MANHATTAN, Kan. — Cold November days used to be made for what was about to happen Saturday as Nebraska I-back Quentin Castille rumbled past the line and straight for Kansas State cornerback Otis Johnson.
Castille won the fourth-quarter collision, Johnson took several minutes to recover and the Huskers punctuated the physical battle they were winning to go with a 56-28 victory on the scoreboard.
It was just one of 136 total plays, a late 10-yard gain, but it may have been symbolic of what Nebraska fans have been missing.
"Once we realized the kid was hurt, that was not a good thing,'' NU tight end Mike McNeill said. "But definitely the play itself was a big play for 'Q' and a very good hit.''
Nebraska left a string of K-State bodies on the Snyder Family Stadium turf, punishing the Wildcats in a performance spoiled only by a handful of plays that gave head coach Bo Pelini something to nitpick afterward.
Teams that run for 340 yards on the road in November generally have pretty good success rates. Teams that dominate both lines of scrimmage — as Nebraska has done each of the past two games — usually smile and feel no pain heading for the bus.
"Our goal all year long has been to be a more physical team each and every week,'' said Barney Cotton, NU's associate head coach and offensive line coach. "November's important to us. We talked about November when we first got here, we talked about it in training camp and we definitely talked about it after the Oklahoma game — that good teams play their best football in November.
"I don't know if we're a good team or not yet, but I know we're getting better.''
Nebraska (7-4, 4-3 Big 12) won for the fourth time in five games, with the exception being the 62-28 mishap at OU. The Huskers handed Kansas State a quick touchdown, then shoved 35 points down the throats of the Wildcats the rest of the first half.
Joe Ganz accounted for four touchdowns, and used 270 yards passing and 95 rushing to break the school single-season record for total yards (3,351). The Huskers' 340 yards rushing and 610 overall were season bests, and their point total was their best in a road game since 2000.
The NU defense bullied K-State quarterback Josh Freeman again, sacking the one-time Husker recruit four times and sending him to the bench after one second-half series. Of the Wildcats' 247 total yards, 63 came on a pass from Freeman to Ernie Pierce and 51 on a pass from backup Carson Coffman to Deon Murphy.
Hold off on making too much of the victory, considering the fragile state of a KSU team that has lost five straight and fired head coach Ron Prince on Nov. 5.
The Wildcats (4-7, 1-6) sported all purple Saturday but have been beaten black and blue in becoming a rebuilding project for whoever replaces Prince.
But credit Nebraska for sensing vulnerability and exposing it.
"We didn't want to let up,'' NU offensive tackle Marcel Jones said. "We wanted to stay on them. Coach kept telling us, 'Don't give them an inch, ' so we just went out and did what we were supposed to do.''
Nebraska's first possession ended with Courtney Herndon intercepting a Ganz pass and returning it 57 yards for a touchdown. The Wildcats gave up two scores but pulled even again at 14-14 when Freeman threw his 63-yard bomb to Pierce two plays into the second quarter.
K-State had a chance to get the ball back, but Murphy fumbled a punt return and Niles Paul recovered at the Wildcats' 30-yard line. Runs of 6 and 24 yards by I-back Roy Helu then put the Huskers ahead for good.
The officials ruled that NU cornerback Prince Amukamara jarred the ball loose from Murphy on the punt return before Murphy hit the turf.
"I was down,'' Murphy said. "I know I was down, and everybody on this team was behind me and knew I was down.''
NU's momentum then only escalated as defensive end Zach Potter sacked Freeman on third down and Nate Swift returned a K-State punt 25 yards. Ganz flipped a 5-yard TD pass to Todd Peterson for a 28-14 lead.
After the NU defense held K-State without a first down on two more possessions, the Huskers had their 35-14 halftime lead after taking a short field and turning it into Ganz's 18-yard scoring pass to McNeill.
"We played against a very physical team today, as we knew we would,'' Prince said.
Kansas State was still hanging around when Coffman scored on a fourth-down sneak that made it 35-21 late in the third quarter. And in between zone-read keepers by Ganz for TD runs of 25 and 14 yards was a 98-yard kickoff return by Brandon Banks.
It was just enough to leave Pelini less than totally satisfied.
"I thought we were inconsistent today,'' Pelini said. "I thought we got sloppy there for a while in the second half.''
Ganz's best running game as a Husker was complemented by four I-backs combining for 228 yards on 40 carries — Helu with 72 yards, Marcus Mendoza with 58, Castille with 51 and Marlon Lucky with 47.
|Yards per carry||1.8||6.4|
Nebraska is 78-15 all-time against Kansas State.
|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 16 games on Nov. 15. See them all »
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