Lawrence, Kan. — About the only place top-ranked Nebraska led Kansas after the first half Saturday was on the scoreboard.
NU had fewer total yards (110 to 199), first downs (5 to 15) and offensive plays (25 to 48) than the 10th-and 12th-ranked Jayhawks. It was only with the help of two KU fumbles and a resilient defense that the Huskers built an 11-point lead.
"At halftime, I thought it was anybody's game," Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne said.
So did the four unsmiling men from the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
"Darn right I'm sweating," said Charlie Thompson, a board member of the bowl that hopes to invite an undefeated Nebraska to play for a national championship.
But those frowns soon turned upside down as the Huskers scored 21 points in the first 17 minutes of the second half to run away to a 41-3 victory before 50,300 fans—including about 20,000 dressed in red—at Kansas' Memorial Stadium.
The win clinched a share of a fifth straight Big Eight title for Nebraska, but the Huskers still don't have a 100 percent grip on the Bowl Alliance berth that goes to the conference champion.
If Nebraska (10-0 overall, 6-0 in the league) loses to Oklahoma on Nov. 24 and Kansas State (9-1, 5-1) beats Colorado this Saturday, NU and KSU would both finish conference play 6-1. In that situation, Big Eight officials said, the Alliance picks the team it wants, even though Nebraska beat Kansas State.
Osborne said he wasn't thinking about bowl bids at halftime. His energy was used to adjust to Kansas' stunting defense and short-passing offense.
"We didn't chew anybody out," Osborne said. "We knew they wanted to win and to play well. But it's hard to be at an emotional pitch every week.
"Kansas played really well early in the game. They seemed to be a little more intense and excited than we were. As the game went along, we got a little better adjusted and figured out what they were doing."
It didn't hurt that senior quarterback Tommie Frazier, who did postgame interviews on crutches, came through with another Heisman vote-gathering performance.
Despite continued soreness in his lower right leg, Frazier ran for a game-high 99 yards in 10 carries and two touchdowns. He also completed 10 of 15 passes for 86 yards and one touchdown. Two of those scores came during NU's second-half turnaround.
Osborne said Frazier didn't run at full speed all of last week because of the leg soreness.
"I wasn't sure he would be able to play more than a couple of series today," Osborne said. "We're pleased he played as long as he did."
Frazier's 185 yards of total offense boosted his career total to 5,313, breaking Jerry Tagge's 24-year-old school record of 5,283. Frazier's 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Vershan Jackson was the 42nd of his career, breaking David Humm's 21-year-old record of 41.
"Frazier played awfully well," Osborne said.
Frazier's skills and savvy showed at the start of the third quarter against Kansas (8-2, 4-2).
I-back Damon Benning helped Nebraska shake off its first-half slumber by returning the second-half kickoff from the goal line to the NU 42.
Frazier completed passes of 16 and 14 yards to wingback Clester Johnson. Then on third-and-goal from the 1, Frazier audibled his 1-yard TD toss to Jackson to give Nebraska a 21-3 lead.
"Kansas was really cranked up the first half," NU guard Aaron Taylor said. "So we knew it was real critical to score on the first possession of the second half.
"When we did, it really set the tone for the game."
On Nebraska's next possession, Frazier was intercepted for the first time in 100 passes during six games. But three plays later, Husker middle linebacker Phil Ellis picked off a pass from quarterback Mark Williams and returned it to the NU 41.
Frazier's 28-yard scramble was the big play in setting up I-back Lawrence Phillips' 6-yard touchdown run that put Nebraska ahead 28-3 with 4:04 left in the third quarter.
After the Blackshirts forced a punt in three plays, Frazier led a 60-yard drive that he capped with a 5-yard touchdown run for a 35-3 lead with 13:46 left in the game.
"Tommie's the best," Phillips said.
Should he win the Heisman?
"Definitely," said Phillips, a candidate himself until suspended earlier this season for assaulting an ex-girlfriend.
Cornerback Mike Fullman's 86-yard interception return of a pass by former Nebraska quarterback Ben Rutz capped the scoring, making the final 41-3.
