LINCOLN — Nebraska’s defense tuned up for a showdown Saturday by tearing apart Texas A&M.
The Huskers left the 18th-and 21st-ranked Aggies bruised, bewildered and blanked in posting a 37-0 victory before the 232nd consecutive sellout crowd of 77,705 at Memorial Stadium. Nebraska held Texas A&M to 118 yards, including just 2 yards rushing, forced five turnovers and registered eight quarterback sacks in handing the Aggies their first shutout loss in 142 games dating back to 1988.
“This is as good a defensive performance as we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Husker senior rover back Mike Brown said. “Today, we came out and dominated. And a game like this gets the momentum going again.
“We’ve struggled the last two weeks. This game gives us something to build on. If we build on this momentum, we can be pretty good next Saturday.”
That’s when sixth-ranked Kansas State invades for a game that could decide the North Division’s representative in the Big 12 Conference championship game. Saturday’s win, the Huskers’ second straight since an Oct. 23 loss to Texas, improved No. 9 Nebraska to 8-1 overall and 5-1 in the league, one game behind the unbeaten Wildcats.
Nebraska ended Texas A&M’s chances of defending its Big 12 championship by dropping the Aggies to 6-3 overall and 3-3 in the league. Nebraska also avenged last season’s 28-21 loss to the Aggies by recording its first shutout against a ranked opponent since a 31-0 win over West Virginia in the 1994 Kickoff Classic.
“Without question, our defense controlled today’s game,” Nebraska Coach Frank Solich said. “We stood the test for four quarters and just played dominating football throughout.”
The same can’t be said for the Huskers’ offense, which had to settle for a pair of first-half field goals from Josh Brown before kicking into gear in the final 30 minutes. Nebraska scored on five of its first six possessions in the second half, piling up 288 of its 430 yards in the third and fourth quarters.
Quarterback Eric Crouch and I-back Dan Alexander led the second-half charge against the Aggies, who came into the game ranked 10th nationally in rushing defense (89.8 yards) and 12th overall (295 yards). Crouch gained 123 of his career-high 137 yards rushing in the second half, while Alexander had 108 of his 135 yards in the final two quarters.
The Huskers had 274 of their 335 rushing yards in the second half when they concentrated on running right at the Texas A&M defense.
Nebraska had utilized a variety of spread and one-back formations in the first half, but went back to its more traditional I-formation attack in the final two quarters.
“With all the different looks we were giving them, they had to try to adjust,” Husker offensive guard Russ Hochstein said. “Then I think we caught them on their heels a little bit in the second half when we came right at them. For us, it just shows a willingness to get it done.”
The Huskers got a third field goal from Brown on their opening possession of the second half, then followed it up with touchdowns by Alexander, Crouch, Correll Buckhalter and Dahrran Diedrick. As it turned out, Nebraska’s defense made all those points needless by refusing to allow Texas A&M within 11 yards of the Huskers’ goal line.
And the Aggies only got that close because Nebraska’s offense put them there when wingback Bobby Newcombe fumbled on the first play of the game. Texas A&M linebacker Harold Robertson recovered at the Nebraska 11-yard line, but the Aggies could get no closer.
Texas A&M quarterback Randy McCown lost 6 yards when he fumbled on the first-down play. After a five-yard run, McCown threw the first of his 19 incompletions — he finished 11 of 30 for 116 yards — to bring Terence Kitchens in to attempt a 28-yard field goal.
Kitchens had his kicked slapped back in his face by Nebraska rush end Kyle Vanden Bosch.
“That was huge, and it was probably the turning point right there,” Mike Brown said. “We gave them the ball in our backyard, and they weren’t able to score. That was the biggest play of the game.”
Vanden Bosch, playing at full-speed for the first time in more than a month, turned in another big one in the second quarter after Texas A&M’s most productive possession of the first half got the Aggies to the Nebraska 14-yard line. When the drive stalled, Kitchens attempted a 31-yard field but drilled Vanden Bosch in the head with this one.
“The trajectory of the ball was too low,” Texas A&M Coach R.C. Slocum said. “We worked hard on it this week in practice with our kickers. I thought we had it worked out, but we didn’t.”
