LINCOLN — For those used to watching college football’s headline-grabbing quarterbacks pile up yards and points, Saturday night’s tug-of-war-style slugfest might have seemed ugly.
But for Nebraska, it couldn't have been drawn up any better.
The Huskers’ dominant defense, overworked and fatigued, managed to deliver its best performance of the year, denying 20th-ranked Oklahoma time after time, while the conservative, ball-control NU attack capitalized often enough.
The 10-3 win over the Sooners — in front of the 86,115 in Memorial Stadium and those watching on ABC’s primetime telecast — could very well be considered Pelini’s biggest accomplishment thus far at Nebraska.
And he doesn't care how it looked.
“I take them any way you can get them,” Pelini said. “You got to do what you have to do in any game to win the football game.”
The Huskers’ defense did just that.
The Blackshirts weren't exactly impenetrable, giving up 325 total yards to Oklahoma (5-4, 3-2 Big 12) and allowing the Sooners to drive inside the NU 40-yard line four times in the fourth quarter. But they never gave up that game-changing score, making plays at the right time to stall out OU.
“They sucked it up and found a way,” Pelini said. “I’m proud of that group of men.”
The Sooners’ Tress Way missed two field goal attempts and saw another one blocked. Oklahoma turned the ball over on downs twice.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Landry Jones threw five interceptions — senior Matt O’Hanlon camped out at the NU 6-yard line like a punt returner as he sealed the win by picking off his third with 21 seconds left.
Nebraska (6-3, 3-2) hadn't recorded five interceptions since 2003, when it beat Texas A&M 48-12.
The Sooners’ three points were the fewest they've scored under coach Bob Stoops. And Saturday was the first time Oklahoma finished without a touchdown in 12 years.
“This game was about the battle of the defenses,” O’Hanlon said. “I think we were up against their defense more than their offense.”
Nebraska’s offense did little to help. Still tinkering with personnel groupings in an attempt to solve the recent woes, the NU coaching staff inserted quarterback Zac Lee for Cody Green after the true freshman led four penalty-filled drives and never produced a first down.
Lee’s most effective play was a handoff to the seemingly re-energized Roy Helu, who was responsible for 138 of the team’s 141 rushing yards. The Huskers managed just 39 through the air.
They tried their best to play keep-away, running the ball 43 times and passing it just 14. And when the opportunities arose, they were able to cash in.
Junior Prince Amukamara stepped in front of a Jones pass, intercepted it and returned it to the OU 1-yard line early in the second quarter. The Huskers took a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard play-action pass from Lee to sophomore tight end Ryan Hill.
“I would say the difference is (they got) the one turnover to set up their touchdown, and we didn't get a turnover,” Stoops said. “That’s how close this game was, and defensively, we really did play well.”
Lee and Helu did combine to lose a fumble on an option pitch, channeling the red zone miseries of Oct. 24, when the Huskers turned the ball over eight times against Iowa State.
But it was Nebraska that won the turnover battle Saturday.
O’Hanlon’s 30-yard interception return in the third quarter set up the NU offense at Oklahoma’s 44-yard line. Six plays and one critical personal foul penalty later, Alex Henery made a 28-yard field goal to give Nebraska a 10-3 lead.
Henery missed a 43-yarder late in the fourth quarter, his first missed field goal inside 50 yards in 25 tries. But the NU defense held again, when senior linebacker Phillip Dillard intercepted a pass on fourth down.
“It just shows the character of this defense and everyone believes in the system and the coaches, and believes in each other,” Dillard said. “It’s not like a team, it’s like brotherhood. We've got each other’s back on offense and defense.”
In October, the inconsistent offense cost the Huskers two wins and made the Missouri and Baylor games stressful.
The team wasn't divided, but it was noticeably shaken.
But by beating Oklahoma, Nebraska kept pace with Kansas State, which improved to a North-best 4-2 in conference play with a 17-10 home win against Kansas.
“It’s a good win,” senior defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said. “It’s one that’s expected in my book ... For me, that is part of the expectations. That’s what I came here to do.”
|Yards per carry||2.8||3.3|
Nebraska is 38-45 all-time against Oklahoma.
|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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