LINCOLN — The offense is carrying the defense. Baylor is an offensive juggernaut. Tommy Lee is an excellent drummer for Nebraska's marching band.
Nebraska, you have now entered the twilight zone.
In a season that has been as unpredictable as October in the Midwest, Joe Dailey threw for a school-record 342 yards in the Cornhuskers' 59-27 win over Baylor.
One week after he was benched.
Two hours after Nebraska Coach Bill Callahan looked as if he would play it conservatively Saturday, dialing up running plays for much of the first quarter.
But the most stunning development of the day was in big yellow lights on the other side of the stat board, from Baylor's 111th-ranked offense. The Bears rolled up 400 yards on Nebraska's defense, the same group of Blackshirts who once ranked fifth in the nation.
"By our standards, it was not very good,'' said NU defensive end Benard Thomas. "We're happy we came away with the victory, but this is not Blackshirt football. This is not how we get down with it.''
After last weekend's 70-10 thumping at Texas Tech, the questions, surprisingly, now surround the defense. How did Nebraska's vaunted D give up 923 yards and 97 points in a two-game span? How will the Blackshirts rebound with Kansas State looming next weekend?
Callahan chose to focus on an offense that he said came of age Saturday in front of 77,881 at Memorial Stadium. And then he said something that would've made some choke on their microphones last weekend — that the 4-2 and 2-1 Huskers are still in the race for the Big 12 North.
"We believe wholeheartedly that we're in this race,'' Callahan said. "I'm really proud of this team victory and the way it unfolded.''
Callahan started his press conference by calling the Tech game a "debacle.'' He sat Dailey for the whole fourth quarter last weekend in hope of stirring something, anger, insight, anything, from his sophomore quarterback.
It may just have worked. Dailey, who had thrown 12 interceptions in the first five games, was turnover-free Saturday. He completed 13 of 20 for five touchdowns, shattering Dave Humm's 31-year-old record of 297 yards vs. Wisconsin.
He started the game by getting sacked. He ended it with a jog into the tunnel as a throng of fans yelled, "Way to go, Joe!''
Two weeks ago, they booed him in the 14-8 win over Kansas.
The afternoon had bizarre written all over it from the start, when about 20 cameras followed former Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee around as he played with Nebraska's band. Lee, who's in Lincoln filming a reality show, seemed to be the biggest draw for the first five minutes or so.
Then Dailey got the offense going. After Baylor took a quick 3-0 lead, Dailey marched the Huskers 38 yards, then hit fullback Steve Kriewald with an 18-yard touchdown pass. Brandon Jackson set up the drive with a 40-yard kickoff return, the biggest of the season. He'd break that mark later in the game with a 59-yarder.
Callahan used the true freshman extensively for the first time Saturday, and the back whom NU Offensive Coordinator Jay Norvell calls a "thumper'' ran for 89 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. The Huskers ran the ball 10 times in the first quarter and passed just twice.
When asked late Saturday if he played it safe early on, Callahan said, "There is certainly nothing conservative about running the football. Running the football is part of the game. We wanted to establish the run early. We wanted to establish our physical presence.''
Norvell said the players are starting to buy into the offense, a new and somewhat maligned system that chugged to 24 points in the two previous games. Dailey said Baylor (2-4, 0-3) didn't respect Nebraska's offense, sending eight or nine men into the box to start the game.
He was hit twice on the first series, but went untouched the rest of the game. Dailey found his rhythm in the second quarter, hitting Cory Ross for a 74-yard touchdown, then finding Isaiah Fluellen for a 27-yard strike to make it 24-3 with 1:21 to go.
Baylor, which has never won at Memorial Stadium, all but sealed its fate with 12 seconds to go and quarterback Dane King dropping back to pass. He was blindsided by Jay Moore, who recovered the fumble on the Baylor 45. On the next play, Dailey hit a wide-open Fluellen for a 45-yard touchdown.
By halftime, Dailey had 197 yards in the air.
"Anytime you get the single-game passing record, it's definitely got to do something good for your confidence,'' said NU right guard Jake Andersen. "We got into a rhythm. We feel like we turned a corner. Everybody went out and did what they had to do, but most of all, we didn't beat ourselves.''
After the game, Baylor Coach Guy Morriss said he didn't think the crowd was all that loud Saturday. Maybe it was stunned silence. The Bears scored three touchdowns in the third quarter, with most of the defensive starters on the field.
As the clock read triple zeroes, the crowd chanted, "Defense'' as the Blackshirts kept the Big 12's last-place offense out of the end zone.
"We won the football game,'' Dailey said. "That's all that really matters. Numbers are just numbers.''
|Yards per carry||2.6||4.0|
Nebraska is 11-1 all-time against Baylor.
|Western Illinois||Sept. 4|
|Southern Miss||Sept. 11|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 9|
|Kansas State||Oct. 23|
|Iowa State||Nov. 6|
Nebraska has played 17 games on Oct. 16. See them all »
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