"But Kansas looked a lot better than the score indicated," Osborne said. "We were fortunate to have won. We had some breaks early that really helped us a lot."
Two Kansas fumbles helped Nebraska build a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
Jayhawk wide receiver Isaac Byrdalso a highly touted outfielder on the KU baseball teamdropped a punt at the Kansas 15. After NU's Chad Kelsay and Aaron Penland deflected the ball, wingback Jon Vedral recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown. Kris Brown's extra-point kick gave the Huskers a 7-0 lead with 9:17 left in the first quarter.
The touchdown recovery was Vedral's second this season. Does that make him the luckiest or timeliest player on the team?
"A little of both," Vedral said. "I saw one guy try to recover it and then another. When it popped loose again, I jumped on it."
Vedral's score came after Kansas had gained 47 yards on its first possession and Nebraska had gained 9.
"We needed a little shift of momentum there," Vedral said. "That helped turn things around for us."
On the next scrimmage play after the fumbled punt, Nebraska rush end Jared Tomich forced KU tailback June Henley to fumble and free safety Tony Veland recovered at the Jayhawk 30.
Frazier wowed the crowd with a twisting, stop-and-go option run, slipping four tackles while going from the 26 to the 1. Frazier sneaked in on the next play for a 14-0 lead with 1:17 left in the first quarter.
Kansas stormed back with an 86-yard drive, but still couldn't cross the goal line.
Nebraska strongside linebacker Jamel Williams clobbered KU tailback L.T. Levine for a 3-yard loss on first-and-goal from the 10, then dropped Levine after a pass reception 3 yards short of the end zone on third down. That forced Kansas to settle for Jeff McCord's 19-yard field goal, which cut NU's lead to 14-3 with 11:23 left in the half.
Brook Berringer entered at quarterback on Nebraska's next drive as Frazier had his sore right leg taped and padded. On the fourth play of the series, Berringer lateraled wildly toward Phillips. KU linebacker Dick Holt recovered at the Nebraska 43, creating the first Husker turnover in 18 quarters during five games.
Kansas not only couldn't capitalize, but the Jayhawks gave the ball back 36 yards in their own direction on a deep snap that zipped over the head of punter Darrin Simmons.
Kansas also blew a scoring chance just before halftime.
A 15-yard face-mask penalty against NU's Tomich with five seconds left allowed the Jayhawks to line up a 39-yard field-goal try. But when the officials started the clock after spotting the ball, Kansas wasn't lined up, and time expired. That kept the score 14-3, Nebraska's smallest halftime advantage of the season.
Osborne said he wasn't sure if the clock would start after the penalty or not.
"I just saw it wind down to zero," he said, "and I was glad it did."
After being outgained 199 to 110 in the first half, Nebraska accumulated 265 yards to KU's 146 in the second half to finish with a 375 to 345 edge.
"We were upset that they got a bunch of yards on us," NU's Veland said. "But those yards don't mean anything if you don't get the points that should go with them."
Linebacker Terrell Farley said Kansas' emphasis on short passes to its running backs surprised Nebraska.
"They were killing us with that," Farley said. "So we had to start picking those guys up better."
As for the Nebraska offense, mental errors against a Kansas defensive front that was stunting and safeties who were charging the line of scrimmage to help stop the run caused problems.
"We blew a couple of assignments early that left a sour taste," Offensive Line Coach Milt Tenopir said. "In the second half, we ran more of our basic stuff and stayed more between the tackles. And it worked."
Osborne said he was happy the Huskers maintained their poise. And he's even happier Nebraska has 12 days to get ready for the season finale against Oklahoma.
"We've got a lot of guys beat up right now," he said. "They have given us a great effort so far this year."
|Yards per carry||2.3||5.7|
Nebraska is 91-23 all-time against Kansas.
|Oklahoma State||Aug. 31|
|Michigan State||Sept. 9|
|Arizona State||Sept. 16|
|Washington State||Sept. 30|
|Kansas State||Oct. 21|
|Iowa State||Nov. 4|
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