EAST LANSING, Mich. — Lose two fumbles in the first quarter.
See your starting quarterback hobble off the field for the game early in the second quarter.
Watch your Heisman Trophy-candidate I-back limp to the sideline on the first series of the third quarter.
Win by 40.
That's what second-ranked Nebraska did Saturday, bowling over adversity and Michigan State during a 50-10 romp that sent at least half of the sellout crowd of 73,891 fans at Spartan Stadium home early.
"This is a good road team," NU Coach Tom Osborne said. "I feel good about their chemistry and attitude. I wouldn't hesitate taking them anywhere.
"I'm not saying we would always win. But we wouldn't be intimidated. We can function in any environment, which is good to know."
It's not just Nebraska's first team that is functioning well.
At quarterback, Brook Berringer came in for the injured Tommie Frazier (thigh bruise) with the Huskers ahead 10-7. Berringer led scoring drives on six of the next seven possessions. The only one that didn't produce points started with just 26 seconds left in the first half and ended at the Michigan State 14-yard line.
At I-back, All-America candidate Lawrence Phillips bolted for 206 yards in 22 carries and had touchdown runs of 1, 1, 1 and 50 yards. But in and around breaks to catch his breath and rest a slight ankle sprain, Clinton Childs added 83 yards in eight carries, James Sims an 80-yard touchdown burst on his only carry and Ahman Green 74 yards in four carries, including a 57-yard touchdown.
In two games, Nebraska's I-backs have rushed 65 times for 744 yards (an 11.4-yard average) and 11 touchdowns. They had 443 of NU's 552 ground yards Saturday.
The rushing total was the ninth-best in Husker history and the highest allowed by Michigan State in its 99-year history. Nebraska's 666 total yards also was the most the Spartans ever have given up.
The concept of interchangeable parts also worked on defense for NU.
Thirteen Huskers had between three and seven tackles. Seven players recorded tackles for losses in helping limit Michigan State to 335 total yards.
"It really doesn't seem to matter at this point who is in the game," NU center Aaron Graham said. "We're getting the job done.
"It's got to be something Coach Osborne is pleased with. He's been saying he's concerned about our depth. Our first unit is playing great, but our second unit is showing it can play ball, too."
How much some of those top backups will have to play this week because of injuries to starters isn't known.
Osborne said Frazier's thigh bruise could bother him two days or two weeks.
"The encouraging thing was he was walking around on the sideline," Osborne said. "I had him suit back up the second half after he was out of uniform for a while.
"I said, 'Hey, if Berringer goes down, can you hand off?' We weren't going to run any option with him. But I certainly wanted him in uniform."
Phillips returned one series after twisting an ankle and added third-quarter touchdown runs from 1 and 50 yards out. The sprint from midfield occurred on a direct snap from center with Nebraska in the shotgun formation.
"As that play developed," Graham said, "I couldn't hold back a smile. I knew it was going to split wide open. I was jumping up and down and screaming by the end of it."
Nebraska had plenty to celebrate early, too. The Huskers took advantage of Michigan State fumbles on the opening kickoff and the Spartans' opening possession to jump to a 10-0 lead.
After the Huskers lost two fumbles to help MSU close to 10-7 late in the first quarter, NU pulled out to leads of 20-7 at halftime and 36-10 after three quarters.
"It was a surprise," Osborne said. "I thought it would be a game that would go into the fourth quarter.
"We've got a lot of respect for their quarterback and receivers. At times, they looked pretty good. But our defensive coaches did a good job of mixing up pressure and coverages. That kept them off balance."
Michigan State quarterback Tony Banks showed his stuff after Nebraska had taken a 10-0 lead on Kris Brown's 22-yard field goal and Phillips' first 1-yard TD.
Following the Spartans' recovery of a punt muffed by Nebraska cornerback Mike Fullman at the NU 44, Banks hit Muhsin Muhammad with a 24-yard strike on second-and-16. Banks found Muhammad again with a touchdown bullet on third-and-goal from the 16 to cut the gap to 10-7.
When Frazier lost a fumble at the MSU 31 on Nebraska's next series, Banks led the Spartans into Husker territory again. But back-to-back big hits from Mike Minter stopped that threat.
"It's the defense's responsibility to go back in after a turnover and make the other team punt," Minter said. "And that's exactly what we did."
On the next series, Frazier kept the ball on an option run, tried to cut back and was smacked by Michigan State end Jabbar Threats. The tackle stopped NU's drive and put Frazier out of the game.
"He hit me on the thigh," Frazier said. "I'm not sure if his knee got me or he kicked me.
"But when I got up, I felt the pain go through it. It was on the side of the thigh, where the pad doesn't cover."
Minter blunted Michigan State hopes again by intercepting Banks' bomb at the MSU 41. Minter said he wasn't trying for a big play because Frazier had been injured.
"To tell you the truth, I didn't even know Tommie had got hurt," he said. "We don't worry about those things. We've got depth everywhere. If somebody gets hurt, somebody else good is ready to play."
NU rush end Jared Tomich said Banks, who completed 21 of 35 passes for 290 yards, was beginning to feel the Blackshirt pressure by the second quarter.
"He's one of those guys who if you get a couple of hits on him, his head gets rattled," Tomich said. "He got uptight and upset."
Those words didn't apply to Berringer, who led a four-play touchdown drive on his first series, putting Nebraska ahead 17-7.
"I'm a senior now," said Berringer, 7-0 as a replacement starter last season when Frazier suffered blood-clot problems. "I don't get nervous anymore.''
Frazier praised Berringer's relief work.
"Brook played a great game," Frazier said. "He probably missed a couple of calls here and there, but overall he did a good job."
Michigan State tried to come back after falling behind 17-7, reaching the NU 42 on a 32-yard pass from Banks to Muhammad. But the drive stalled at the 39. Nebraska got the ball back and drove far enough for Brown to kick a 47-yard field goal for a 20-7 Husker lead with 3:36 left in the half.
Though the point spread was just 13 at halftime, Graham said he wasn't worried.
"Our offense punished them pretty well the first half," he said. "I felt it was just a matter of time before we took control."
After the teams exchanged field goals on the first series of the third quarter, Nebraska began breaking big plays to blow the game open.
Berringer hit split end Reggie Baul with a 51-yard bomb to set up Phillips' 1-yard touchdown for a 29-10 lead.
Then the I-backs took over as Phillips, Green and Sims broke touchdown runs of 50, 57 and 80 yards to make the final 50-10.
Frazier said the I-backs' work wasn't a surprise.
"We expect those guys to make small plays into big plays, " he said. "We look for them to go 40 or 50 yards instead of 4 or 5 yards."
Despite the big margin of victory, Osborne wasn't 100 percent thrilled. The fumbled punt, another mishandled punt and a dropped kickoff caught his eye.
"Sometimes when you win 50-10, you ask, 'Why are you nitpicking?' " he said. "But those are the kind of things down the road that can make a big difference."
Osborne has said a team often will make its biggest improvement in a season between the first and second games.
Did he see that Saturday?
"I don't know. Maybe," Osborne said. "We were a little sluggish at times. I'm a little disappointed in that I didn't see quite as much enthusiasm.
"It wasn't bad. There probably was a little more last week. But you're going to have that. You can't be 'right there' every week."
|Yards per carry||1.3||9.5|
Nebraska is 9-2 all-time against Michigan State.
|Oklahoma State||Aug. 31|
|Michigan State||Sept. 9|
|Arizona State||Sept. 16|
|Washington State||Sept. 30|
|Kansas State||Oct. 21|
|Iowa State||Nov. 4|
Nebraska has played 9 games on Sept. 9. See them all »
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