Texas A&M managed to end just one of its last 11 possessions in Nebraska territory. Turnovers ended four of those possessions, including a fumble by Ja’Mar Toombs and a McCown interception that set up Nebraska’s six first-half points.
Josh Brown converted the Toombs’ fumble at the 12-yard line into three points when he drilled a 20-yard kick with 5:29 left in the first half. Mike Brown set up Josh Brown’s second field goal when he intercepted his second pass of the first half and returned it 20 yards to the Texas A&M 18-yard line. Three plays later, Josh Brown connected from 31 yards for a 6-0 lead with 46 seconds left in the first half.
In addition to the two interceptions, Mike Brown led Nebraska with nine tackles and forced two fumbles. Two of his tackles produced losses, including one 10-yard sack of McCown.
“Mike Brown was unbelievable,” said Charlie McBride, Nebraska’s defensive coordinator. “He looked like a heat-seeking missile out there.”
But Brown got plenty of support, as Keyuo Craver and Ralph Brown also intercepted passes. Defensive tackle Steve Warren had three of Nebraska’s eight sacks, while rush end Aaron Wills and linebacker Carlos Polk each recorded eight tackles and linebacker Eric Johnson seven.
Overall, Nebraska held the Aggies to an average of 1.7 yards per play. Thirty-five of Texas A&M’s offensive plays produced no gain or negative yardage.
“We played horrible offense,” Slocum said. “We were very inept. We couldn’t run the ball. When we tried to pass the ball, we couldn’t protect long enough to get the ball off. I have a lot of respect for their defense. At the same time, we should be able to perform better than that.”
Nebraska’s first-half offensive performance hardly had the Huskers rejoicing. Nebraska, which struggled in the first 30 minutes of last Saturday’s 24-17 win at Kansas, hurt itself with a pair of fumbles, and its most productive offensive series of the first two quarters ended with Josh Brown clanging a field-goal attempt off the left upright.
“We didn’t capitalize on things in the first half,” said Crouch, who completed 9 of 20 passes for 95 yards. “At halftime, we said that’s one thing we had to be sure to do, capitalize in the red zone. We had to make sure that we punched it into the end zone when we got the chance.
“I think we wore them down in the second half. We had some long drives in the first half but we couldn’t finish them off. In the second half, we stepped it up another notch and played a little harder.”
Josh Brown ended Nebraska’s first possession of the second half with a 36-yard field goal, making it 9-0 with 8:06 left in the third quarter. The Huskers then covered 45 yards in three plays on their next possession, getting their first touchdown on Alexander’s 6-yard scoring run.
Alexander’s fumble through the end zone at the end of a 19-yard run kept the Huskers from scoring the next time they had the ball.
But McCown gave it right back, as Ralph Brown intercepted at the Aggies’ 33-yard line and returned it to the Texas A&M 2. Crouch scored on the next play, and the Huskers added fourth-quarter touchdowns on runs of 2 yards by Buckhalter and 3 yards by Diedrick.
“Offensively, we did some good things,” Solich said. “But we have been our own worst enemy throughout the season. I think we were again today in the first half with the turnovers.
“When we’ve been stopped, we’ve contributed to being stopped with turnovers and penalties. But I think the effort on both sides of the ball was tremendous today. I have to give our players credit for that effort.”
The Huskers will try to sustain that effort through this week in preparing for Kansas State’s visit.
“Right now, we have a sense of urgency,” McBride said. “Our backs are against the wall, but I think that’s helped some because we only have one thing to do and that’s to finish this off right.
“But I’m really proud of them and the way they’ve conducted themselves since the Texas game. You hate to say it but sometimes tough lessons are good lessons. I think they’re hungry.”
|Yards per carry||0.1||6.1|
Nebraska is 10-4 all-time against Texas A&M.
|Southern Miss||Sept. 18|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 2|
|Iowa State||Oct. 9|
|Texas A&M||Nov. 6|
|Kansas State||Nov. 13|
Nebraska has played 16 games on Nov. 6. See them all »
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