LINCOLN — The opportunity was right there, front and center, for Nebraska to collapse.
On the first play of the fourth quarter Saturday afternoon in this 32-20 NU win, for example, the Huskers stared down disaster after enduring a fourth personal foul to extend a key Baylor drive.
Minutes later, NU lost a fumble at the 2-yard line when a touchdown would have iced victory.
What happened next? Unheralded walk-on linebacker Colton Koehler buried running back Jay Finley 2 yards deep in the end zone for a safety.
"We make it interesting, don't we?" coach Bo Pelini said.
The Huskers, before 85,104 at Memorial Stadium, showed that they do, indeed, remember how to win a tight game — no minor step in the reconstruction of a program unaccustomed to dealing with a dogfight from Baylor.
Nebraska (5-3, 2-2 Big 12) overcame a three-point halftime deficit by holding the Bears scoreless in the final 30 minutes. NU corralled freshman quarterback Robert Griffin in the second half and won for the first time in 23 games when it trailed after two quarters, dating to a home victory over Penn State in 2003.
The Huskers also snapped a streak of six consecutive home defeats in October and matched their win total from a year ago. One more victory will restore bowl eligibility.
But there was no talk Saturday of the postseason and little discussion about a trip next weekend to face fourth-ranked Oklahoma.
No, the talk dealt primarily with the Huskers' growing confidence after a second consecutive victory following three straight losses.
NU is learning again to win.
"Exactly," linebacker Cody Glenn said. "We've had a few close games. Some of them, we let slip away, but we're understanding how to win."
Baylor rushed for 216 yards, including 99 on five first-quarter carries by Griffin. The speedy quarterback extended his interception-free season, though he completed only three passes after halftime and 9 of 20 in the game.
The Huskers lost middle linebacker Phillip Dillard in the second half to an ankle injury but still held Baylor without a third-down conversion on 10 attempts.
Meanwhile, Nebraska was successful on 11 of 17 third-down tries despite a performance from quarterback Joe Ganz that appeared disjointed early.
"He was just a little off," Pelini said.
Ganz gained speed in the second half, directing two touchdown marches. The senior QB finished 32 of 46 for 336 yards. His final two of three touchdown throws went to Nate Swift, who caught 11 balls for 121 yards.
Swift's 9-yard touchdown catch from Ganz, with 1:15 to play in the third quarter, put the Huskers on top for good at 24-20. It also marked Swift's 144th reception in four seasons to break Johnny Rodgers' 36-year-old NU record.
"You're not going to be at your best every game," Ganz said. "You're going to find yourselves in games like this, and it's about how you respond. I thought we responded well.
"The second half, we came out with great intensity and focus."
Not the same could be said about the first half.
Nebraska began the third quarter down 20-17 and came up empty in its first possession as Jason Lamb blocked Alex Henery's 52-yard field-goal attempt.
Griffin then hit Kendall Wright for a 44-yard strike to the NU 7, but the Nebraska defense forged a huge goal-line stand.
Zach Potter and Larry Asante nailed Griffin in the backfield on a third-down option keeper from the 1, and Ben Parks' field goal hit the upright to prevent Baylor from widening its lead.
Nebraska went ahead on Swift's record-setting grab before another potentially deflating moment. Freshman Will Henry crashed into Baylor punter Derek Epperson, turning a fourth-and-12 situation into a first and 10 near midfield.
But the Huskers stiffened again, this time getting a 4-yard sack of Griffin from Asante on a safety blitz.
Ahead 7-0 on tight end Ryan Hill's first career score — a 6-yard, third-down catch — the Huskers allowed Baylor (3-5, 1-3) to manufacture two touchdown drives.
Finley tied it on a 43-yard run. Griffin ran for 40 yards and then 47 on a fourth-and-1 quick snap to make it 14-7.
Henery connected on a 27-yard field goal, and the Huskers regained the lead at 17-14 on Marlon Lucky's 18-yard touchdown run.
But the Bears took over with 2:06 left in the half and capitalized on Glenn's facemask penalty to wipe out his second-down sack. Completions of 35 yards to Ernest Smith and 16 to Wright set up Jacoby Jones' 1-yard TD run.
Ndamukong Suh blocked the extra point to leave Baylor with the three-point halftime edge.
And it was not a happy halftime for the Huskers.
"What hurt us was ourselves," Suh said.
More often that not, it was the seniors — Asante, Potter, Ganz, Lucky and Swift — who made the difference after halftime.
All part of learning how to win.
"This was a team, after the season we went through last year, that had to rebuild and rekindle relationships and trust — all the things that make a team a team," offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said.
"We have become a pretty persistent group of guys."
|Yards per carry||6.5||4.4|
Nebraska is 11-1 all-time against Baylor.
|Western Michigan||Aug. 30|
|San Jose State||Sept. 6|
|New Mexico State||Sept. 13|
|Virginia Tech||Sept. 27|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 11|
|Iowa State||Oct. 18|
|Kansas State||Nov. 15|
Nebraska has played 18 games on Oct. 25. See them all »
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