LINCOLN — Neither rain, nor sleet, nor gloom, nor Colorado could keep the Nebraska football team Friday from what has become its appointed round — a march toward a sixth straight conference championship.
The fourth-ranked Huskers fell behind for just the second time in any game this season, but regained the lead with a first-quarter defensive touchdown and rode the defense’s surge from there for a 17-12 victory over the fifth-ranked Buffaloes.
A season-high Memorial Stadium crowd of 75,695 persevered through steady rain, occasional sleet and 35-degree temperatures to watch NU improve to 10-1 overall and 8-0 in the Big 12 North Division.
“It was a beautiful day to play defense,” said tackle Jason Peter, part of a Nebraska unit that held its fourth Big 12 opponent without an offensive touchdown. “It was four quarters of cold and rain and snow. We loved it.”
Weather won’t be a factor in Nebraska’s next game.
The win earned NU the North Division’s slot in next week’s conference championship game at the Trans World Dome in St. Louis. The opponent will be Texas (7-4, 6-2), which claimed the South Division berth Friday with a 51-15 thrashing of Texas A&M.
NU Coach Tom Osborne said that the longer the Huskers’ game went, the more he wondered if 18-point underdog Colorado was about to pull an upset.
“I wasn’t sure we were going to win in the second half,” he said. “It was nerve wracking. But our defense did a great job of holding us in there.”
Nebraska, which led 17-6 at halftime, fumbled the ball away three times in the second half and had to punt on five other possessions in the final 30 minutes.
The Huskers also were slowed offensively by two injuries at I-back and six illegal procedure penalties.
Meanwhile, Colorado began applying pressure. Sophomore Jeremy Aldrich, who had never kicked a college field goal before Friday, drilled his third of the game with 7:57 left in the third quarter to cut Nebraska’s lead to 17-9.
With 8:46 left in the game, after Colorado completed passes of 51 and 33 yards on the same drive but couldn’t get into the end zone, Aldrich kicked a fourth field goal to make the score 17-12.
A minute later, Husker quarterback Scott Frost was blindsided while trying to pass. He fumbled and CU linebacker Matt Russell recovered at the NU 24.
But on second-and-seven from the 21, Husker cornerback Michael Booker deflected Colorado quarterback Koy Detmer’s pass into the hands of strongside linebacker Jamel Williams.
NU’s offense went three downs and out. Colorado then drove from its own 44 to the Nebraska 29, but faced fourth-and-11. Detmer dropped back to throw, but a blitzing Williams forced an incomplete pass to give the Huskers the ball back with 2:53 to play.
Finally, Nebraska’s offense found some rhythm. It produced three first downs and ran out the clock to preserve Nebraska’s 36th straight home victory and snap Colorado’s road winning streak at 10.
“We didn’t have a good offensive day,” Osborne said. “But that last drive was significant.”
But nothing was as significant as a Husker defense that held Colorado’s offense, ranked 10th nationally, to season lows in total yards (277) and rushing yards (51), and equaled the low in points (12).
“To play Colorado and not give up a touchdown was noteworthy,” Osborne said, “particularly when there were a couple of turnovers that gave them great field position.”
On the first possession of the third quarter, Nebraska wingback Lance Brown fumbled after catching a pass and Colorado recovered at its 36. But three plays later, the Buffs had to punt.
Midway through the third quarter, Husker I-back DeAngelo Evans — who carried 25 times for 123 yards and scored the game’s lone offensive touchdown — lost a fumble at the NU 39. Again, Colorado went three downs and out.
Then with 7:59 left in the game, Frost lost a fumble at the NU 24. But Williams’ interception two plays later ended that threat.
Do the offensive players thank the defense after such a performance?
“I do,” wingback Jon Vedral said. “I don’t know if anyone else does. But I thank them for everything we’ve got.
“It’s pretty obvious what the outcome would have been if we didn’t have them.”
That defense zeroed in on Detmer. The All-Big 12 quarterback entered the game ranked seventh nationally in pass efficiency, completing 60.3 percent and throwing for twice as many touchdowns as interceptions.
But on Friday, the fifth-year senior completed only 12 of 38 passes (31.6 percent) for 226 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. He also was sacked three times.
Colorado hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in Lincoln since Steve Vogel hit Dave Hestera with a 5-yarder in 1983.
“Nebraska’s defense deserves a lot of credit,” Detmer said. “They played tough and swarmed all over the field.”
