LINCOLN — Desperate to shake the sour aftertaste of the past two weeks, Nebraska sprinted out Saturday with something to prove at Memorial Stadium.
It trailed 10-0 midway through the second quarter.
Driven to show better defense is coming, the Huskers intended to impose some Blackshirt will on Iowa State.
They allowed 415 total yards and spent nearly 40 minutes on the field.
No, not everything made sense as Nebraska beat Iowa State 35-17 as the fall wind tore through Memorial Stadium and big plays ripped at the teams' emotions. But the Huskers cared only for the final outcome as they started defense of their Big 12 North football crown.
"I just think it was a really strange game today," NU coach Bill Callahan said, fighting to find answers in his postgame press conference. "It was kind of weird in a lot of ways. In the end, we just made the plays that we had to make."
Nos. 22 and 25 Nebraska rallied from a sloppy start to beat Iowa State for the 15th straight time at Memorial Stadium. Although not particularly pretty, it at least kept some of the wolves at bay — and boo birds, too — with a trip to No. 20 Missouri on deck.
"It was the first game of the season to us," NU offensive tackle Lydon Murtha said. "We just went out there and did what we had to do. Things didn't roll our way at first, but we came back and capitalized."
It was just hard to dissect what exactly happened before a crowd of 84,703 that watched through 30 mph winds.
Nebraska (4-1, 1-0) had three turnovers on its first eight offensive snaps — one on the Iowa State goal line and two others in Cyclone territory. It also kept alive the first two ISU drives with penalties on punts -- one for roughing and one for jumping offsides.
Actually, 10-0 didn't look so bad, although a better start would have been advisable on the heels of the 49-31 loss to Southern Cal and 41-40 narrow escape against Ball State.
"We knew that we'd come back," NU tight end Sean Hill said. "The only reason we were in a 10-0 hole was the offense's lack of taking care of the ball. So we weren't worried.
"We knew that we were moving the ball on them successfully and if we just cleaned up ourselves the defense would take care of it. It could have been a lot worse if the defense wouldn't have played as well as they did."
Two things sparked the NU recovery: Cortney Grixby had a 51-yard kickoff return to set up the Huskers' first touchdown, and quarterback Sam Keller shifted them into two-minute offense mode to get another before halftime and a 14-10 lead.
Two more big plays protected a 21-10 advantage: Linebacker Bo Ruud returned an interception 93 yards for a touchdown, and Grixby ran another back 41 yards to set up Keller's clinching 4-yard touchdown pass to fullback Thomas Lawson.
"I thought in all three phases we made plays," Callahan said.
NU defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove had told his players "Let's have some fun this week" after the Blackshirts were zapped for a combined 89 points and 1,067 yards by USC and Ball State. Grixby and linebacker Lance Brandenburgh said the defenders responded by playing loose.
"I think Coach Coz kind of emphasized it more than anybody," Brandenburgh said. "Once he said it, we were all just like, 'Yeah, you know, that's right.' We played with emotion and played with energy, and that just makes all the difference in the world."
Yet Iowa State ran a school-record 102 plays and only once previously had it gained more yards of total offense at Memorial Stadium (504 in 1983). Its 415 total yards included backup tailback Jason Scales running for 115 and quarterback Bret Meyer passing for 281 — this all from a team ranked 102nd in scoring and 83rd in total offense.
Part of the lopsided time-of-possession (39:12 to 20:48) had to do with the NU offense's turnovers and the Ruud and Grixby interceptions sending the defense right back out. Part also had to do with the Huskers not stopping ISU drives that grew to 11, 12, 10, 13 and 17 plays.
None of that provided solace to ISU coach Gene Chizik.
"You can sit there and look at time-of-possession, you can look at total yards, you can look at all those things and make yourself feel good," Chizik said. "But at the end of the day we got beat good. So all that stuff doesn't matter to me."
Iowa State (1-4, 0-1) could pinpoint the time just before and after halftime as when the game got away.
Seven plays after Grixby's kickoff return, Marlon Lucky threw a 20-yard halfback pass to Hill as NU pulled within 10-7 with 4:34 left in the second quarter. Keller then directed a 10-play, 82-yard drive that culminated with his 6-yard TD pass to Lawson for a 14-10 lead with 1:08 to go.
Coming out of the half, NU needed just four plays and less than a minute to score when Lucky turned the corner on a 41-yard run to make it 21-10.
|Yards per carry||2.6||4.3|
Nebraska is 86-17 all-time against Iowa State.
|Wake Forest||Sept. 8|
|Ball State||Sept. 22|
|Iowa State||Sept. 29|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 13|
|Texas A&M||Oct. 20|
|Kansas State||Nov. 10|
Nebraska has played 15 games on Sept. 29. See them all »
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