LINCOLN — Iowa State had wanted to use Saturday’s game against Nebraska to show it had narrowed the gap on the Huskers.
It has — on Nebraska’s reserves.
When the outcome was in doubt — which wasn’t for long — Iowa State showed it still has a long ways to go before it can play at Nebraska’s level. The fourth-ranked Huskers shut down the country’s leading rushing team and buried the nation’s No. 5 defense with an avalanche of 524 yards in producing a 49-14 homecoming victory.
“That’s a whole different Iowa State team,” said Nebraska defensive tackle Loran Kaiser, playing the role of gracious victor. “But Nebraska is a whole different team, too. We’re going back to the days of old. We’re playing well on both sides of the ball, and that makes us tough to beat.”
The Huskers demonstrated that emphatically before the crowd of 77,743, the 231st consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium. Nebraska blitzed the Cyclones with a 21-point first quarter, led 28-0 at halftime and started sending in the reserves when the advantage grew to 42-0 four minutes into the third period.
Defensively, the Huskers put the clamps on Darren Davis, the country’s leading rusher with a 176.8-yard average coming into the game. Davis gained a season-low 107 yards on 22 carries, but 67 of that total came on seven fourth-quarter carries against a mix of Husker third-, fourth-and fifth-string defenders. Overall, Iowa State gained 148 of its 331 yards in the final 15 minutes.
“I thought we dominated him,” Nebraska rover back Mike Brown said. “Late in the game, they kind of disrespected us by keeping their starters in while we had our fifth-team guys in there. We were kind of wondering what was happening there, but we’ll go on.”
Nebraska will head into an off week knowing that its 6-0 record (3-0 in the Big 12 Conference) probably will earn it a ratings promotion after third-ranked Michigan’s loss to Michigan State. More importantly, the Huskers take a break knowing that the pieces of the puzzle are starting to come together for them.
“If we stay motivated and if we stay focused on what we’re supposed to do, I think we can take this thing all the way,” Husker linebacker Julius Jackson said. “We’ve got the spark we’ve been looking for, and now it’s a matter getting through the season, blowing teams out and getting to New Orleans.”
From what he saw Saturday, Iowa State Coach Dan McCarney would have difficulty betting against Nebraska’s chances of reaching the Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl, where the national championship figures to be decided.
“They are a national championship-caliber football team,” McCarney said. “They have it all. They have size, they have strength, they have depth, they have playmakers, a lot of speed and an extremely physical defense. I just thought they outclassed us, especially in the first half.”
Saturday’s loss unfolded for the Cyclones as too many in a span of 21 losses in 22 games to the Huskers. The Huskers ran right at Iowa State and kept the Cyclones from moving the ball on the ground. They forced turnovers and turned a blocked punt into a touchdown. They forced the Cyclones into a game of catch-up by scoring three touchdowns in a six-minute stretch in the first quarter.
Iowa State, in spite of the confidence it had gained in a 3-1 start that included a one-touchdown loss to No. 9 Kansas State two weeks ago, proved once again that it’s not ready to hang with the Huskers.
In turn, Nebraska showed the early-season inconsistencies that plagued the offense might be behind it. The Huskers finished with a season-high 439 yards rushing, averaging 7.7 yards per attempt. For the first time since 1997, Nebraska had two 100-yard rushers and just missed getting a third for only the second time in school history.
Dan Alexander led Nebraska with a career-high 135 yards on 10 carries and Correll Buckhalter added 127 on 14 attempts. Dahrran Diedrick finished with 99 yards on 16 carries, coming up a yard short of hitting the century mark on his final carry.
Quarterback Eric Crouch tacked on 58 yards and completed 5 of 10 passes for 85 yards. Two of Crouch’s completions went for touchdowns — a 47-yarder to Matt Davison in the first quarter and a 24-yarder to Bobby Newcombe in the third.
Nebraska’s third straight strong offensive performance has erased memories of the sputtering play against California and Southern Mississippi in the season’s second and third games. Saturday’s effort came against an Iowa State team that ranked fifth nationally, having yielded an average of 215.3 yards in its first four games.
