LINCOLN — What was supposed to have been the game of the year in the Big Eight Conference wasn't even the game of the day.
Nebraska drained the drama from a matchup of undefeated and second-and third-ranked teams by scoring on four of its first six possessions and holding Colorado's 40-point-a-game offense to one touchdown in a 24-7 beating of the Buffaloes.
"They found a way to make us look like idiots," CU defensive tackle Darius Holland said. "They kicked us."
Part of the 76,131 fans making up the 200th straight sellout crowd at Memorial Stadium didn't seem to mind that the game lacked a heart-pounding finish. They ripped down both goalposts anyway, for the eighth time in stadium history.
Perhaps it was to celebrate NU's first win over a higher-ranked opponent since beating Louisiana State in the Sugar Bowl after the 1986 season. Or maybe it was to express happiness over breaking a 12-game losing string covering seven seasons against Top 5 opponents.
Or could it have been in anticipation of a move to No. 1 when this week's polls are released today?
Any comment on that, defensive end Donta Jones?
"I know we've got a lot more believers now," said NU's ABC player of the game, who had seven tackles and a sack. "In my mind, considering the way we played, we deserve to be No. 1."
How about you, quarterback Brook Berringer?
"It doesn't seem like anything we've done so far has impressed anyone," said the junior, who in just his fourth career start completed 12 of 17 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown. "But this was a big game, and we played so well. So it should help us."
Husker Coach Tom Osborne declined to get into the poll politicking, even though seven Associated Press voters covered the game.
"But this was a big step," he said. "We've got a chance to get some things done."
Winning a fourth straight Big Eight championship by beating Kansas this week, Iowa State Nov. 12 and Oklahoma Nov. 25.
Gaining the league's automatic bid to the Orange Bowl.
Putting itself in position to win the school's third national championship ever and the first under Osborne in 22 years.
Nebraska's 17-0 lead at halftime that grew to 24-0 five minutes into the third quarter might have shocked people around the country. Las Vegas oddsmakers had listed the Huskers as an underdog at home-by 1 point-for only the sixth time in Osborne's tenure.
But Osborne said he wasn't surprised by the result.
"I really felt like more of an underdog when we went to Kansas State because of our injury situation with the quarterbacks," he said. "Today, I felt if we played well that we would win."
That doesn't mean Osborne thought the crunching of Colorado would come easily.
"We put in quite a bit of new stuff," he said. "Some we had worked on for a couple of weeks. Some we put in on Monday.
"We thought we had to change up some. They have good people. We didn't want to come in with a pat hand."
Without offering specifics, Osborne said the new looks on defense involved two new blitzes and some subtle adjustments in alignment.
Whatever they were, they worked for NU (9-0, 4-0) against CU (7-1, 3-1).
Colorado, averaging 502.9 yards a game on offense, gained only 89 in the first half and 314 overall. The Buffaloes' 7 points were 33 below their average.
"The defense played great," Osborne said. "The defensive staff did a great job of coming up with some things that gave them different pictures."
One CU player who never appeared to get the picture was quarterback Kordell Stewart. The senior, ranked 10th nationally in total offense, rushed for just 24 yards and completed only 12 of 28 passes for 150 yards.
"I think he was scared all day, '' NU middle linebacker Phil Ellis said. "He was looking around a lot, and he didn't like what he saw.
"For three years, he hasn't done anything against us. This year, he was talking about how it was going to be different. We took that personally."
In three games against Nebraska-all losses-Stewart has rushed for 7 yards and completed 23 of 64 passes (35.9 percent) for 282 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions.
Colorado tailback Rashaan Salaam, the nation's leading rusher with a 179.4-yard average, ran 22 times for 134 yards and a 6-yard touchdown late in the third quarter.
But the junior had just 38 yards in the first half, and no run in the first 30 minutes of longer than 9 yards.
Nebraska put the squeeze on Stewart and Salaam when it needed to.
With 8 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter and NU leading 24-0, Colorado got to the NU 35.
But Salaam was stopped for no gain, Stewart missed two straight passes, then NU defensive tackle Terry Connealy sacked Stewart to end the drive.
