WACO, Texas — Nebraska put a stranglehold on Baylor's upset bid Saturday once the Huskers tightened their grip on the football.
The Huskers overcame a season-high five lost fumbles by unleashing a record-setting rushing attack on Baylor in posting a 48-7 Big 12 Conference victory that was more of a struggle than the final score might indicate.
Nebraska (7-0, 3-0 in Big 12 play) found itself clinging to a seven-point lead until a five-touchdown burst in the final 17 minutes quieted the Baylor fans that made up only half of the 38,102 at Floyd Casey Stadium. Those fans had serenaded the fourth-ranked Huskers with chants of "overrated" early in the game.
"Baylor deserves all the credit in the world — they just didn't lie down because we have that 'N' on our helmets," Nebraska cornerback Keyuo Craver said. "We deserve credit, too, for the way we responded. We were basically handing them the game early on."
In the end, Nebraska hung onto the football and buried the Bears (2-3, 0-3). The Huskers finished with a 688-187 edge in total yardage, with 641 of Nebraska's total coming on the ground. For the first time in school history, Nebraska had four players rush for more than 100 yards in a game, with No. 2 I-back Thunder Collins leading the way with a career-high 165 yards.
Starting I-back Dahrran Diedrick had 137 yards, quarterback Eric Crouch had 132 and fullback Judd Davies added a career-high 119 as Nebraska tied an NCAA record for most 100-yard rushers in a game. Arizona State (1951), Texas (1969), Alabama (1973) and Army (1984) each also had four players top the 100-yard mark, although it isn't known whether any of the four had to overcome fumbling seven times as Nebraska did Saturday.
"That was bizarre," said Davies, who scored on runs of 42 and 22 yards. "One of the great anomalies of that game was that we had seven turnovers (five, actually) and still managed to get more than 600 yards. That was so strange.
"At halftime, we knew we were moving the ball. We were a couple of plays from really breaking that game open. Coach was really fired up at halftime, and we came out and ran a lot of power stuff right at them. And we held onto to the ball."
Nebraska's 641 yards rushing was the second-highest total in school history, exceeded only by the 677 rushing yards the Huskers gained in a 1982 game against New Mexico State. Saturday's total also was the highest rushing and total offense productions in Frank Solich's four seasons as Nebraska's head coach.
"That's not easy to do, especially when you put the ball on the ground as much as we did," Solich said. "We lost opportunities to get things done. We weren't throwing the ball extremely well, and it was tough running patterns with the field conditions the way they were. So we pretty much abandoned the passing game.
"It came down today to a lot of big plays on the ground. This was not an easy game because of the amount of missed opportunities. But when we had to do it, we did it."
Much of the first half of the game was played in steady rain, and the contest was delayed for 36 minutes in the second quarter because of lightning. Two plays after play resumed, Baylor scored its only touchdown when Crouch, attempting to run an option play on second-and-eight from Nebraska's 3-yard line, fumbled in the end zone.
Linebacker Stephen Sepulveda recovered the loose ball that pulled the Bears within 14-7 with 6:48 left in the half.
Crouch also lost a fumble earlier in the second quarter, Husker punt returners Craver and Ben Cornelsen each fumbled once in the first half, and Diedrick stopped Nebraska's initial possession of the second half when he lost the ball after picking up 22 yards on a power run up the middle.
"I don't know how that one came out," said Diedrick, who had a game-high 20 carries. "I had both hands on that one. The rain had something to do with the fumbles today. The ball felt like it weighed about three pounds every time you got it.
"But that's no excuse. We just had to get used to running on a wet surface and holding onto a wet ball."
Diedrick got 30 of his yards on an 88-yard drive late in the third quarter that enabled Nebraska to finally gain control of the game. Collins had started the drive by carrying five straight times for 47 yards.
Crouch finished the march with a 1-yard sneak to put Nebraska ahead 21-7 with two minutes left in the third quarter. The Huskers then poured it on by scoring on all four of their fourth-quarter possessions.
Diedrick's 8-yard touchdown run capped the first drive of the fourth quarter, an 80-yarder that needed just four plays. Baylor fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Crouch scored his third touchdown on a 4-yard run four plays later.
Davies' 22-yard scoring run capped a 90-yard Nebraska drive that Collins opened with a 50-yard run. That capped an "in-your-face" performance for Collins, who said Baylor fans taunted him early in the game with chants of "Bring on Thunder."
Said Collins: "I just basically said in my mind, 'You don't want me to bring it on.'"
Josh Davis finished off the final-quarter spurt with his first career touchdown, scoring on a 13-yard run with 21 seconds to play.
"I felt all along that if we would just take care of the ball that we could control the game," Crouch said. "You get a little scared there when you're turning the ball over. We were killing ourselves. We had to cut out the turnovers, and that was the difference."
What kept Nebraska from hitting any panic buttons, even when it was coughing up the football with regularity in the first half, was the fact that the Husker defense was in total control against a Baylor offense that lived down to its national standings.
The Bears came into the game ranked 106th nationally with an average of 271 yards. The Huskers held them to almost 100 yards below that average. Baylor finished with just 29 yards rushing and averaged only 2.5 yards on its 76 offensive plays.
"We learned a little bit about the character today," said Craig Bohl, Nebraska's defensive coordinator. "It's particularly difficult to play defense after you fumble a punt, and we had two of those today. We're very pleased with how our guys responded all day.
"We set a goal of not allowing Baylor to score a touchdown today. They got one, but there wasn't a whole lot we could do about that. All in all, I was happy with how our guys responded. We're getting better every week. We have some big challenges on the horizon, but they did everything we asked them to do today."
Baylor's biggest challenge might be finding a way to resuscitate a defense that came into the game ranked 29th nationally in stopping the run. Baylor had been allowing an average of 2.6 yards per rush and 115.8 yards per game.
Against Nebraska, the Bears were scorched for an average of 8.8 yards on the Huskers' 73 rushes. Nebraska's total pushed its rushing average per game from a national-best 289 yards to 339.3.
"This football team will bounce back," said Baylor Coach Kevin Steele, whose team lost 59-0 at Nebraska last season. "They're fighters."
Saturday, the Bears had no answer to the second-half knockout punch that allowed the Huskers to overcome some heart - palpitating moments in the first 30 minutes.
"We can't keep scaring Coach Solich like that," Collins said, smiling. "He's not a young guy."
|Yards per carry||0.9||8.8|
Nebraska is 11-1 all-time against Baylor.
|Troy (formerly Troy State)||Sept. 1|
|Notre Dame||Sept. 8|
|Iowa State||Oct. 6|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 20|
|Kansas State||Nov. 10|
|Miami (FL)||Jan. 3|
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