Nebraska committed more penalties Saturday than it had in 24 games, lost more turnovers than it had in 31 games and fumbled more times than it had in 96 games.
And still won.
The fourth-and fifth-ranked Huskers survived all of that by stretching their streak of quarters without allowing an offensive touchdown to 14 and dominating the kicking game in a 24-10 victory over Texas Tech.
“We shot ourselves in the foot a bunch of times,” NU Defensive Coordinator Charlie McBride said. “They shot themselves in the foot a bunch.
“By the end, it was one of those games where everybody just wanted to go home.”
The game between Big 12 North Division leader Nebraska (5-1 overall, 3-0 in the league) and South Division leader Texas Tech (4-3, 3-2) had been billed as a measuring stick.
Playing on regional ABC television, the Huskers were looking to impress poll voters and show they remain a legitimate national title contender. The Red Raiders had hopes of pulling the biggest upset in school history and boosting the Heisman Trophy hopes of tailback Byron Hanspard, the nation’s leading rusher.
“But it’s hard to measure anything with this game,” Husker quarterback Scott Frost said.
NU lost four of seven fumbles, had an interception returned for a touchdown and was flagged 11 times for 99 yards in penalties.
Tech’s problems may not have been as numerous, but were more severe.
On the game’s first play, the Red Raiders quieted the largest Jones Sta dium crowd in 10 years — 51,344 — when Hanspard fumbled and Husker weakside linebacker Terrell Farley returned it 21 yards for the fastest first touchdown in NU history (seven seconds). Hanspard, who lost a second fumble in the third quarter, finished with 107 yards in 31 carries-110 yards less than his average.
Tech also had one punt blocked, saw another travel only 10 yards, fumbled a punt and gave up a 51-yard punt return to Damon Benning that set up a touchdown.
Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne tried to put a happy face on the victory.
“We played against a very strong team in their home environment and in a game they put a lot into,” he said. “When you take their best shot and still walk out with a win, you’ve got to be pleased.”
So why wasn’t Osborne smiling?
“We need to play better,” he said. “We’re trying to get to the top somehow.
“I don’t worry about rankings, but I do worry about how we play. And we can play better than we did today.”
Some of Nebraska’s offensive numbers Saturday looked eerily similar to those posted in a 19-0 loss a month ago at Arizona State. The Huskers had 238 total yards (just 12 more than at ASU) and five turnovers (two fewer than at ASU where three safeties added to the problems).
“It was the same kind of circumstances we had at Arizona State in that things were going wrong for us,” said Frost, who completed 4 of 12 passes for 55 yards and rushed for 22. “But instead of hanging our heads a little like we did down there, guys kept fighting and plugging through it.
“If anything good comes out of this, it’s that we showed some heart.”
The offense pitched in early in the third quarter to break a 10-10 halftime tie.
After NU free safety Eric Stokes rattled the ball loose from Hanspard and cornerback Ralph Brown recovered, the Huskers drove 41 yards in seven plays for the eventual deciding touchdown.
I-back Ahman Green, playing despite continued soreness in a sprained big toe, had runs of 12 and 19 yards in the drive. He finished with 76 yards in 19 carries against the No. 9 rushing defense in the country and earned a compliment from McBride.
“Hanspard is a good back, and he deserves the rating he’s gotten,” McBride said. “But I think I’ll stick with Ahman Green myself.”
Frost capped that march with a 3-yard option run for a touchdown and a 17-10 Nebraska lead with 9:29 to go in the third quarter.
The offense could have helped blow the game open after that, but wasted two prime scoring chances.
Nebraska middle linebacker Jon Hesse, the team tackle leader with nine, blocked a punt at the Tech 40 midway through the third quarter. But a personal foul and a holding penalty knocked the Huskers back across midfield and led to a punt.
With 10:42 left in the game, Tech’s Clint Robertson fumbled a punt at his 14. On the next play, Husker fullback Joel Makovicka raced to the 3-yard line but fumbled through the end zone for a turnover.
After the Blackshirts forced another Tech punt, Benning returned it 51 yards to the 5. Two plays later from the 3, Benning fumbled an option pitch but caught the ball in stride and scored to make it 24-10 with 8:16 to play.
“At times, we moved the ball against a good defense,” Osborne said. “But I was really disappointed in the execution. We need to take care of the football.”
Osborne said there is no specific answer for why execution problems popped up Saturday, the midpoint of the season.
“You just occasionally have a game like that,” he said. “We had one at Ari-zona State, and we had one here. We’ve got to get to where we make sure it doesn’t happen anymore.
“I think we had played two straight games without a turnover (actually one turnover in three games). This team is capable of playing very good football. But today we didn’t.”
NU roverback Mike Minter couldn’t resist a joke when asked if the offense’s struggles made it difficult for the Blackshirts.
“We want to thank them,” he said, smiling. “We got a chance to play today.
“Seriously, we know Coach wasn’t too happy with them, and he let them know it. I imagine next week they’ll come out and really do well.”
Nebraska’s defense did most everything it was supposed to.
“To hold Tech to three points was outstanding,” Osborne said. “You’ve got to be very proud of our defense.”
The Blackshirts showed their power on the first play when tackle Jason Peter popped Hanspard. Farley grabbed the loose ball and outran Tech quarterback Zebbie Lethridge to the end zone.
Minter said fear might have helped cause that opening-play fumble.
“They knew from the time they got to the stadium today that they were in for a big test,” he said. “I think they knew in their hearts how hard it would be, and that’s why that fumble came. Hanspard was looking for where we were coming from.”
Tech’s defense tied the game 7-7 late in the first quarter when linebacker Robert Johnson swiped a pass from Frost and cruised in for a 9-yard touchdown.
“It was just a bad throw,” said Frost, whose closest receiver was 10 yards away and blanketed by another defender. “We shot ourselves in the foot so many times, we didn’t feel like we had any toes left.”
In the second quarter, Nebraska got a 39-yard field goal from Kris Brown and Tech got a 29-yarder from Jaret Greaser. The Red Raiders were forced to kick the field goal when rush end Mike Rucker nailed Lethridge for an 8-yard loss back to the Nebraska 22.
Rucker also had a 5-yard sack on Tech’s next possession, which helped force a 50-yard field-goal try that Greaser hooked left.
Overall, Nebraska held Texas Tech, averaging 452 yards a game, to 214 total yards (102 rushing, 112 passing). The numbers might have been even smaller, but Nebraska helped Tech keep drives alive with three offside penalties and two for roughing the passer.
“I think I had 30 yards in penalties,” NU rush end Grant Wistrom said. “I guess that means I’ll lead in some statistical category.
“There was some pretty sloppy football today. But I think it was two great defenses out there, too.”
|Yards per carry||2.2||3.7|
Nebraska is 7-4 all-time against Texas Tech.
|Michigan State||Sept. 7|
|Arizona State||Sept. 21|
|Colorado State||Sept. 28|
|Kansas State||Oct. 5|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 19|
|Iowa State||Nov. 16|
|Virginia Tech||Dec. 31|
Nebraska has played 15 games on Oct. 19. See them all »
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