WACO, Texas — Nebraska's mix of overwhelming start and underwhelming finish Saturday night against Baylor produced more than a few discouraging words in the Husker camp.
The play of Nebraska's reserves in the final quarter and a half of the 49-21 victory left Husker Coach Tom Osborne "mad." Catching himself in mid-sentence, Osborne toned down his criticism to just being merely "upset."
"We did not finish tonight," Osborne said. "We're not looking for a big score. What we're looking for is execution, and we didn't see it late in the game."
There was no toning down Defense Coordinator Charlie McBride's disappointment in seeing Baylor score three touchdowns, even if one came when the Bears recovered Husker fullback Willie Miller's fumble in the end zone on the last play of the game.
"Right now, we're a good defense but we're not a national championship defense," McBride said. "We can't let any team put up 20 points on us. That just can't happen. We need our younger players to start stepping up, we need our depth to start stepping up and we need to start tackling better."
Not even top-ranked Florida's 28-21 loss to Louisiana State, which likely will lead to Nebraska's promotion from third to second in the national polls today, could get the Huskers too excited.
Rush end Chad Kelsay was one of several Nebraska players who said they would have rather seen second-ranked Penn State lose to Ohio State instead of having the Gators fall.
"Penn State and the Rose Bowl complicates things a bit," Kelsay said. "To be the best, we're going to have to beat the best. If we keep winning, we'll obviously get to play a good team in the Orange Bowl. Obviously, it would have been nice to see both of them lose so that we could move up to No. 1."
The Huskers will have plenty of opportunities to improve their standing in the polls in the coming weeks. If they play as they did in the first 35 minutes of Saturday night's game, few teams, if any, should able to stop them.
Nebraska scored on seven of its first 11 possessions, with I-back Ahman Green getting four touchdowns for the second straight game, to take control of the Big 12 Conference game that drew a crowd of 38,175 to Floyd Casey Stadium. The turnout, almost half of which were Husker fans, braved rainy conditions to watch Nebraska improve to 5-0, 2-0 in the conference.
Except for getting burned by an 80-yard scoring run by Jerod Douglas, Nebraska's first-team defense dominated Baylor's offense.
Baylor's 33 offensive snaps against the Blackshirts produced four first downs, two sacks, two lost fumbles, 11 incompletions and a total of 92 yards - 80 coming on Douglas' run.
"We came out with the attitude tonight that we were going to kill anything that moves," said linebacker Tony Ortiz, who alternated with starter Brian Shaw.
Douglas spoiled the Huskers' plans for pitching a third straight shutout at the Bears - Nebraska won 13-0 in 1990 and 49-0 last season. His run, the longest against a Nebraska defense since Frank Madu of Washington State ripped off an 87-yarder in 1995, allowed the Bears (1-4, 0-2) to pull into a 7-7 tie midway through the opening quarter.
Nebraska failed to convert a fourth-and-one play from the Bears' 22 on its next possession, fueling the upset hopes - and the lungs - of Baylor fans.
The Huskers then quieted the home crowd by scoring four touchdowns on their next 12 offensive plays, turning the tie into a 35-7 lead with 8:17 remaining in the second quarter. Green got three of the touchdowns on runs of 58, 2 and 30 yards.
"The last couple of weeks just shows something we always knew, that Ahman is a heck of a back," Husker offensive guard Aaron Taylor said. "It's a real joy, after making a block, to see him running down the field."
Green's eight-touchdown spree in Nebraska's past two games has moved the junior from Omaha Central into eighth place on the Huskers' all-time scoring chart with 204 points. His totals this season - 692 yards and 11 touchdowns - undoubtedly would be higher if the Huskers were in greater need of his services for entire games.
Against Baylor, Green went to the bench midway through the third quarter after the Huskers had increased their lead to 49-7. He carried the ball just twice in the second half for 6 yards, bringing his totals for the game to 158 yards on 20 attempts.
Nebraska's first-team offense produced 450 of the Huskers' 548 yards before it made an early exit following quarterback Scott Frost's 1-yard touchdown sneak with 8:33 remaining in the third period.
"Our first units obviously played well," Osborne said. "One of the problems with some of our backup players is that they haven't played a lot to this point. We saw a lot of things out there tonight that we've been seeing in practice, mainly a lack of execution."
It was hard to fault Nebraska's execution in the first half. The Huskers ran 48 plays to Baylor's 27, had 17 first downs to the Bears' 4, gained 378 yard to the Bears' 96 and held a 2-to-1 edge in time of possessions.
