LINCOLN — Nebraska had expected a tough, four-quarter brawl Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.
Instead, the Huskers got another Kansas State team that showed it can't measure up to the challenge when it steps in against one of college football's heavyweights.
Nebraska combined a four-touchdown, 193-yard performance by I-back Ahman Green with a stifling defense to produce a 56-26 Big 12 Conference victory. The win, before the 217th sellout crowd of 75,856 and a national television audience, was Nebraska's 39th straight at home and extended the Huskers' string of victories over the Wildcats to 29.
"Those guys still don't know if they can beat us or not," Nebraska defensive tackle Jason Peter said. "They still have that in the back of their mind. When we jumped out on them early there, I think that was a real positive thing."
Kansas State, its record and national ranking bloated by an early season big-MAC attack, was behind from the start. The Huskers used ball control on offense and big plays by rover Eric Warfield and wingback Bobby Newcombe to build a 20-6 lead at halftime.
Nebraska then buried the 16th- and 17th- ranked Wildcats with a three-touchdown blitz in the opening 10 minutes of the third quarter. Ahead by 35 points, Nebraska then coasted through the final 20 minutes of the win that left the Huskers 4-0 and solidified their standing as a major player in the chase for the national championship.
"We're a good team, and I'm not afraid to say that," Husker quarterback Scott Frost said. "I think we're as good a team as there is out there. If we keep playing hard and winning ballgames, everything is going to shake out in the end."
Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne also likes what he sees. Before Saturday's game, Osborne had said he considered Kansas State to be the toughest remaining regular-season game on the schedule.
"I feel better about us than I do worse because I think we played a good team, and we beat them soundly," Osborne said. "I was very worried about this game. This is a nice hurdle to have behind us, just as playing Washington at Washington was a big win for us.
"There are a lot of things we can improve on. We're still not out of the woods as a football team. But if we can get a few things ironed out, we have a chance to be pretty good before it's all over."
Against Kansas State, the Huskers were pretty good all over. The offense, with Frost and Green leading the way, clicked most of the night. The defense stonewalled Kansas State's rushing attack and stymied Wildcat quarterback Michael Bishop, the conference's leading passer coming into the game.
The Huskers sacked Bishop twice and intercepted him twice. He finished 8 of 24 for 162 yards. Nebraska had a bust or two in the kicking game, providing Kansas State with moments of hope but no long-term relief.
"They played like they were capable of playing," said Kansas State Coach Bill Snyder, who dropped to 0-9 against Nebraska. "They played like a national championship-caliber team."
Snyder has now seen Nebraska hand his team its first loss of the season in each of the past five years.
"I was proud of our kids because they competed until the end," Snyder said. "But there was a period of time in the third quarter that I thought we let things get away from us. We just stopped playing defense."
Green scored three of his four touchdowns in that span, ripping off runs of 7, 59 and 50 yards that left Nebraska with a 41-6 lead with 5:30 remaining in the third period. Green also scored Nebraska's first touchdown on a 25-yard run.
His four-touchdown game was the first for a Nebraska player since Lawrence Phillips got four against Michigan State in 1995. Green's second-most productive day as a Husker - his total yards were 21 fewer than his career high of 214 - also pushed him to seventh on Nebraska's career rushing chart. Green now has 2,537 yards four games into his junior season.
"These past few games have showed us that when we start rolling, we're a very hard team to stop," said Green, who had rushed for 129 yards in the Sept. 20 victory over Washington. "We proved to ourselves that we can get the job done, and we plan to get stronger every week."
Nebraska finished with 379 rushing yards and 473 total yards against a Kansas State defense that had limited three Mid-American Conference teams - Northern Illinois, Ohio University and Bowling Green to an average of 216 yards per game. That put Wildcats third nationally in total defense.
Meanwhile, Nebraska held Kansas State's offense to 260 yards, 122 of which came in the final quarter. The Wildcats, who had rushed for 429 yards a week ago against Bowling Green, finished Saturday with 98. Kansas State had come into the game ranked 11th nationally with a 268-yard rushing average.
Nebraska held Kansas State to an average of 2.5 yards per attempt for the game and 1.1 yards per rush in the first half. Ten of Kansas State's first-half rushes lost yardage and resulted in no gain.
"One of our great strengths is that we feel we can run the ball against most people, and we don't think very many people can run it on us," Osborne said. "In spite of the fact that there is a sort of infatuation in this country with the passing game, generally speaking, if those two factors are in play, you normally don't lose.
"So far this year, that's been the case and we hope it stays that way. It doesn't mean we're invincible in the running game - somebody may crack us. But so far, they haven't."
Nebraska's domination of the line of scrimmage came right from the start as the Huskers covered 80 yards on their opening possession of the game in 10 running plays. Green ripped off runs of 7, 6, 9 and 25 yards, the latter for a touchdown with 9:56 left in the opening quarter. Frost got the first 29 yards of an 98-yard night on the first drive.
The Wildcats came right back, getting good field position when Gerald Neasman returned Kris Brown's kickoff 36 yards to the Kansas State 39. Bishop and wide receiver Everett Burnett teamed for a pair of third-down conversions, the first going for 19 yards and the second a 46-yard gain that carried to the Nebraska 1-yard line.
Eric Hickson got the touchdowns two plays later on a 1-yard run, but the Wildcats failed to convert the extra-point attempt when holder James Garcia couldn't handle the snap from center.
Nebraska hiked its lead on field goals of 31 and 32 yards by Brown. His second kick was set up by Warfield's 26-yard interception return. Sophomore cornerback Ralph Brown had slapped a pass intended for Burnett into Warfield's hands, and the senior returned it to the Kansas State 16-yard line.
"The interception helped our offense a lot, and I think it hurt theirs," Warfield said. "Kansas State was pumped up after its first touchdown, but when the interception came, it lowered their confidence and it gave us the extra edge."
Newcombe, the true freshman who has been shifted from quarterback to wingback, set up Nebraska's next score with a 27-yard punt return to the Kansas State 43. The Huskers then covered that distance in seven plays, with Frost diving into the end zone on a 4-yard run with 4:33 remaining.
Nebraska had a chance to add to its lead late in the second quarter after Brandon Drum recovered a fumbled punt at the Kansas State 21. On the next play, Frost threw his first interception in nine games, bringing an end to his school - record streak of 155 consecutive pass attempts without an interception.
The interception provided only temporary relief for the Wildcats.
Nebraska needed just eight second-half plays to turn its 14-point halftime lead into a 35-point bulge. Green capped Nebraska's opening drive of the third quarter, which came after Kansas State was forced to punt from its end zone, with his 7-yard touchdown run. Frost, who threw for 98 yards, set up the score with a pass to tight end Sheldon Jackson that ate up 23 of the 34 yards on the drive.
Green made it 34-6 the next time Nebraska touched the football, sweeping the right side of the Kansas State defense on his 59-yard scoring run. The Huskers needed just three more plays to score on their third possession of the half.
The first was a 2-yard run by Green. Newcombe followed with a 25-yard gain to midfield on a reverse. Frost then faked another reverse before handing the ball to Green, who knifed his way through the heart of the Kansas State defense on a 50-yard scoring run.
|Yards per carry||2.5||6.3|
Nebraska is 78-15 all-time against Kansas State.
|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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