November 8, 2008
Bo Pelini kept something old going and started something new on a cold, windy day in Memorial Stadium.
One of the last great remaining streaks of the Devaney-Osborne era, the home field winning streak over Kansas, remains intact. On Oct. 18, 1969, the day my grandfather died of a heart attack, Nebraska upset an excellent Jayhawk team with the help of a questionable pass interference call, and KU has been unable to win in Lincoln ever since.
Kansas had its chances Saturday, but fell short once again as Pelini made two key decisions in the second half that have given team some momentum as it comes down the homestretch. More about that in a minute.
Now optimism starts to flow in and around this football program. The Huskers, who tied for last in the Big 12 North last fall, have a 6-4 record, 3-3 in the conference and hold the edge to finishing second in their division in Pelini's rookie season. They are bowl eligible, which if nothing else, will give them 15 extra practices to use as a springboard into 2009.
This one may not have been a signature win, to use the trendy vernacular of the college football world, but it was a pivotal one. KU is unrated and although it came into the game with a 6-3 record, it will be expected to lose its next two as well against Texas and Missouri. Still, the Jayhawks have as much or more athletic ability at several positions than Nebraska, and to beat them was a testimony to the Big Red's resilience and mental toughness.
Twice this season, after 30-point losses to Missouri and Oklahoma, Nebraska has come off the deck and played extremely well. For some reason, this year's Huskers cannot get free of their troubling assortment of penalties and turnovers, but at least the "fold-the-tent" mentality which ended the Bill Callahan era is a distant memory.
This may not have been the tipping point for the Nebraska program, but it was at least a major milestone for Pelini, who tipped the scales against KU by making two excellent calls.
With the game tied at 14 at halftime, Kansas (having won the pregame coin toss and deferred its choice) had first took the football to start the second half. Pelini decided to kick against the 20-mph north wind and try to play the Jayhawks even through the third quarter. The Huskers held the ball for eight and a half minutes and outscored KU 10-7 in that period, giving NU a three-point lead and the wind at its back heading into the fourth.
Then, after Zach Potter intercepted a pass by Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing, the Huskers were stopped and faced a fourth-and-8 at the KU 20-yard line. Pelini called for a fake field goal, and placekicker Alex Henery took an over-the-shoulder lateral from holder Jake Wesch and ran nine yards for a first down.
Moments later, Joe Ganz stuck a knife in Kansas by hitting Nate Swift for a 14-yard touchdown with 3:48 left in the game, putting Nebraska ahead 45-28.
That was enough for the Nebraska defense, which forced Kansas to punt seven times – a welcome change after allowing the Jayhawks to score 10 consecutive touchdowns last year in Lawrence. The main change is a rejuvenated defensive front, led by junior tackle Ndamukong Suh, who is making a push for all-conference consideration.
Suh had a career-high 12 tackles, including four tackles for loss and was credited with 2.5 sacks. He led the way as Nebraska got persistent pressure on Reesing without having to blitz too often. Oh, and he's an offensive star, too, after lining up as a blocking fullback in the I formation and catching a 2-yard touchdown pass from Ganz.
"Their defensive line is probably the strongest part of their football team," said Kansas coach Mark Mangino. "They're very good; anyone that's played them knows that."
Over the past four years, Kansas beat Nebraska twice in Lawrence and barely fell short twice in Lincoln. On this day, KU made its bid to eclipse the Cornhuskers in the North, but it couldn't finish the job. Nebraska has an excellent chance to win out against Kansas State and Colorado if it can get its turnover problems turned around.
The jury is still out on whether this is an old-school or a new-school brand of Nebraska football, but the Huskers are on the rise again.
Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. | Archive