LAWRENCE, Kan. — In a cramped postgame interview room, with the usual news media suspects giving him little space to exhale, Nebraska Coach Frank Solich talked about breathing room.
There's never any when you're fighting for a Big 12 Conference football championship, Solich said. There's never any, he explained, when Kansas State, the North Division preseason favorite, is up next.
Yet, just minutes removed from a win in a win-or-else football game Saturday, Solich and his Huskers had to feel like they pulled on the oxygen mask and took a big hit.
Nebraska finished a tenuous week by clipping Kansas 24-3 at Memorial Stadium. Resuscitation came via a defense that caused four turnovers — the biggest being a third-quarter interception by Daniel Bullocks — and an offense that remembered how to run the football.
"We talked a little on Monday about how we just had to move on," NU fullback Steve Kriewald said. "This was a good week of practice for us, and I think we just know that we have to pull it together right now."
It had fallen apart only a week earlier in that brutal 31-7 loss at Texas.
The Huskers realized their Big 12 North situation was getting a little dicey. The Solich detractors were firing up their engines, saying a loss to Kansas would be unacceptable.
And midway through the third quarter Saturday, with KU threatening to cut into a 10-3 Husker lead, NU fans had to fear getting the air knocked out of them again.
Relax. Find a happy place. Disguise a defensive coverage.
On second-and-5 from the NU 7 - yard line with 7:44 left in the third, the Huskers tricked Kansas quarterback Adam Barmann into a freshman mistake.
Bullocks, NU's sophomore strong safety, bluffed playing the run and dropped into pass coverage. Barmann put a throw right into his No. 14 shirt.
"I knew what it meant (at the time)," Bullocks said. "We needed that play. I knew that if they would have scored they would have had some momentum going for them. We had to create a turnover."
With that turnover, another Barmann interception six minutes later and four third-quarter personal-foul penalties, Kansas seemed to be saying, "Take it."
In between, with Kriewald's goal-line fumble, the Huskers almost said, "We don't want it."
Eventually, Nebraska (8-2, 4-2 Big 12) grabbed its 35th straight win over Kansas (5-5, 2-4).
Bullocks' interception and three of KU's penalties helped set up Judd Davies' 4-yard touchdown run for a 17-3 lead with 1:06 left in the third quarter. The senior fullback later capped a 12-play, 81-yard drive with a 3-yard TD run in the fourth.
"In this business, in this job, you just continue to press forward," Solich said. "There's no breathing room in the Big 12."
But there is life in the Huskers.
Third-team I-back Cory Ross supplied it with a career-high 108 rushing yards. The Huskers came back with 290 yards on the ground after being held to 53 at Texas.
The defense supplied it with the forced turnovers. Four more pushed the total to 39 on the season, more than any other NCAA Division I-A team.
Not everything was set to go in NU's favor, though, as a crowd of 50,107 settled in to see if Kansas could beat the Huskers for the first time since 1968.
Nebraska's secondary had issues, with Lornell McPherson arriving late after a Saturday morning funeral and Jerrell Pippens falling ill. Plus, Kansas was waiting with an improved team and playing for a win that would make it bowl eligible.
"I thought we played pretty decent, we just couldn't execute," Barmann said. "We can't do those kind of things against Nebraska and expect to win."
Nebraska now will begin preparations for Kansas State carrying a little less baggage than the Huskers started out with Monday.
Maybe the Huskers get back the Blackshirt practice jerseys that Defensive Coordinator Bo Pelini took away from his first-teamers Monday. Maybe the shifty Ross stands in line to make an I-back start, or at least give Kansas State something different to think about.
Ah, Kansas State. Solich was right about breathing room when the Wildcats are coming to Lincoln as one of two teams standing between Nebraska and a Big 12 North title.
"These games are fun," NU quarterback Jammal Lord said. "No matter who you play, you have to have fun with it. Last year, K-State really embarrassed us at their home (49-13). Hopefully we return the favor."
|Yards per carry||3.0||5.5|
Nebraska is 91-23 all-time against Kansas.
|Oklahoma State||Aug. 30|
|Utah State||Sept. 6|
|Penn State||Sept. 13|
|Southern Miss||Sept. 25|
|Troy (formerly Troy State)||Oct. 4|
|Texas A&M||Oct. 18|
|Iowa State||Oct. 25|
|Kansas State||Nov. 15|
|Michigan State||Dec. 29|
Nebraska has played 16 games on Nov. 8. See them all »
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