yard line.
"The defense saved us today," Husker guard Brenden Stai said. "Those guys were great. They showed that they are one of the best units in the country."
How could a defense that gave up 489 yards passing to Kansas State last year hold the same quarterback to 249 on Saturday?
"We didn't do anything different on defense," Dumas said. "To me, our attitude was the difference.
"Last year, we thought just because it was Kansas State that we were going to win. We had beaten them so many times in a row.
"This year, we didn't play that way. And it showed."
|Yards per carry||-0.3||3.4|
Nebraska is 78-15 all-time against Kansas State.
|West Virginia||Aug. 28|
|Texas Tech||Sept. 8|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 8|
|Kansas State||Oct. 15|
|Iowa State||Nov. 12|
|Miami (FL)||Jan. 1|
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