LINCOLN — Nothing spectacular. Just a trophy.
Nebraska beat Kansas State 17-3 Saturday night in a winner-take-all match that befit the Big 12’s North Division and the 2009 Huskers.
It was hard-hitting but ugly. Frustrating but, in the end, decisive.
In other words, a Bo Pelini-style win.
“It’s become our identity,” the second-year coach said after a change of clothes that followed his last-minute Gatorade shower on the NU sideline. “But I think we still have a long way to go as a football team. That’s a good thing — it’s good and bad. I think our kids are still hungry.”
The Huskers (8-3, 5-2), behind an opportunistic defense on Senior Day, earned their sixth November win in seven games under Pelini. NU clinched its fifth overall berth and first since 2006 in the Big 12 title game, Dec. 5 in Arlington, Texas, against Texas.
First, Nebraska will visit Colorado Friday, with a chance to take a five-game winning streak into Cowboys Stadium against the second-ranked and unbeaten Longhorns. Texas, with a Thanksgiving win over Texas A&M, would then need a win over the Huskers for a shot at the national title in January.
That’s for later. Nebraska, for a few hours Saturday night and into this morning, simply savored its fifth straight win over the Wildcats (6-6, 4-4), whose season ended before an energized crowd of 85,998, the 304th consecutive Memorial Stadium sellout.
A North Division title looked farfetched for these Huskers a month ago after consecutive home losses to Texas Tech and Iowa State.
“It just shows the guys we have on this team,” quarterback Zac Lee said. “We have some guys with great character, some mature guys. And it shows we’re a true team.”
NU raced 70 yards on its opening possession of the third quarter, a four-play drive that covered just 93 seconds. It featured a third-and-1 bomb from Lee to Niles Paul on a play-action pass that has become a staple of the revamped NU attack.
Roy Helu scored on the next play from 14 yards, and the Huskers nursed a two-touchdown lead for the rest of the night.
But even that proved difficult. Four times in the second half, K-State penetrated the NU 33-yard line but came away empty.
The drives ended like this:
A fumble at the 1-yard line by running back Keithen Valentine, forced on a big hit by NU safety Larry Asante and recovered by Prince Amukamara at the 5.
A Josh Cherry field-goal attempt that sailed wide right from 32 yards.
A punt from the Nebraska 41 after Phillip Dillard’s third-down sack of K-State quarterback Grant Gregory took the Wildcats out of scoring range.
A fourth-and-12 Gregory incompletion from the 27, with 3:41 left, that flew past speedy receiver Brandon Banks in the end zone.
“For the most part, we weren't good enough tonight,” Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said.
The Huskers, really, weren't all that much better. K-State outgained the Nebraska offense 293 yards to 267 and held NU to two first downs between its final touchdown — with 13:21 left in the third quarter — and a fourth-and-1 QB sneak by Lee with 2:30 to play in the game.
Defensively, NU just made the plays when necessary.
“That’s what we’re supposed to do,” defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said. “I think for the most part we accomplished that. For me and my own personal view, it was unacceptable for us to allow them to get down (the field) that far. But we made the most of the situations.”
Nebraska surrendered too many yards for Pelini’s liking. Too many execution mistakes, too. But the Huskers, Pelini said, “find a way,”
“You see a mental toughness about how we’re playing defense,” he said. “We've come a long way. They do it in spite of me.”
Kansas State scored its lone points on a 44-yard Cherry field goal to start the game. Alex Henery of Nebraska answered immediately with a 34-yard kick.
NU then stiffened defensively, holding Kansas State to 8 yards on three possessions.
The Huskers scored on Lee’s 17-yard third-down pass to tight end Mike McNeill. But they failed on three straight possessions to create breathing room.
With less than four minutes left in the half, K-State defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald sacked Lee for a 14-yard loss from the 5. Safety Tysyn Hartman then intercepted Lee at the goal line.
The turnover earned Nebraska’s junior QB a lecture from Pelini. The team received another at halftime.
“Obviously, coach Bo gets pretty excited,” center Jacob Hickman said. “We knew we couldn't let them hang around and be within one touchdown. The best way to do it was right out of halftime.”
They did it. And when it was over, as the Huskers celebrated briefly on the field and streamed through the tunnel en route back to their locker room, two coaches locked eyes.
Marvin Sanders, just down from the press box, hugged Barney Cotton and they shared a few words. Both ex-Nebraska players were exiled as assistants in 2003, only to return last year.
They finally got that North Division crown Saturday, alongside Pelini. No one, though, was ready to celebrate too much.
“I’m happy for our football team,” Pelini said. “We've kind of been through a lot up to this point. We persevered, but I still think our best football is out there to be played.”
|Yards per carry||4.1||2.2|
Nebraska is 78-15 all-time against Kansas State.
|Florida Atlantic||Sept. 5|
|Arkansas State||Sept. 12|
|Virginia Tech||Sept. 19|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 17|
|Iowa State||Oct. 24|
|Kansas State||Nov. 21|
Nebraska has played 13 games on Nov. 21. See them all »
©2019 BH Media Group