LAWRENCE, Kan. — The last few weeks had turned into a stretch where the Nebraska offense either wasn't getting the call or wasn't answering it.
Take last week against Oklahoma, for example, when the offense just tried to stay out of the way. Or the second half during the week before at Baylor.
The phone didn't ring.
Look back at the Iowa State game, when the Husker defense needed just a little help and the offense turned it over eight times. Or Texas Tech, when the offense had three points to show for the first three quarters and the Red Raiders sped off.
Nobody picked up.
So the NU offense relished the challenge Saturday as Kansas took a 17-16 lead and 7½ minutes remained at Memorial Stadium.
“You don’t want to be behind in the fourth quarter, but ... ,’’ Husker center Jacob Hickman said.
This time the offense took the call, and two fourth-quarter touchdowns pulled Nebraska safely to a 31-17 win over Kansas that helped draw NU closer to the Big 12 North championship.
“It makes you feel good as an offense,’’ Hickman said. “Gosh, it was one of the better feelings we've had in the last couple weeks because we've lacked that success.’’
I-back Roy Helu scored on runs of 20 yards with 6:19 remaining and 14 yards with 29 seconds to go. The junior carried for 85 of his 156 yards on those last two possessions before a crowd of 51,525 that probably had little reason to think the Husker offense would be the difference.
“It was a good opportunity,’’ Helu said. “It seems like there’s been maybe four or five times that we've had that chance, and that was only our second time finishing it on the field.’’
It became necessary Saturday when Nebraska (7-3, 4-2 Big 12) didn't get its usual dominating defensive performance. Ahead 16-10 after Alex Henery kicked a 38-yard field goal with 11:53 left, NU allowed an 89-yard scoring drive as Kansas took its only lead of the game.
Any sort of offensive failure, and this one might have gotten away. And such failure had been rampant during a four-game stretch in which NU generated a total of four offensive touchdowns.
“We went through a tough stretch, and everybody’s felt terrible about it, ’ offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. “The thing I love about these kids is they’re relentless. They had a sense of responsibility to everybody and they found a way out of it, and they just keep fighting.’’
It must be noted that the go-ahead score came with a lot of help. But the clincher was a punishing 10-play, 74-yard drive done completely via the run — almost as if the Huskers were taking out weeks of frustration.
“They finished,’’ said Barney Cotton, NU’s associate head coach and offensive line coach. “And that’s what this thing is all about is finishing.’’
Kansas (5-5, 1-5) kicked short after taking the lead and Niles Paul returned it 44 yards. With the help of a 5-yard penalty on the return, NU had the ball on the Jayhawk 31. The Huskers then were going to lose yards on a third-and-14 pass from Zac Lee to Khiry Cooper, but cornerback Justin Thornton yanked Cooper’s face mask and the 15-yard penalty resulted in a first down.
On the next play, Helu dashed for his 20-yard TD — and a nifty 2-point conversion pass from Lee to Paul made it 24-17.
“It kind of felt good as an offense to be like, ‘All right, we actually have to come back and we have to do something right this week and do what we've got to do to help our team win,’” Hickman said. “You looked around and you could see it in the guys’ eyes that everybody was confident and we knew we could drive on them.’’
After the defense forced a Kansas punt, the Huskers needed no assistance after taking over with 5:15 to go. The key play was a 30-yard run by Helu on third-and-10 from the NU 37.
It was reminiscent of the finishing drive at Missouri on Oct. 8, which capped a 27-point fourth quarter in what stood as the offense’s last great moment.
But more about this one.
The 410 total yards were the most by Nebraska against any of its seven BCS opponents. The Huskers found the end zone on their first offensive series. Lee ran the football better than he had all season. Paul caught four passes of 35 yards or more. No turnovers.
Who were these guys?
“The thing we wanted to say is that we got our mojo back,’’ said Watson, finally able to smile again.
Sure, it wasn't perfect. NU settled for field goals after situations where it had first-and-goal from the 9 in the second quarter and first-and-10 from the 11 in the third. It took a KU roughing-the-passer penalty to extend the drive in which Henery made his last kick.
But you never turn down progress, even if it comes against the seventh-ranked defense in the Big 12.
“I've said it before: I have confidence in our offense and I have confidence in what Shawn and the group are doing,’’ NU head coach Bo Pelini said. “We had to come back at the end, and the offense had to make the plays to get us back on top and then put the game away.’’
|Yards per carry||3.4||5.1|
Nebraska is 91-23 all-time against Kansas.
|Florida Atlantic||Sept. 5|
|Arkansas State||Sept. 12|
|Virginia Tech||Sept. 19|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 17|
|Iowa State||Oct. 24|
|Kansas State||Nov. 21|
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