SAN ANTONIO — The last handoff Monday night actually came minutes after Nebraska's 17-3 win over Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl.
That's when the Huskers, feeling as if they had done their part, turned things over to Athletic Director Steve Pederson and the weight of naming a new head football coach.
"This is a great setup for next year," said sophomore defensive tackle Le Kevin Smith. "But it all depends on what decision the organization decides to make. If they make the right decision, this program goes in the perfect direction."
Exactly a month after having its football world turned upside down, Nebraska showed few signs of being in disarray before an Alamodome crowd of 56,226.
Senior quarterback Jammal Lord threw for a career-high 160 yards. Sophomore I-back Cory Ross ran for a career-best 138 yards and two touchdowns, doing so on a school-record 37 carries.
And the NU defenders — perhaps the staunchest supporters of Interim Head Coach Bo Pelini getting the job permanently — gave up the fewest points allowed by the Huskers in their 42 all-time bowl games.
Now they wait. And they hope that Pederson makes good on a promise that Nebraska players will be the first to know who their next head coach will be.
"That's what was said before," junior cornerback Lornell McPherson said. "We don't know. We'll just have to wait and see what comes."
When, where and who are the popular questions. After leaving San Antonio on Tuesday, the players will be free for several days and the second semester doesn't start until Jan. 12.
"We were told by Steve Pederson that we would be the first to know," Smith said. "So we hope he holds to his word and lets us know first, and hopefully it will be pretty soon."
The Huskers had been distracted, even shaken up, by the events since Frank Solich was fired as head coach on Nov. 29. But Smith spoke confidently last week of pending success in the Alamo Bowl, even predicting an NU blowout.
Judging by the Huskers' 389-174 edge in total yards, he wasn't very far off.
"I told you we were going to come out and dominate them," Smith said. "We had a lot of emotions built up for the last month with everything that was going on. All the opinions, all the feelings we had, we used those to play with intensity today."
Smith spoke as Nebraska fans immediately behind him chanted: "We want Bo!"
Pelini accepted the Alamo Bowl trophy and handed it to his players. Then he handed it to them for what they accomplished.
"The character and focus of the guys on this team showed," Pelini said. "They were able to remain focused through all the distractions, all the outside influences trying to pull this team apart."
Michigan State might have unknowingly helped out. The Spartans and Huskers exchanged verbal jabs during a pep-rally confrontation on Friday night, and the chatter carried over into Monday night.
"There was a lot of trash talking before the game, but we said we were going to settle all that on the field," McPherson said. "We were going to get everything done on the field and play hard. That's what we came out here and did."
With the score tied 3-3 after the first quarter, Lord made big plays before both of Nebraska's touchdowns in the second.
The senior's 58-yard pass to Isaiah Fluellen set up Ross' 2-yard touchdown run. Lord's 66-yard run then led to Ross' 6-yard score.
The fact that Lord was playing his last game in an NU jersey would be debated by Husker fans as either a good or bad thing. But Ross said Lord deserved a finish like this.
"Like I said all year long, that's a warrior," Ross said. "I'm glad to know the guy. I'm glad to know all those seniors."
Several seniors spearheaded the defensive effort.
Rush end Trevor Johnson sacked Michigan State quarterback Jeff Smoker twice. Demorrio Williams, T.J. Hollowell and Ryon Bingham combined for 15 tackles. Pat Ricketts had one of NU's three interceptions.
"You saw some of their real guys playing tonight," MSU Coach John L. Smith said. "And that's where we have to get to."
Nebraska finished its season 10-3-the 24th 10-win season in school history-and evened its all-time bowl record at 21-21. Michigan State finished at 8-5.
Trying to chip into the 17-3 deficit, the Spartans didn't cross midfield on their first three possessions of the second half. Their next two series ended with interceptions by Ricketts and Fabian Washington, and the fireworks, confetti and balloons would soon follow.
The outcome might have stabilized NU's situation for 3 1/2 hours Monday night, but the drama picked right back up after the on-field celebration ceased.
Only now the pressure is off the Huskers and squarely on Pederson.
"We were motivated with all the stuff going on," sophomore free safety Josh Bullocks said. "We just wanted to come out and prove that we could get the job done, with all the things that have happened to us."
|Yards per carry||0.8||4.2|
Nebraska is 9-2 all-time against Michigan State.
|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 hasn't played any other games on Dec. 29.
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