AMES, Iowa — One team entered Cyclone Stadium Saturday without a win. The other came in without a loss.
But deep into top-ranked Nebraska's 28-12 victory over Iowa State, it wasn't always clear which team was which.
The Cyclones (0-9-1 overall, 0-5-1 in the Big Eight) closed to within one point late in the second quarter, were within two points entering the fourth quarter and had a touchdown called back with 9 1/2 minutes left in the game before succumbing in front of 45,186 fans.
"I told our players this morning that we would have to go four quarters," Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne said, "and that Iowa State would play as well as they possibly could."
Did the Huskers believe him?
"Sure," cornerback Barron Miles said. "Especially since they upset us over here two years ago. Why wouldn't Iowa State think it could do it again?"
That was exactly what the Cyclones said they were thinking. They wanted to repeat the 19-10 decision over Nebraska that was the shocker of the 1992 season.
"Our guys love to play Nebraska," said ISU Co-Defensive Coordinator Jimmy Burrow, who played at NU 20 years ago. "It's the darnedest thing I've ever seen.
"You wouldn't think that would be a normal reaction. But they couldn't wait to play this game."
Eight players from the state of Nebraska started for Iowa State Saturday. Linebacker Matt Nitchie of Lincoln Southeast had 18 tackles. Linebacker Michael Cooper of Omaha Westside had 12. Place-kicker Ty Stewart of Westside kicked first-half field goals of 35 and 37 yards into a 20-mph wind.
And then there was quarterback Todd Doxzon of Millard North. He threw for 151 yards, including a 58-yard touchdown to Calvin Branch that cut Nebraska's lead to 14-12 with 3:42 left in the third quarter.
NU Defensive Coordinator Charlie McBride said the Cyclones have a lot of players from Nebraska who wanted to upset the Huskers.
"Those guys have a lot of pride and are good players," McBride said.
"And Jim Walden really had them cranked."
Walden, Iowa State's eight-year head coach, was making his final appearance with the Cyclones. He resigned under pressure last week, then learned Thursday that he has been suspended from this week's finale at Colorado for criticizing officials.
"I figured we would see a very emotional situation," Osborne said. "They gave us a great ballgame. This was their bowl game.
"But we never lost our poise. You could panic. But I don't think anybody ever did."
Nebraska (11-0, 6-0) kept people away from the panic button and claimed at least a share of a fourth straight Big Eight championship by cranking up its running game in the fourth quarter.
The Huskers, first nationally in rushing, had only 106 yards on the ground after three quarters against an Iowa State defense ranked 105th against the run.
"We did most of the same things we had been doing all year," Burrow said. "We just did them better. Execution was the key for us."
But in the fourth quarter, the ISU defense finally split open.
Husker I-back Lawrence Phillips, in search of an 11th straight 100-yard game, used a different brand of shoes to get untracked.
After slipping and sliding to just 63 yards in 27 carries through three quarters, Phillips borrowed reserve offensive lineman Bryan Pruitt's shoes and bolted for 120 of his 183 yards in the final nine minutes. Among those nine later carries was a 21-yard run with 1:25 left in the game.
Backup I-back Damon Benning added a 6-yard touchdown run with 12:09 left, set up by quarterback Brook Berringer's 28-yard option run. That touchdown put Nebraska ahead 21-12, but it didn't stop Iowa State from one final comeback try.
Doxzon hit Omaha Benson graduate Mike Horacek with a 37-yard bomb to the NU 29. Three plays later, running back Geoff "the Rat" Turner turned a screen pass from Doxzon into an apparent 32-yard touchdown.
But a holding penalty nullified the touchdown, and NU linebacker Ed Stewart's 5-yard sack of Doxzon on the next play killed the drive with nine minutes left.
The Cyclones never got into Nebraska territory again.
"It would have been fun to play the last eight minutes down by only two," Walden said. "We just wanted to get into the fourth quarter close.
"Our only hope was to squeeze the clock. But after eight minutes left, they were just better."
Why did it take Nebraska 52 minutes to get the best running game in the country going?
"They were stunting and flying around and doing the things we thought they would," NU guard Brenden Stai said. "It was just a matter of getting our technique down. Once we did that, we knew they couldn't stay with us the whole day.
"But it was a tough day. There was an eerie feeling out there because two years ago we lost here. I think it was in the back of everyone's mind."
Nebraska looked ready to rout Iowa State after Phillips scored from the 1 to cap a 16-play, 80-yard drive on the game's first possession.
But the Huskers went three downs and out on its next two possessions. Twice on third down, Phillips was thrown for losses.
After the second of those defensive stops, Iowa State used Horacek's 7-yard punt return and a 15-yard late-hit penalty on NU's Jon Vedral to get the ball at the NU 35.
The Cyclones gained one first down, then stalled at the Husker 18. So Stewart kicked a 35-yard field goal to bring Iowa State back to 7-3 with 10:56 left in the second quarter.
Another Nebraska mistake in the kicking game led to Iowa State's second field goal.
With about five minutes left in the half, Iowa State punter Marc Harris of Millard North hit a 36-yarder that bounced between NU's Michael Booker and Kareem Moss. The NU return team left the field, thinking the ball had been downed. But the officials ruled the ball touched a Husker, giving ISU the ball at the NU 18.
"It didn't touch me," Moss said. "It didn't touch anybody. And they threw a flag for interference trying to catch the punt, and then they took the flag away.
"That could have been really bad."
The defense held in three plays, forcing Stewart to kick a 37-yard field goal that cut the Husker lead to 7-6 with 2:56 left in the half.
Nebraska stormed back to score in four plays after Benning returned the kickoff 26 yards to the NU 47.
Wingback Abdul Muhammad's diving grab in the end zone of Berringer's 38-yard bomb put the Huskers up 14-6 with 57 seconds left in the half.
Osborne said more passing might have been the best way to attack Iowa State, which often had eight men near the line of scrimmage.
"But we always had just enough of a lead that I didn't feel real comfortable hauling off and throwing it three times in a row," he said. "Maybe if we had thrown a bunch, we might have broken the thing open."
Osborne said he doesn't know how poll voters might interpret a 16-point victory over a winless opponent.
"We played as hard as we could and as well as we could," he said. "I don't think we were flat or didn't play well. I thought our players understood the severity of the situation.
"It was tough here. It was Jim's last game and their seniors' last home game. They could have turned their season around by winning this game."
|Yards per carry||1.4||5.1|
Nebraska is 86-17 all-time against Iowa 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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