LINCOLN — Nebraska avoided an upset Saturday that would have ruined a long-awaited showdown against second-ranked Oklahoma.
But the third-ranked Huskers paid a heavy price for their 41-31 homecoming victory over spunky Texas Tech before the crowd of 77,838, NU's 245th straight sellout, at Memorial Stadium. At least five Nebraska starters sustained injuries that took them out of the game and left their status in doubt for Saturday's game against the Sooners.
And that doesn't count All-America tight end Tracey Wistrom, who didn't play against the Red Raiders after suffering a knee injury in practice Wednesday.
"We had an awful lot of starters fall by the wayside," Nebraska Coach Frank Solich said. "We're hoping that we can get those guys healed up and get them back on track."
Joining Wistrom on the sidelines Saturday were starting fullback Judd Davies, wingback John Gibson, offensive tackles Dave Volk and Dan Waldrop and cornerback Keyuo Craver. Volk sustained a possible separated shoulder, while the other four players went out with sprained right ankles.
"Any time you have injuries there's some concern," Husker quarterback Eric Crouch said. "We do have a lot of depth on offense, so I'm not that concerned about it. The guys who had to come out will, I know, do their best to try to get back on the field and play next week."
Solich would not speculate on whether any of the players might not be available for Saturday's game against the Sooners. He preferred to talk about some of the players who stepped up and turned in solid efforts against the Red Raiders. That group included cornerback Erwin Swiney, fullback Paul Kastl, offensive lineman Wes Cody and split end Ben Cornelsen.
"We had a lot of guys step up to the plate tonight," Solich said. "There is no doubt that this was a victory that was earned, and I feel good for our players.
The rash of injuries couldn't keep Nebraska from winning its 19th straight home game to improve to 8-0 and take sole possession of first place in the Big 12 Conference North Division with a 4-0 record. Texas Tech dropped to 3-3 and 1-3 in the Big 12's South Division.
"We're excited to be 8-0 and we're excited about being tested and responding," Solich said. "Now, it's time to move on."
The victory wasn't assured until 54 seconds remained when Nebraska defensive tackle Jeremy Slechta sacked Texas Tech quarterback Kliff Kingsbury for a 7-yard loss on a fourth-and-eight play from the Huskers' 33-yard line. The sack was one of three the Huskers recorded against Kingsbury, who set a personal high of throwing 63 passes in the game that took almost 31/2 hours to complete.
Kingsbury completed 33 passes for 353 yards and one touchdown. He repeatedly came up with big throws, especially in the first half when Texas Tech battled the Huskers to a 28-28 tie. The 28 points were the most scored in a first half by a Nebraska opponent since UCLA scored 38 in a 1988 victory over the Huskers.
Texas Tech finished with 440 yards, the most allowed this season by a Nebraska defense that came into the game ranked in the top seven nationally in the four major NCAA defensive statistical categories. Those standings, including a No. 3 ranking in total defense, took a beating against the Texas Tech spread offense.
But the Red Raiders remained winless in seven career meetings with the Huskers because Nebraska's defense came up with enough big plays in the second half to limit Texas Tech to a field goal.
"We won't have rose-colored glasses when we look at this game," said Craig Bohl, Nebraska's defensive coordinator. "Any time you give up 400-some yards, there naturally are some concerns. But I was pleased with how we came out in the second half and held them to three points.
"Certainly, there are some things that we'll need to work on. I didn't think our tackling was as sharp as it's been, and I didn't think our execution was where it needs to be. But when you're in a tussle like this, you find out things about your character. I was pleased with how we responded tonight."
So was Slechta, although the senior captain said Nebraska will need to play better if it wants to stay unbeaten in a stretch run that includes games against Oklahoma, Kansas, Kansas State and Colorado.
"This was a wake-up call, " Slechta said. "When we go into practice on Monday, we're going to know that Texas Tech had some success against us and that we're going to have to get a lot better if we want to play with Oklahoma.
"We're going to have to get a lot better is we want to play with the schools that are at the top of the nation."
