LUBBOCK, Texas — Nebraska grounded Texas Tech's "Air Raid" offense Saturday with a performance that should send the Huskers' confidence soaring.
The Huskers, who have played like anything but the nation's top-ranked team at times this season, relied on relentless defensive pressure and a ball-control offense to produce a 56-3 victory.
Nebraska Coach Frank Solich didn't hesitate in ranking the performance, which came before 48,961 at Jones SBC Stadium and a Fox Sports Net television audience, as his team's finest in a 6-0 season. Particularly impressive was the defense's effort against a Texas Tech offense that had shown itself capable of producing a glut of yardage.
"From the sideline, I thought that was our best performance thus far," said Craig Bohl, Nebraska's defensive coordinator. "I thought we picked up some confidence last week against Iowa State, and this game is going to add to that.
"Nothing builds confidence like a little bit of success, and tonight was important in that we took another step forward."
Nebraska held Texas Tech's wide-open offensive attack to a season-low 200 yards while piling up 540 — the Huskers' second most productive offensive effort of the season. The Red Raiders, averaging almost 5 yards per play through their first six games, averaged 3.3 yards per snap against the Huskers to drop to 5-2.
"We just all blew up," Texas Tech Coach Mike Leach said. "We were overly fired up and wanted this too badly."
The loss dropped Texas Tech to 1-2 in Big 12 Conference play, while Nebraska improved to 3-0. Up next for the Huskers is Saturday's home game against Baylor, although the focus of many of the team's fans is an Oct. 28 visit to eighth-ranked Oklahoma.
The Sooners, who scored a 41-31 victory over second-and third-ranked Kansas State, run an offense similar to Texas Tech's. Leach installed the pass-happy attack at Oklahoma last season as the Sooners' offensive coordinator, then brought it to Texas Tech when he became the head coach last December.
"That's not the last time we're going to be seeing an offense like that," Solich said. "It was pleasing to see our defense play so well and take things away from them that had been good for them all year long."
Leach's system had allowed Texas Tech to start the season 5-1, relying on an offense that ranked 10th nationally in passing production. But the Huskers, who had yielded career-high passing performances to Missouri quarterback Kirk Farmer and Iowa State's Sage Rosenfels in the past two games, held the Red Raiders to a little more than half of their 381-yard average.
"This is a real confidence booster," Husker middle linebacker Carlos Polk said. "We had started to doubt ourselves a little about our passing game. But we knew if we could put pressure on the quarterback, our DBs were going to make plays. From the opening plays, we set a tone that gave us a lot of confidence."
Nebraska, ranked 55th nationally in total defense coming into the game, intercepted quarterback Kliff Kingsbury twice, including a theft by Joe Walker that gave Nebraska its first touchdown. Kingsbury, who had been averaging 288.8 passing yards per game, finished with 165 yards, completing 20 of 37 passes. Backup B.J. Symons completed just 2 of 11 passes for 16 yards.
The Huskers were credited with sacking Kingsbury just twice, but they constantly hurried and harassed him.
"I know I got a couple of hits on the quarterback, and he got up cursing," Polk said. "I knew after awhile it was going to take a toll on him."
Equally important to Nebraska's domination was NU's advantage in time of possession against a Texas Tech defense that had been ranked second nationally. The Husker kept the ball for 37 minutes and 48 seconds, compared with 22:12 for the Red Raiders.
Among Nebraska's scoring drives were clock - eating possessions that consumed 7:21, 6:46, 4:29, 4:26, 4:23 and 3:50, the latter covering just 28 yards.
"It became somewhat clear to us that we were going to be able to move the ball on the ground and move it consistently," Solich said. "Once you get that feeling, it's pretty easy to call runs and not so easy to call passes. We were able to pick up first down after first down, much of them by running the football right at them.
"When that's happening, you don't want to get too exotic."
Nebraska pounded Texas Tech for 442 yards on 77 rushes. I-back Dan Alexander led the Huskers with 113 yards on 20 carries, while Correll Buckhalter added 105 on 13 carries and Dahrran Diedrick, in his most extensive action of the season, had 53 yards.
