MANHATTAN, Kan. — The gust of wind that blew through north-central Kansas late Saturday afternoon was the Nebraska football team heaving a sigh of relief after dismantling Kansas State 39-3.
The Huskers, though ranked sixth and seventh nationally, said they still weren’t sure after three games how good they were, largely because of a 19-0 loss two weeks ago at Arizona State.
“The thing I was somewhat uncertain of,” NU Coach Tom Osborne said Saturday,” was which team was the real team — the one that played in Arizona or the team we thought we had.
“Today, I feel a lot better and a lot more comfortable. The deal in Arizona happened, and we were responsible for it. But I don’t know that it’s typical of the way we’re going to play.”
If the Huskers’ showing against previously unbeaten and No. 12 and 16 Kansas State is typical, opponents had better start devising a way to move the football.
Nebraska held the Wildcats to zero yards in the first half and 86 total yards for the game — the best showing by a Husker defense in 142 games during 13 seasons.
“Our defense played one of the finest games they’ve ever played,” Osborne said. “I’m very proud of everything they did.”
The Huskers also dominated the kicking game. Kris Brown drilled a career-high four field goals (45, 27, 28 and a career-long 50 yards), and the punt team blocked one kick and snuffed another.
“Usually when you play K-State,” Osborne said, ”you’re lucky to come out even in the kicking game because they work hard at it and they have a good concept. But with the blocked punts and other things today, we probably picked up 10 to 14 points.”
Nebraska’s offense, after sputtering for 20 minutes, did its part, too, and may have seen a star born in the process.
True freshman I-back DeAngelo Evans ran for 168 yards in 21 carries. The Wichita, Kan., native —
called a traitor by K-State fans and booed every time his name was announced — broke touchdown runs of 69 yards in the third quarter and 5 yards in the fourth quarter.
Evans, who had carried the ball seven times in NU’s first three games, ran seven times for 23 yards in the first half.
When starting I-back Ahman Green suffered a severe turf toe sprain on the first play of the third quarter, Evans reentered and carried 11 times in the period for 111 yards during a time in which the Huskers extended their lead from 18-3 to 32-3.
“DeAngelo played very well and showed a lot of maturity,” Osborne said. “We’re really proud of him.
“He had played well in practice, and we thought he would respond that way. But until he does it in a tough game, you never really know.”
In many ways, that comment was true about Nebraska’s entire team.
“We honestly didn’t know what kind of team we had before today,” said Secondary Coach George Darlington, the only assistant who has worked all 24 years with Osborne. “We didn’t know if we were an average group of guys or if we had a chance to do well.
“Now, if we stay healthy, we’ve got a chance.”
Senior free safety Eric Stokes said the Huskers talked about the Kansas State game being a blast-off point toward a third straight national championship.
“If we had lost this game, we were out of it,” he said. “But by winning big and having two teams ahead of us lose (No. 4 Penn State and Nos. 5 and 6 Michigan), we’re right back in the hunt.”
The third-largest crowd in KSU Stadium history — 43,915 — had hopes before the game that Kansas State would end a 27-year losing string against Nebraska.
But the Huskers (3-1 overall, 1-0 in the Big 12) never let the fans or the Wildcats (4-1, 1-1) into the game.
The tone may have been set on the first play from scrimmage.
NU weakside linebacker Terrell Farley stepped into a gap, blitzed and nearly tore Kansas State quarterback Brian Kavanagh’s head off while sacking him for a 4-yard loss.
Then before the next snap, Kavanagh motioned receivers and running backs into new positions three times before calling time to avoid a delay penalty. Husker defenders jumped for joy at the disarray.
“We had their quarterback confused in the opening series,” Stokes said. “And from then on, it was downhill for him.
“There was a lot of hype from Kansas State about their defense. But we wanted to show them we have the best defense in the country, and we wanted to prove it in their stadium.”
Kavanagh, 20th nationally in pass efficiency, finished 5 of 19 for 34 yards with two interceptions.
Kansas State gained 12 yards in the first quarter and lost 12 in the second. The only first downs in the first 30 minutes for the Wildcats, who were averaging 37 points and 363 yards a game, came on two Nebraska penalties.
KSU’s final total of 86 yards in 52 plays was the lowest against Nebraska since Iowa State was held to 53 yards in 1984.
“The defensive coaches deserve a lot of credit,” Osborne said. “They really disguised the coverages and kept K-State guessing.
“They would audible right into what we wanted them to. They never did get into a rhythm on us.”
Nebraska’s offense wasn’t always in sync, either, against a Kansas State defense ranked fourth nationally in scoring defense and eighth in total defense.
The Huskers twice had to settle for first-quarter field goals after taking the ball over in K-State territory. The second time was at the KSU 14 after Farley tackled KSU’s Chad Romano before Romano could even attempt a punt.
The Wildcats cut the deficit to 6-3 with 11:36 to go in the first half when true freshman Jamie Rheem kicked a 51-yard field goal. KSU safety Clyde Johnson set up that score by swiping a pass from NU quarterback Scott Frost and returning it 22 yards.
But Nebraska bounced back with a 17-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Evans had runs of 7 and 6 yards for third-down conversions. Frost also completed two 13-yard passes before Green scored from the 8 on fourth-and-one to give Nebraska a 12-3 lead with 4:49 to go in the half.
Free safety Eric Warfield blocked a punt to set up one of Brown’s two field goals in the final three minutes of the half that pushed the Husker lead to 18-3.
Then three plays into the third quarter, Evans knocked the air out of K-State by taking a pitchout, motoring to the right into traffic and breaking free for a 69-yard touchdown run.
When cornerbacks Michael Booker and Ralph Brown intercepted K-State passes on consecutive possessions in the third quarter and NU’s Frost hit tight end Vershan Jackson with a 21-yard touchdown pass late in the quarter, the rout was on.
Nebraska finished with 432 yards (341 rushing, 91 passing) and scored twice as many touchdowns (four) as Kansas State had allowed in its first four games.
“Our offense struggled for a long time,” Osborne said. “But we knew the strongest part of Kansas State’s team was their defense. We just hoped to hold in there and eventually crack them a little.
Frost said the offense still has a long way to go.
“But this was a good test,” he said. “We feel good about how the game went.”
That includes Osborne.
“I feel encouraged about our team and the future of it,” he said. “It was a great effort by our players. Their backs were to the wall to some degree. If we had lost this one, it was going to be tough in the Big 12 and the rest of the season.
“Right now, we’re still very much in the picture.”
|Yards per carry||1.0||5.0|
Nebraska is 78-15 all-time against Kansas State.
|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 17 games on Oct. 5. See them all »
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