On the next possession, CU moved 68 yards to the NU 24. But Salaam gained just 3 yards on back-to-back carries, then Connealy nailed Stewart for a 3-yard loss on an option play to preserve the shutout with 4:07 left in the third quarter.
"I got lucky on the option play," Connealy said. "They ran it away from me and nobody cut me off. When Kordell cut back, he ran right into me."
After Berringer threw an interception three plays later, Colorado finally scored on a 36-yard drive capped by Salaam's 6-yard run with 1:02 to go in the third quarter.
But in four possessions in the fourth quarter, Colorado got into Nebraska territory only once and never past the 42-yard line.
"The second half, after we went three downs and out on offense about three times when we didn't want to, the defense did a tremendous job," Osborne said. "The defense was the most consistent factor in the game."
The Nebraska offense matched the good play of the defense for the first 35 minutes.
The Huskers powered their way into Colorado territory on their first six possessions and scored four times.
Osborne said a lot of the credit goes to Berringer, full speed for the first time in a month since suffering a partially collapsed lung.
"Brook was great," the coach said. "It was just like he was going out for a scrimmage. He didn't show any wear and tear.
"You'd think a guy in that situation might. Kansas State was a big game, but he didn't start that one. So this was the biggest game he had ever been involved in, and he responded very well."
An eight-play, 51-yard drive that chewed up 4:10 of the clock produced the first touchdown. The Huskers overcame an illegal procedure penalty at the CU 20 when Berringer ran 11 yards on an option and Cory Schlesinger zipped 14 yards on a fullback trap for the touchdown. Tom Sieler's extra-point kick put NU up 7-0 with 5:47 left in the first quarter.
Colorado gained its initial first down with a minute left in the first quarter. But the Buffaloes were stopped at their 35.
Nebraska responded with a 10-play, 54-yard drive in 5:59 for a field goal. Schlesinger's 29-yard burst opened the march, and I-back Lawrence Phillips added a 14-yard run. Phillips' streak of eight straight 100-yard games was broken when he was charged with failing to field a pitchout in the fourth quarter. That 17-yard loss dropped him back to 86 yards in 25 carries.
After Phillips' 14-yard gain, the Huskers got to third-and-goal at the 1. But Berringer lost 5 yards on an option keeper. That led to Sieler's 24-yard field goal and a 10-0 NU lead with 9:01 left in the half.
Colorado bounced back with its only first-half drive into Husker territory, using eight straight running plays to the get to the NU 28. But the drive stalled at the 25, and Neal Voskeritichian was short with a 43-yard field goal into the wind.
Nebraska used its passing game to score just before halftime. Berringer completed passes of 15 yards to tight end Eric Alford, 15 and 16 yards to tight end Mark Gilman and 12 yards to wingback Abdul Muhammad to set up I-back Clinton Childs' 2-yard touchdown run. That nine-play, 73-yard drive in 3:58 gave the Huskers a 17-0 lead with 36 seconds to go in the half.
"That took the life out of them," said Alford, whose five catches matched his total from the season's first eight games. "A 10-0 lead is pretty good. But they would think they could go touchdown, touchdown and take the lead.
"But 17-0 makes a big difference. They knew they had to score three times to beat us. And that wasn't going to happen against our defense."
Alford and Gilman benefited from four new plays installed for the tight ends. They combined for nine catches for 124 yards.
Osborne also praised Nebraska's kicking game for keeping Colorado in a hole most of the game.
Other than the drive started in NU territory after an interception, Colorado started its possessions at its 3, 25, 16, 20, 20, 28, 11, 8, 16, 7, 21 and 10.
"The kicking game was tremendous in our favor," Osborne said. "We would estimate that was worth 10 to 14 points today.
"When you start with a long field against a good defense and nobody makes a major mistake, it's tough to move the ball."
Playing well on defense, offense and in special teams left several of the Huskers excited about what's to come the rest of the season.
"Just wait until this team clicks on all cylinders," Alford said. "No team will be able to play with us. The only people who will be able to stop us will be ourselves."
|Yards per carry||4.2||3.8|
Nebraska is 49-19 all-time against Colorado.
|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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