Osborne said that was the plan.
“We did a good job of getting a good push on Detmer,” the coach said. “If we didn’t sack him, at least he didn’t get an unobstructed view of the field very long.”
Among the Blackshirts bothering Detmer the most were rush end Grant Wistrom, who had 13 tackles; Peter, who had five tackles and four quarterback hurries; and strongside linebacker Jamel Williams, who had eight tackles, one sack and one interception.
Earlier this week, the All-Big 12 coaches’ team voted Williams — NU’s leading tackler — not to the first, second or third teams but to the honorable mention list. Also, rush end Jared Tomich, an All-American last year, was a third-teamer.
“Our people were upset about it,” NU Secondary Coach George Darlington said. “A lot of people must not have much respect for our defense considering the way they voted.”
Nebraska tweaked its defense to make up for the loss of weakside linebacker Terrell Farley, suspended after being picked up for suspicion of drunken driving for the second time in three months.
Senior roverback Mike Minter moved to Farley’s spot and finished with four tackles, a pass breakup and a pass knockdown at the line of scrimmage. Minter played in place of senior Ryan Terwilliger. Free safety Eric Stokes moved to roverback and Eric Warfield stepped in at free safety.
“We need that speed and coverage ability in there,” Osborne said. “Minter will go the rest of the season at that spot.”
Osborne also praised the kicking game. Jesse Kosch had three punts in the third quarter into a 13-mph wind of 40, 46 and 50 yards. And Colorado was held to minus-4 punt return yards.
“Jesse Kosch did a tremendous job punting,” Osborne said. “The kicking game overall probably saved our bacon, even though they got four field goals.”
Colorado needed less than four minutes at the start of the game to put Nebraska in a place the Huskers hadn’t been since Sept. 21 — behind.
The Buffaloes took the opening kickoff and gained three first downs, moving to the NU 28. When CU stalled, Aldrich’s 45-yard field goal into the wind hit the crossbar and bounced through, giving Colorado a 3-0 lead.
That marked the first time NU trailed since losing 19-0 at Arizona State in the season’s second game. It also was the first time CU took the lead in a Nebraska game since the fourth quarter of a 19-19 tie in 1991.
The Buffaloes got the ball back three plays later when defensive end Greg Jones rattled the ball loose from NU I-back Ahman Green and safety Ryan Black recovered at the Husker 35.
Colorado got one first down, but again had to settle for a 40-yard field goal from Aldrich for a 6-0 lead with 7:43 to go in the first quarter.
Nebraska went three downs and out, and punted Colorado back to its 16.
Then the Nebraska defense struck back. On the first play, tackle Jeff Ogard deflected Detmer’s quick sideline pass into the hands of middle linebacker Jay Foreman, who ran it back 21 yards for a touchdown. Kris Brown’s extra-point kick put Nebraska ahead 7-6 with 6:20 to go in the first quarter.
Nebraska, with the help of Vedral’s 11-yard run on a fake field goal, then moved into position for Brown’s 30-yard field goal for a 10-6 lead.
The next possession produced the offense’s best push.
The Huskers drove 78 yards for a touchdown in seven plays. Frost’s 18-yard scramble and Evans’ 40-yard option run were the big plays in the march Evans ended with a 7-yard TD run. That put NU ahead 17-6 with 6:47 to go in the half.
Evans had to carry the load at I-back because Green (sprained toe) and Damon Benning (sprained ankle) both left the game in the first quarter.
Evans and Frost had success early with the option play, but Osborne said the Buffaloes began gambling to stop it by blitzing their cornerbacks.
One of those blitzes produced a fumbled pitchout at the NU 4-yard line in the third quarter that the Huskers recovered.
“It made us a little nervous about running the option for a while,” Osborne said. “I think we had to run option football to move it on them.
“But I got spooked out of it. Later in the game, we went back to it and got a couple of key first downs.”
The Huskers finished with 294 total yards (238 rushing, 56 passing). But none of those yards was as important as the 36 gained on the final possession to run out the clock.
“Coach Osborne called a couple of different plays on that drive to help open up the middle,” Vedral said. “But the whole second half was frustrating. Every time we got something going, we’d have a turnover or a mistake.
“I’m glad we got something going at the end. I’m heaving a big sigh of relief.”
|Yards per carry||1.6||4.6|
Nebraska is 49-19 all-time against Colorado.
|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|
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