But for the briefest of moments, the Bears found themselves in the game, thanks to Douglas' longest run of his career and their ensuing fourth-down defensive stand. On Baylor's second possession of the game, Douglas took a handoff and exploded through a tiny hole in the right side of the Nebraska defense.
Asked what happened on the play, McBride replied, "Nobody knows. At least nobody's talking. We're going to have to wait and watch the films on that one."
Said Kelsay: "Their backs were real quick. One of our guys poked his head outside, and he (Douglas) just busted up the gap. We got burned on that one."
Douglas outraced safety Eric Warfield to the end zone, touching off an end zone party that drew a 15-yard penalty for excessive celebration. That turned Matt Bryant's chip-shot conversion attempt into a 35-yarder, but he drilled the kick to produce a 7-7 tie with 6:49 remaining in the quarter.
Nebraska had scored on its second possession, driving 38 yards in seven plays, to take a 7-0 lead. Green got the touchdown on a 3-yard run, which came with 7:06 left in the period.
After Douglas' touchdown, Nebraska drove from its own 20 to the Baylor 22 in nine plays. On fourth down and one, Green took a pitch but was knocked out of bounds by Baylor safety Nikia Codie short of the first down.
The stop, while inspiring the Baylor fans, also served to fire up the Huskers.
"We take a lot of pride in trying to be the No. 1 offense in the country here," Taylor said. "We like to do things right. When they stopped us, it hurt us. And I think it made us realize that we had to buckle it up, go down there and score the next time we got a chance."
The Huskers didn't have to wait long. Two plays after their big defensive stop, the Bears gave up the football when Douglas, attempting to take a direct snap from center with quarterback Jeff Watson in shotgun formation, fumbled the football.
Defensive tackle Jason Wiltz recovered at the Baylor 15, and fullback Joel Makovicka burst through the middle on the next play for the touchdown. Kris Brown's conversion kick put Nebraska ahead 14-7 with 37 seconds left in the first quarter.
On Nebraska's next possession, Green raced 58 yards for his second score to complete a two-play, 63-yard possession. Baylor gave the football right back to the Huskers when Douglas fumbled at his 20-yard line. Nebraska covered that distance in five plays, with Green banging over from the 2.
Green got his fourth touchdown on the Huskers' next possession, weaving 30 yards through the Baylor defense to cap a four-play, 55-yard drive.
"We didn't know what to expect against Baylor's defense, " said Green, who topped the 100-yard mark for the fourth straight game.
"We just had to come out and do what we do best - run at them and look for holes."
Nebraska tacked on its final score of the half, driving 76 yards in eight plays. Frost had the big gain on the march with a bruising 21-yard run in which he ran out of his right shoe. Frankie London replaced Frost for the final three plays of the possession, which ended with Jay Sims' 1-yard scoring dive with two minutes remaining in the half.
After Douglas' scoring run, Baylor's next 23 offensive plays in the first half produced two fumbles, two sacks, eight incompletions and a net gain of 16 yards. The Bears finished the half with a net rushing total of 71 yards, as 10 of their 14 rushing attempts ended in no gain or losses.
"Our game plan was to come out and stop the run," rush end Grant Wistrom said. "We did that. Obviously, we're not happy that Baylor got those points in the second half, but I don't think the score was indicative of this game."
That doesn't matter, McBride said.
"We're killing ourselves statistically when we start putting in guys for our first team," he said. "We can't let a team put 20 points on the board against us. In the long run, that's going to hurt you.
"We're at the point in the season where we have to start eliminating the things that are causing us to be an average to above average defense. Anytime you give up an 80-yard run, to me, that's discouraging."
Nebraska's defensive reserves did keep the Bears out of the end zone late in the third quarter when true freshman Erwin Swiney intercepted Watson in the end zone. The Bears converted their next scoring chance, driving 68 yards in nine plays and getting the touchdown on Darrell Bush's 1-yard run.
Baylor tacked on its final score after Nebraska took possession following a Baylor punt on its 1-yard line with seven seconds remaining. Miller got whacked as he hit the middle of line, lost the ball and Parker recovered in the end zone.
"Our play in the last quarter and a half was disappointing," Osborne said. "We gave up that touchdown on the last play because we had a mixup in the backfield. Even though the game was obviously out of reach, you still want to see execution, and we didn't get it."
|Yards per carry||3.7||6.4|
Nebraska is 11-1 all-time against Baylor.
|Central Florida||Sept. 13|
|Kansas State||Oct. 4|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 18|
|Iowa State||Nov. 15|
|Texas A&M||Dec. 6|
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