LINCOLN — It was possibly the deadest first half in the history of Memorial Stadium, the kind of quiet that makes the mind wander and the questions fly. Is Nebraska's offense regressing? Can the defense keep saving it?
Did somebody really pay $29.95 for this on pay-per-view?
As the Big 12 season got off to a wobbly start Saturday night, only two things seem certain — that Nebraska's season hangs on the backs of the defense and that Kansas, well, is still Kansas.
Four turnovers, two missed field goals and a last-second Hail Mary pass in the end zone couldn't stop Nebraska from pulling out a 14-8 win Saturday night, its 36th straight in the series. Most of the wins have been laughers. And then there was Saturday night.
Adam Barmann heaved a prayer into the end zone as the clock expired, and the ball bounced off Daniel Bullocks and dropped to the ground. It was the third straight game for the 3-1 and 1-0 Huskers that was decided by a knocked-around pass in the end zone in the final seconds.
"It's getting stressful almost,'' said NU linebacker Barrett Ruud. "It's really the third game in a row that we should've won by a lot more points.
"It would be nice to win by a few touchdowns and relax a little.''
The way things have been going with Nebraska's offense, that may not happen anytime soon. Sophomore quarterback Joe Dailey threw three interceptions Saturday — he has 11 in four games — and emerged from the postgame asking for patience.
Arms folded, face stern, Dailey looked more angry at himself than flustered. His last pick came at the start of the fourth quarter, on a long pass that was thrown off his back foot and came up short.
His first pass of the night was almost intercepted, and then 12 seconds into the game, he pitched the ball to Tierre Green's ankles. The ball bounced into the end zone, Kansas had a 2-0 lead, and the crowd of 77,637 was hushed to a library lull.
"I need everybody to believe in me,'' Dailey said. "I made some mistakes, but all of that will be settled, I promise you.
"I did a few things OK today and a bunch of things wrong.''
Maybe the bye week made the offense flat. Nebraska I-back Cory Ross said players were "antsy'' at opening kickoff, but Ross' legs seemed fine. The junior I-back had 107 yards on 19 carries and accounted for both of the Huskers' touchdowns.
Nebraska Coach Bill Callahan chalked Saturday's miscues up to growing pains and the transition to a new offense. He spent most of his time heaping praise on the defense, which was backed into a pile of jams from the start but kept digging out.
He let out a booming "Wow!'' at the start of his press conference when he recounted the defense's night.
"I can't tell you how proud I am of the way our defense played tonight,'' Callahan said. "It was inspiring to watch our guys fly around the field and make the plays that they made tonight. They obviously won the game for us.''
Ruud came up with one of the biggest plays, snuffing out a fake punt with three minutes left in the game. Punter Kyle Tucker took off on fourth and 14, getting 4 yards before Ruud blasted him into the sideline.
The senior had 15 tackles for the night, and is eight away from breaking Jerry Murtaugh's three-decade-old career tackle record.
Ruud downplayed his night, including his late tackle on the punter that had the crowd chanting, "Ruuuuuud.''
"If I can't tackle the punter," he said, "I might as well walk off the field."
The Jayhawks (2-3, 0-2) started their first three drives from their 46, 47 and 40. They came out of it with zero points. Fabian Washington stopped one drive with an interception that put Nebraska on the KU 31.
But Sandro DeAngelis' 45-yard field-goal attempt bounced off the crossbar, and the senior kicker went 0-for-2 for the day.
Ross finally put the Huskers on the board with 2:57 left in the first half, when he slipped three tacklers and ran 18 yards into the end zone. Kansas took an 8-7 lead midway through the third quarter on a Johnny Beck field goal, but Dailey marched the Huskers on a 77-yard touchdown drive on the next possession.
He found Ross, whom he calls his best friend, for a 14-yard touchdown pass with 4:12 to go.
"Most guys right now, I think, would melt down with 11 interceptions, '' Ross said. "You see Joe, and he's composed. He's calm, and we have to be calm with him. We're going to back that guy up.''
Dailey will need all the support he can get. Up next is a road game with Texas Tech, which gave No. 2 Oklahoma a battle earlier Saturday.
"Next week we'll be running a marathon,'' Washington said.
The defense has a spot reserved in the end zone.
|Yards per carry||3.2||4.3|
Nebraska is 91-23 all-time against Kansas.
|Western Illinois||Sept. 4|
|Southern Miss||Sept. 11|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 9|
|Kansas State||Oct. 23|
|Iowa State||Nov. 6|
Nebraska has played 15 games on Oct. 2. See them all »
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