LINCOLN — Nebraska combined a first half to remember Saturday against Oklahoma State with a second half to forget.
The result was a 38-14 Big 12 Conference victory that produced almost as many frowns as smiles in the Husker camp.
“The first half, we were awesome,” Husker rover back Mike Brown said. “The second half, we sucked.”
Brown’s brutally honest assessment was aimed particularly at the Nebraska defense, which surrendered two touchdowns and 228 yards in the final 30 minutes. But it also generally summed up the mood following Nebraska’s 24th straight win over the Cowboys improved the fifth- and sixth-ranked Huskers to 5-0 and 2-0 in league play.
“We didn’t play as well in the second half, but I think that was probably because of a combination of things,” Nebraska Coach Frank Solich said. “To a degree, it is a little discouraging because you’re always looking to play four quarters of good football.
“We didn’t play four quarters of great football today, but we did play good football for a decent share of the game.”
The Huskers produced their finest all-around 30 minutes of the season in taking a 31-0 halftime lead before 77,740 at Memorial Stadium — the 230th straight sellout — and a Big 12 syndicated television audience. Nebraska’s offense chewed through Oklahoma State’s defense, which came into the game ranked third nationally, for 256 first-half yards and scores on five of its first seven possessions.
Defensively, Nebraska held the Cowboys to 45 yards on 28 first-half plays, only one of which was run in Nebraska territory. Oklahoma State completed none of its five passes in the first two quarters, and its longest gain against a Nebraska defense that was ranked fourth nationally was a 12-yard run by Jamaal Fobbs.
The Cowboys, who fell to 2-2 and 0-1 in the Big 12, also lost one fumble and had a punt blocked, with both mistakes setting up Nebraska touchdowns.
“[I have always said,] (1) when you play a team like Nebraska that does not beat itself, you can’t beat yourself,” Oklahoma State Coach Bob Simmons said.
“When you give that kind of team momentum and do not carry out your responsibilities, you are in for a long day.”
Oklahoma State enjoyed more success in the final 30 minutes, putting together scoring drives of 80 and 64 yards and averaging 5.6 yards on its 41 second-half plays. Four-touchdown underdogs, the Cowboys managed runs of 35 yards by Terrance Richardson and 30 yards by Fobbs against a Nebraska defense that hadn’t yielded a rush of more than 18 yards in the first four games.
Fobbs’ 1-yard scoring run with 1:52 to play was the first rushing touchdown allowed by Nebraska this season. The Cowboys also scored midway through the third quarter, driving 80 yards and getting the touchdown on B.J. Tiger’s 6-yard pass to Marcellus Rivers.
Oklahoma State finished with 273 yards, 78 more than Nebraska’s defensive average (195.3) in its first four games. The Cowboys’ 188 rushing yards were 41 more than the total of 147 that Nebraska had allowed its first four opponents.
“This defense is better than that, and I’m disappointed in the way we played in the second half,” Brown said. “For me personally, it takes something away from the win.”
Some might accuse Brown, one of Nebraska’s defensive captains, of overreacting to a season-first letdown that didn’t come until Nebraska was comfortably ahead in the third quarter. But his remarks were echoed by several teammates, and Husker Defensive Coordinator Charlie McBride made it clear that Nebraska’s play in the second half was unacceptable.
“You just can’t let things like that happen,” McBride said. “The technique of some of our first-string players and second-string players in the second half was not good enough to win. They beat us in the second half 14-7, so I personally look at it as a loss.”
Nebraska also struggled offensively after Dan Alexander’s 6-yard touchdown run boosted the Huskers to a 38-0 lead with 9:44 left in the third quarter. At that point, Nebraska had 20 first downs and 336 yards of offense on 45 snaps, an average of 7.5 yards per play.
Nebraska’s final 18 plays produced 49 yards and one first down.
“We slowed down a little bit in the second half,” quarterback Eric Crouch said.
Some of the drop-off, Solich said, was a result of a change in offensive strategy.
“We did not run Eric as much as we would have otherwise,” Solich said. “There were some things that appeared to be there in the option game that we could have used to get drives going had we needed to.”
Superb in his operation of Nebraska’s offense through the first 35 minutes, Crouch finished as Nebraska’s leading rusher with 61 yards on 11 carries. He also completed 7 of 13 passes for 145 yards, with tight end Tracey Wistrom hauling in four for 116 yards and one touchdown.
I-back Correll Buckhalter added 55 yards rushing, fullback Willie Miller 47 and wingback Bobby Newcombe 35 as the Huskers finished with 240 yards on the ground. Overall, Nebraska had 385 yards and averaged 6.1 yards per snap against an Oklahoma State defense that had yielded an averages of 182.3 yards and 3.1 yards per play in its first three games.
“We knew Oklahoma State had a great defense,” Crouch said. “We knew they were going to attack us and that it was important to get bodies on bodies to have a day like we did. We had almost 400 yards, which is a pretty good day for us. We’d like more, but we’re satisfied with that for now.”
Crouch gave Nebraska a 7-0 lead 51?2 minutes into the game when he scored on a 4-yard run, capping a 51-yard drive that started after Clint Finley recovered Cowboys’ tailback Nathan Simmons’ fumble. A 22-yard punt set up Nebraska’s second touchdown drive that consisted of Crouch’s 47-yard pass to Wistrom and Buckhalter’s 2-yard scoring run.
Linebacker Brian Shaw blocked Oklahoma State’s next punt, giving Nebraska the football at the Cowboys’ 8-yard line. After throwing incomplete on first down, Crouch then pitched to Buckhalter, who waltzed into the end zone with no Oklahoma State defender closer than 10 yards.
“You have to take your hat off to our line, our backs and Eric for executing the option game very, very well,” said Turner Gill, Nebraska’s quarterbacks coach. “He made the pitch at the right time and ducked and kept it at the right time.
“Oklahoma State’s defense was overloaded to the wide side of the field the majority of the time. We felt we could do some things by going to the weak side. They gave us some opportunities, and we took advantage of them. Still, you still have to execute the plays.”
Buckhalter’s second touchdown finished off a three-touchdown spree in 61?2 minutes that left Nebraska ahead 21-0 with 3:01 left in the first quarter.
“When you have a 21-point barrage like that,” said Nathan Simmons, “it pretty much takes a team out of the game.”
Nebraska made it 24-0 when Josh Brown kicked a 36-yard field goal with 7:07 left in the first half. The Huskers’ lead grew to 31-0 six minutes later when Wistrom caught Crouch’s 16-yard scoring pass.
Nebraska kept applying the pressure on its opening possession of the second half, moving 80 yards in six plays. Alexander’s touchdown, with 9:44 left in the third quarter, made it 38-0. From there, things got ugly for the Huskers as they had difficulty advancing the football and keeping Oklahoma State from moving it.
“It seemed to me that like it was two different ballgames,” Solich said. “We kind of lost momentum in the second half. Oklahoma State, to its credit, played better in the second half. We just did not get our drives going, and they really started to run the football against us effectively.
“We did enough really good things to make our guys feel good about themselves. On the other side of it, there were errors and there were plays that really jump out at you. We’re not where we need to be. We need to continue to improve. They know that.”
All Brown knew was that Oklahoma State’s late-game success stung the defense’s pride.
“We beat them, and we pretty much dominated them,” Brown said.
“But we just had some mental mistakes that killed us in the second half.”
|Yards per carry||3.9||4.9|
Nebraska is 37-5 all-time against Oklahoma State.
|Southern Miss||Sept. 18|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 2|
|Iowa State||Oct. 9|
|Texas A&M||Nov. 6|
|Kansas State||Nov. 13|
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