MANHATTAN, Kan. — Those looking for the bright side could point out that at least the scoreboard didn't read 70-10 when it was over.
But two weeks after the blowout at Texas Tech, Nebraska arguably wasn't much better Saturday against Kansas State.
The Wildcats scored on their first three possessions and rolled up 418 total yards on what is now a battered NU defense. They got there with a backup quarterback who scored four touchdowns.
The Huskers and their newfangled offense completed just three passes and didn't even reach the 225-yard mark. They added no scoring after halftime in a game that remained within their reach even late in the third quarter.
Doing his best to assess the wreckage of the 45-21 loss at Wagner Field, Bill Callahan then showed about as much emotion as he has so far in a trying first season as Nebraska head coach.
"I'm accountable,'' Callahan said, his voice rising. "I offer no excuses. Just understand that. There are no excuses, none whatsoever. I'm very adamant about that.
"I take total accountability — total accountability — for what's transpired out there on the field.''
There was blame to go around Saturday as Kansas State beat Nebraska for the third straight season, the Wildcats' longest winning streak in a series that dates to 1911. K-State even handed NU a third-quarter touchdown — on a botched punt snap that Daniel Bullocks returned 10 yards — to keep the Huskers within 24-21.
It wasn't totally unlike the Texas Tech mess, and the 60- and 24-point losses so close together won't sit well with Nebraskans unaccustomed to such failures.
"We deserve to give these fans a lot more than what we've showed,'' NU I-back Cory Ross said. "We've got to step this up. We've got to look at Missouri next week. You just never know what's going to happen in Big 12 football.''
What's happened so far is Nebraska is 4-3 and suddenly worrying about things like bowl eligibility. The Huskers are 2-2 in the Big 12, where the North Division is still up for grabs -- but maybe not to teams still scrambling to find their identity.
Kansas State (3-4, 1-3) took advantage of such a unit Saturday before a crowd of 52,234.
It started with scoring drives of 75, 49 and 79 yards. Sophomore quarterback Allen Webb, playing for injured starter Dylan Meier, scored twice before tailback Darren Sproles picked up KSU's third touchdown.
In a bit of irony, the Wildcats riddled NU with flashes of the option offense the Huskers used to run so well. Webb rushed for a career-high 147 yards and Sproles added 135.
"It's one of those things where option football is one-on-one and somebody's got to get out and make a play,'' Husker linebacker Barrett Ruud said. "They were making plays and we weren't. You can't really look at it any differently.''
Nebraska gained 118 of its 166 first-half yards on Joe Dailey passes of 63 yards to Ross and 55 yards to Terrence Nunn. Those plays helped the Huskers trail just 24-14 at halftime despite running 17 plays compared with 42 for K-State.
Nebraska punted immediately to start the second half before Kansas State's special teams mishap. Russ Vanover fired his punt snap off blocking back Sean Lowe, and Bullocks' touchdown pulled NU within 24-21 with 11:19 left in the third.
Finishing games, however, has been the Huskers' weakness all season. And it was again Saturday.
Nebraska punted on its next three possessions of the third quarter. The Huskers then started the fourth quarter with three consecutive turnovers by Dailey (two fumbles, one interception).
Kansas State manufactured 14 points out of those turnovers, much like Texas Tech poured it on once NU self-destructed in Lubbock.
"We believed in our game plan, '' Dailey said. "We were very shocked at the scoreboard. It reflected our bad play. We worked so hard this week, and we expected to come out with a win.''
Instead, K-State got one it had to have as it clings to its own bowl hopes.
"We made some headway, sure we did,'' Wildcats Coach Bill Snyder said. "We are a little bit better today than we were previously. It's still a work in progress, but I was pleased with a lot of things.''
Nebraska saw at least two common themes return — problems tackling and slow starts after halftime.
Defensively, the Huskers have given up an average of 47.3 points and 447 total yards over the past three games. Webb slipped tackle after tackle on Saturday, and Sproles' spinning style made several Huskers miss.
In what's becoming a regular statement, Callahan and Defensive Coordinator Kevin Cosgrove talked of going back to work on tackling this week in practice.
"The bottom line is you've got to make the tackle,'' Callahan said. "When you're there on the field and you've got a one-on-one situation, you've got to make the play. That's football, and that's life.''
The slow starts after halftime remain puzzling. Nebraska has been outscored 72-49 in the third quarter and 130-77 in the second half this season.
And actually, the Huskers didn't seem to have it starting the game Saturday, either.
"We've just got to hold ourselves accountable, as players, that we come out with energy,'' NU linebacker Stewart Bradley said. "The coaches do a great job of getting us prepared, and we've just got to come out and execute.
"The coaches have done a great job preparing us for every game, especially this one. We had some great schemes on both sides of the ball. They just did some athletic stuff we didn't adjust to.''
|Yards per carry||4.8||3.1|
Nebraska is 78-15 all-time against Kansas State.
|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. 23. See them all »
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