PITTSBURGH — There Nebraska was again Saturday, with time winding down and its football fate in the hands of one last play.
And, again, anybody dressed in red had to be wondering if it had to come to this.
“This is what’s going to test whether or not we’re contenders,” quarterback Joe Dailey said. “It’s about fighting and battling until there’s zeroes on the clock.”
At :00 on Saturday, Nebraska had escaped with a 24-17 win over Pittsburgh. But not before putting itself in a precarious spot when earlier opportunities were there to put away the Panthers.
Last week it cost the Huskers in a 21-17 loss to Southern Mississippi, a game they led 17-9 in the third quarter. This week it took backup cornerback Titus Brothers batting down a desperation pass in the end zone to avoid overtime in a game they led 24-7.
“It came down to the wire, and maybe that shouldn’t have happened,” NU linebacker Stewart Bradley said. “But football is football and you’ve got to play it out and react to situations and adversity.”
Nebraska’s offense all but called it a day after halftime, producing 75 total yards and zero points in the second half. That piled pressure on a Husker defense that started the game without two No. 1 players (end Adam Carriker, cornerback Lornell McPherson) and lost another in the second quarter (cornerback Fabian Washington).
But the NU defense already has accepted the challenge of holding things together while a new offense taxis down the runway.
“I can’t say enough good things about all the players on defense,” Nebraska Coach Bill Callahan said. “When you go two starting corners down, and you’re into your backup mode, a lot of things change in terms of your scheme. You don’t have the luxury of doing what you want at times. There were going to be some opportunities for the Pitt offense.”
The best came late before a Heinz Field crowd of 40,133, kept down some by massive flooding after remnants of Hurricane Ivan hammered the Pittsburgh area.
The Panthers turned a Dailey interception into a touchdown pass from Tyler Palko to Greg Lee with 4:45 left in the game. After an NU punt, Palko led them back down the field, highlighted by a 31-yard pass to Darrell Strong on a fourth-and-10 play from the Husker 45.
Time then ran out as Palko scrambled and lobbed a pass into a crowded end zone and Brothers -- a redshirt freshman pushed onto the field by necessity -- knocked it away.
“Our defense was huge today,” NU receiver Ross Pilkington said. “I’ve got to give it to them. They showed up all game.
“It makes us feel kind of bad when we can’t put more points on the board in the second half, and that’s something we’re going to work on. Our defense is out there scratching and clawing -- and doing everything they can to keep them out of the end zone -- and we just need to do more as an offense for them.”
The Nebraska defense forced three first-half turnovers and held Pittsburgh (1-1) to 258 total yards, including just 108 through three quarters.
“Our defense can win a game,” strong safety Daniel Bullocks said, “and you saw that today.”
Interceptions by Washington, Wali Muhammad and Josh Bullocks gave the Nebraska offense the ball on the Pitt 4- , 2- and 36-yard lines, respectively. The offense turned those into 10 points, and another touchdown came after Kellen Huston recovered a fumbled punt.
Nothing much followed, however, as Nebraska (2-1) finished with just 265 total yards. Dailey started out 10 for 15 passing for 120 yards before the Huskers went their final eight possessions without scoring.
“I don’t like the fact that we had a 17- , 14- and seven-point lead in this game and it dwindled there in the second half,” Callahan said. “But all in all I’m really proud of our staff and players the way that they came back and continued to play hard, and generated the type of plays we needed to win this game.”
The Huskers just could have made it easier on themselves in avoiding their first 1-2 start since 1981.
“I think that just comes with time, comes with games, comes with maturity,” Pilkington said. “I think it’s coming. It’ll come. We just need to learn how to put things away.”
Things were going so bad for Pittsburgh that the Panthers twice punted on third down, the second time drawing some boos. Some fans even headed for the exits midway through the fourth quarter.
“The bottom line is we fought hard,” Pitt Coach Walt Harris said. “We didn’t give up on ourselves. We kept trying to battle back. Trust me, we put a lot of obstacles in front of us and we still had a chance to tie the game.”
|Yards per carry||1.2||2.9|
Nebraska is 6-15 all-time against Pittsburgh.
|Western Illinois||Sept. 4|
|Southern Miss||Sept. 11|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 9|
|Kansas State||Oct. 23|
|Iowa State||Nov. 6|
Nebraska has played 9 games on Sept. 18. See them all »
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