AMES, Iowa — The biggest benefit Nebraska gained from Saturday’s whipping of Iowa State wasn’t reflected on the scoreboard or on the statistics sheet.
In rolling to a 42-7 victory before 45,817 at Jack Trice Stadium, the Huskers strung together a performance that might temporarily quiet the doubting Thomases while providing twice-beaten Nebraska with a double shot of confidence heading into Saturday’s showdown with undefeated Kansas State.
“This definitely will give us a lot more confidence than last week coming off a loss,” Husker rush end Chad Kelsay said. “It’s going to be a huge game down there. This game has been hyped up all year, and K-State has been talking for a long time that this is the year they’re going to beat Nebraska.
“We’re going to come out this week, have a great week of practice and we’re going to go down there ready to go.”
At the same time, the 8-2 Huskers weren’t about to be fooled into thinking that their showing against a 2-7 Iowa State team that remains winless in Big 12 Conference play is the cure-all to the ills that have ailed them this season.
Beating Iowa State was a bit like climbing a hill — a slow and steady approach will get the job done. Beating third- and fourth-ranked Kansas State will be more like scaling Mount Everest.
“With the way Kansas State is playing right now, I don’t know if anyone is ready for them,” Nebraska linebacker Carlos Polk said. “But we’re going to come out and give it a shot.”
Suffice to say that the 14th- and 15th-ranked Huskers would have been ill-prepared for the challenge Kansas State presents had they stumbled about the slippery turf on a less-than-ideal day for football. The temperature at kickoff was 36 degrees, with a wind-chill of 17 degrees. Combinations of rain, snow and sleet fell periodically throughout the game.
“The footing was not good out there for either team,” Nebraska coach Frank Solich said.
It was good enough for the Huskers to pile up an average day against Iowa State’s defense. The 403 yards that Nebraska gained were just 5 yards more than average yield against the Cyclones this season. Given the conditions, Nebraska’s output was anything but average.
I-back Dan Alexander, in his first start, rambled for 110 yards, with three of his 22 carries ending in touchdowns. Quarterback Eric Crouch added 91 yards, while backup Monte Christo’s 34-yard day featured a high-flying 16-yard touchdown run.
Nebraska’s defense chipped in by holding Iowa State to 227 yards — 101 of which came after Nebraska’s lead had mushroomed to 42-0 when roverback Joe Walker returned an interception 65 yards for a touchdown. Walker’s theft was one of four turnovers the Huskers produced, two off their season-high for takeaways.
“This was a good game to build off,” Solich said. “I’m not referring to it as being a good game to build off just because of Kansas State is coming up.
**And not just with Kansas State on the horizon. “We’ve been looking for a game where we have played very, very well on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game. Today was a close as we’ve gotten in that regard in a long, long time.
“We have two regular-season games left and hopefully a bowl game. The way we look at it, we still have plenty of football left to play. I’m pleased we seem to be moving in the right direction, but we have to continue that.”
Nebraska’s offense pointed the Huskers in the right direction by scoring three touchdowns in the first two quarters. That compares to the total of nine points — six of which came on a pair of half-ending field goals — the offense had produced in the first 30 minutes of the 20-13 win Oct. 24 over Missouri and the 20-16 loss Oct. 31 to Texas.
“We executed a lot better today and it shows in the scoring,” Nebraska fullback Joel Makovicka said. “We came out last week, didn’t execute very well and only scored 16 points. This week we came out and executed a lot better on a sloppy field and scored 42 points.
“We have to do that this week in practice. We’ve let two games slip away already this year. We don’t want to do that anymore. And I think we showed today what kind of competitors we have in coming back after a loss.”
Nebraska played keepaway in building its halftime lead. The Huskers ran 46 plays and held a 12-minute advantage (21:00 to 9:00) in time of possession. The Cyclones ran 23 plays in the first half, six of which came in the final 44 seconds after Nebraska had scored its third touchdown.
Forty of Nebraska’s first-half plays were runs, producing 205 of its 359 rushing yards. Overall, Nebraska ran on 62 of its 71 plays.
“Our goal today was to come out, stay down and really get after it,” Nebraska center Josh Heskew said. “We kept on beating them, beating them up and moving the ball.”
Still, the Huskers’ longest possession of the game failed to yield any points. Nebraska took the opening kickoff and, in 14 plays, moved from its 20 to the Iowa State 17. A fumbled pitch by Alexander resulted in a 5-yard loss on second down, and Crouch gained 1 yard on third and 12 from the 22.