Nebraska's defense wasn't the only one that struggled Saturday. Texas Tech surrendered 531 yards to the Huskers, including 335 on the ground. I-back Dahrran Diedrick battered the Red Raiders for 157 yards on 20 carries, while Crouch added 105 yards on 21 carries.
His second rush of the game allowed Crouch to step into some exclusive company as he became only the fourth quarterback in Division I-A history to rush for 3,000 yards and pass for 3,000 yards in his career. Crouch now has rushed for 3,096 yards, and the season-high 196 yards he passed for against the Red Raiders upped his career total to 3,957 yards.
Crouch completed 10 of 22 passes, three of which went for touchdowns in the first half. Crouch teamed up with tight end Jon Bowling for a 27-yard scoring play for Nebraska's first touchdown. He later threw scoring passes of 19 and 35 yards to Wilson Thomas.
"We really didn't expect them to come out and pass like they did," Texas Tech linebacker Jonathan Hawkins said. "They caught us off guard in the first quarter. The had a good mix of play calling in the game between running plays and passing plays."
Nebraska's air attack enabled the Huskers to restore order after Texas Tech's Wes Welker stunned them with an 85-yard punt return three minutes into the game. Crouch countered by driving the Huskers 80 yards in eight plays, finishing off the march with his scoring pass to Bowling with 9:11 left in the first quarter.
Nebraska got its second touchdown 15 seconds later on Davies' 25-yard run, set up when Tim Demerath recovered Jason Wesley's fumble on the kickoff. The Huskers scored on two of their next three possessions, with Crouch capping drives of 68 and 49 yards with his scoring tosses to Thomas.
The second, on a nifty 35-yard throw on the dead run, put Nebraska ahead 28-13 three minutes into the second quarter. Nebraska failed to score on its final four possessions of the first half, and found itself tied at intermission when Kingsbury directed a pair of touchdown drives in the final 7:20 of the second quarter.
Kingsbury completed passes of 10, 9, 36, 9 and 1 yards — the latter to Anton Paige for a touchdown — on a 74-yard drive that pulled the Red Raiders within 28-20. Texas Tech scored its last touchdown of the game with three seconds left in the first half on a 12-yard run by Ricky Williams that finished off a five - play, 80 - yard drive.
Kingsbury's two-point conversion pass to Paige forged a 28-28 tie. The 28 points were the most an opposing team has scored in the first 30 minutes against Nebraska at home since 1962.
"What we were doing was pretty effective at halftime," Texas Tech Coach Mike Leach said. "Our effort was great, but we just needed to keep coming and keep playing with high emotion and executing plays. I think we did."
But Texas Tech's second-half effort didn't produce enough points to keep up with the Huskers. Crouch put Nebraska back on top when he directed a 70-yard drive on the Huskers' first possession of the second half. He ended the drive with a 7-yard scoring run, then hooked up with Thunder Collins on a 27-yard screen pass for the big play on Nebraska's next possession.
That ended with a 33-yard field goal by Josh Brown. He finished off Nebraska's scoring with 3:25 to play, kicking a 36-yarder that hiked Nebraska's lead to the final margin.
Texas Tech gained 179 of its total offensive production in the second half but settled for just a 31-yard field goal by Robert Treece with 1:39 remaining in the third quarter. The Red Raiders' three possessions in the fourth quarter all ended in Nebraska territory, but yielded no points.
"I certainly give a lot of credit to Texas Tech for coming in here and playing as well as they did," Solich said. "They did a great job. They threw the ball well, made play and put some points on the board."
Not enough, though, to derail the Huskers in their march to a showdown with Oklahoma, which handed Nebraska a 31-14 loss last season.
"We came up empty-handed against them last year, " Crouch said. "This year, the goal we have set is to win the national championship. Oklahoma is the next opponent. We'll prepare for them as we would any other team.
"But there's going to be a little more motivation there, knowing that they beat us last year. I'm anticipating another great game, one that everybody probably will want to see."
|Yards per carry||3.9||6.0|
Nebraska is 7-4 all-time against Texas Tech.
|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|
Nebraska has played 19 games on Oct. 20. See them all »
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