"We ran the ball a lot more inside, and as a running back I welcome that," Alexander said. "This is going to be a confidence booster, but we know we're capable of doing this every week. We looked at our first five games and said we weren't getting it done as we were capable.
"Today showed what we're capable of doing."
The Huskers were able to do it by relying more on a power attack and less on the option game that had been taking a toll on quarterback Eric Crouch. Crouch, averaging almost 18 carries in Nebraska's first five games, had just 12 attempts against the Red Raiders.
He finished with 52 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns. He also completed 6 of 12 passes for 86 yards and one touchdown before giving way to backup Jammal Lord late in the third quarter.
"It felt good to see Jammal and those other guys get in there," Crouch said. "We have a long stretch of games coming up. Getting almost a quarter and a half on the sidelines was probably good for me."
Overall, Nebraska had 11 players contribute to its rushing total, its second best of the season behind the 505 yards in the season opener against San Jose State.
"We took advantage of running the ball up the middle," Crouch said. "When something's working, we're not going to go away from it."
Nebraska wasted little time in establishing control in the first quarter. Walker negated the impact of Alexander's lost fumble, which killed Nebraska's second possession at the Texas Tech 16-yard line, by picking off a pass by Kingsbury on the next play and returning it 19 yards for his fifth career touchdown.
The Huskers made it 14-0 on their next offensive possession, needing just four plays to move 58 yards. Crouch got the first 40 on the opening play of the drive, and Alexander followed with a 14-yard run to the Texas Tech 4-yard line. After Alexander was stopped for no gain, Crouch scored his ninth touchdown of the season on a keeper.
The Huskers made it 21-0 with 10:47 left in the second quarter when Crouch threw an 8-yard pass to senior wingback John Gibson. The score, Gibson's first of his career, capped a clock-eating 16-play, 71-yard drive that included just one play longer than 10 yards.
A shanked, 12-yard punt by Clinton Greathouse set up Nebraska's next score. Taking over at the Texas Tech 28-yard line, the Huskers patiently moved into position for Crouch's 1-yard sneak on the ninth play of the drive that put Nebraska ahead 28-0.
"Getting off to big leads hasn't been something that's been a part of repertoire," Solich said. "Normally, we wait around for awhile. So doing what we did was really satisfying to this football team.
"I think there was an intent and desire and drive to do that in this ballgame. It was important to get off to a good start and play four quarters of football, and we did that."
Texas Tech put together its only sustained drive of the game to open the second half, moving from its 20-yard line to the Nebraska 24. But the drive stalled, and kicker Chris Birkholz came in to convert a 41-yard field goal.
Nebraska then countered with another time-consuming drive, eating 6:46 on a 15-play, 80-yard march that ended with fullback Willie Miller's 4-yard touchdown run. With Nebraska ahead 35-3, Lord replaced Crouch on Nebraska's next possession and directed the Huskers on a 10-play, 81-yard drive that included runs of 20 and 21 yards by Buckhalter.
He finished off the march with a 3-yard touchdown run to put Nebraska ahead 42-3, and Diedrick and Lord scored late touchdowns as the Huskers posted a season high for points.
"I didn't think this one was going to be easy, although we've moved the ball well on some pretty good defenses," Solich said. "Our offense has a lot of confidence that it can put points on the board."
After Saturday, the Huskers' defense had to be feeling good about its ability to keep opponents from doing the same.
"We were able to get their quarterback out of rhythm, which we wanted to do," Bohl said. "We tried to set the tempo. We blitzed on the very first play. That's somewhat unconventional for us, but we tried to give them a lot of different looks.
"I was pleased with our effort. We had a lot of guys step forward tonight."
|Yards per carry||1.6||5.7|
Nebraska is 7-4 all-time against Texas Tech.
|San Jose State||Sept. 2|
|Notre Dame||Sept. 9|
|Iowa State||Oct. 7|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 14|
|Kansas State||Nov. 11|
Nebraska has played 18 games on Oct. 14. See them all »
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