Kris Brown tried a 38-yard field-goal attempt into the wind, but the kick fell short and was wide to the right. After an Iowa State punt, Nebraska failed to move the ball on three downs and had to kick.
Bill Lafleur’s punt was partially blocked and went just 14 yards. Still, the play ended positively for the Huskers. Jarrott Lollis attempted to pick up the loose ball and fumbled, and linebacker Josh Kohl recovered at the Iowa State 42-yard line.
“The muffed punt hurt our confidence,” Iowa State coach Dan McCarney said.
Nebraska added to Iowa State’s pain by needing just five plays to get its first score. Wingback Shevin Wiggins opened the drive with a 17-yard gain after taking a pitch from Crouch. Alexander carried the final three plays, gaining 4, 7 and 9 yards, the latter producing a touchdown with 28 seconds left in the first quarter.
Iowa State countered with its best offensive series of the first half, driving from its 28 to the Nebraska 17-yard line. A 37-yard pass from Todd Bandhauer to Damien Groce was the big play on the drive, but it ended when Clint Finley got the first of his two interceptions. Finley gobbled up the tipped pass at the goal line and returned it 21 yards.
“Erwin (Swiney) slapped the ball up, and the ball was just floating,” Finley said. “I just ran under it. I was excited. That’s my first one in a long time. It would be terrible going your whole career at Nebraska playing safety and not getting a pick. And that crossed my mind.”
Crouch then took the Huskers on a 13-play drive that produced their second touchdown and consumed six minutes. Crouch picked up 33 yards on four carries and threw a 10-yard pass to fullback Joel Makovicka. Alexander carried five times for 22 yards, including the final 3 yards for the touchdown with 6:50 remaining in the first half.
“I’m definitely getting more comfortable running this offense,” said Crouch, who completed 4 of 8 passes for 44 yards. “I’ve played five or six games now, and I’ve started three of them. I’m comfortable, and I feel confident in the guys surrounding me.
“There’s nothing this offense can’t do this year. We haven’t always showed that at times, but if we keep working to get better, we can have success.”
Nebraska made it 21-0 just before halftime, using a 23-yard punt return by Joe Walker to set up the score. The Huskers took over at the Iowa State 47-yard line, and the Cyclones moved Nebraska 15 yards closer to a touchdown by getting flagged for pass interference on the first play.
Crouch kept the drive alive with a 12-yard pass to Kenny Cheatham on third and eight from the Iowa State 30-yard line. Correll Buckhalter followed with a 14-yard run and, two plays later, blasted into the end zone from 2 yards out for the touchdown.
Alexander got his third touchdown of the game, on a 1-yard run, to cap a seven-play, 62-yard drive late in the third quarter. The Huskers then pushed their lead to 42-0 with two scores in the first four minutes of the final quarter.
Christo got the first, running 16 yards and diving into the end zone to cap a 55-yard, nine-play drive. Walker put himself in the NCAA record book when he returned Bandhauer’s third interception of the game 65 yards for Nebraska’s final score. Walker became only the fifth player in Division I history to score touchdowns in a season by returning a punt, a kickoff and an interception for scores.
Iowa State averted its first shutout in 80 games when the Cyclones scored against Nebraska’s defensive reserves with 4:47 left. Ennis Haywood’s 19-yard run capped a 74-yard drive that lasted 15 plays.
“It’s always disappointing when you get so close to a shutout and then they score,” Nebraska middle linebacker Jay Foreman said. “But overall, I thought the defense played real well. It’s been a tough week, not only for the defense but the whole team, to come back and play after a tough loss.
“I thought we responded real well.”
Iowa State tailback Darren Davis, 21st nationally in rushing, finished with 48 yards, less than half his average total (106.8 yards). Overall, Iowa State rushed for 103 yards, all of it coming in the final 12 minutes of the game.
The Nebraska defense also kept Bandhauer under control. The senior, who needed to average 151 yards per game in Iowa State’s final three games to become the school’s all-time leading passer, got just 118 against the Huskers in completing 9 of 25 attempts.
The strong defensive showing helped set up the offense, which in turned made things easier on the defense by moving the ball with consistency. The Huskers must hope that they can match that effort against Kansas State, which will be trying to end the Huskers’ 29-year winning streak in the series.
“We’re looking forward to going down there and playing them,” Finley said. “This is a big game for all of us. Usually they’re the ones who are coming after us.”
|Yards per carry||2.7||5.8|
Nebraska is 86-17 all-time against Iowa State.
|Louisiana Tech||Aug. 29|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 3|
|Texas A&M||Oct. 10|
|Iowa State||Nov. 7|
|Kansas State||Nov. 14|
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