“Overall, this was by far our best day offensively,” Crouch said. “We didn’t run very many options today — it was pretty much the power game, up-the-middle stuff. We just tried to power the ball at them.”
Iowa State’s concerns about the option, offensive tackle Adam Julch said, left the Cyclones vulnerable inside.
“They were doing a lot of looping and slanting — they tried to stunt too much,” Julch said. “That opened up our pitch game and the counter traps. Our backs ran hard, and Eric played an excellent game. We’re starting to flow, but we can still get a lot better.”
Nebraska Coach Frank Solich agreed, although the progress the offense has made is definitely satisfying.
“I feel good about this team right now because we are doing some good things on both sides of the ball,” Solich said. “It didn’t look like that early. It looked like the defense needed to carry the load. I think they did a great job. But now we’ve gotten to where we’re doing a few more things offensively.
“This team has improved and I like where it’s at right now. But there are a lot of coaches out there saying that. Many are in this conference, and we still have to play them.”
Nebraska needed just 10 offensive plays to produce its 21-0 first-quarter lead. Alexander capped the Huskers’ opening seven-play possession with a 7-yard touchdown run with 8:02 left in the first period. The Huskers then made it 14-0 at the 5:44 mark when Randy Stella blocked Carl Gomez’s punt in the end zone and Ralph Brown recovered for the touchdown.
Nebraska’s next offensive possession covered 82 yards in three plays, with Buckhalter running for 16 and 14 yards on the first two snaps. Crouch then hooked up with Davison, who scored his first touchdown at Memorial Stadium on the 47-yard catch.
The Huskers’ lead grew to 28-0 with 3:13 to play in the half when Buckhalter scored on a 7-yard run to cap a season-high 16-play drive. The possession was kept alive on a roughing-the-kicker penalty, one of 12 infractions called against the Cyclones.
“We showed tonight we can score quickly on a lot of great plays early on,” Crouch said. “We also showed that we could sustain some drives. When you combine those things, you’re going to have a successful day.”
Nebraska piled up two more touchdowns in the first four minutes of the second half to put the exclamation point on its offensive performance. Alexander ripped off a 54-yard run on the first play of the third quarter, setting up Crouch’s 24-yard scoring pass to Newcombe.
Keyuo Craver set up the next score when he partially blocked a Gomez punt to give Nebraska the football at the Iowa State 24-yard line. Two plays later, Crouch raced 20 yards for the touchdown that hiked Nebraska’s lead to 42-0 with 11:04 left in the third quarter.
That started a steady parade of Nebraska reserves, on both sides of the ball. The second-unit defense closed out the scoring for the Huskers when rover back Joe Walker delivered a crushing hit on a blitz of backup quarterback Derrick Walker. Walker lost the ball, and rush end Demoine Adams picked up the fumble and returned it 37 yards for the touchdown.
“Joe’s the big play guy, and he made some tremendous ones today,” Mike Brown said. “His play in the first quarter really got us going, when he forced the fumble and recovered it. At the time, we were struggling to find our rhythm. His play got us going.”
Walker ended Iowa State’s first possession, the Cyclones’ most successful of the first three quarters, with a bone-jarring hit on starting quarterback Sage Rosenfels. Walker stripped the ball and recovered it at the Nebraska’s 38-yard line. Seven plays later, the Huskers started their scoring derby.
Davis had just 32 yards at halftime and 40 through the first three periods. Against Nebraska’s top defensive unit, Davis’ biggest play actually was a pass — he threw from his own end zone on a tailback option and completed a 27-yarder to Ennis Haywood.
Davis finally broke loose in the fourth quarter, racing 35 yards for Iowa State’s first score with 12:10 to play. He added a statistics-padding 2-yard touchdown run with 5:11 left, capping a nine-play, 61-yard drive.
“He’s a great running back and a tough, tough kid,” Solich said. “But today, a share of the yardage that he gained was against players other than our first unit. I feel very good about the way we slowed down their offense.”
And equally happy about the way Nebraska fired up its.
“We’re heading in the right direction,” Solich said, “but the meat of our schedule is still ahead of us. There are a lot of great teams left to play. It will be an interesting second half of the season for us.”
|Yards per carry||4.2||7.7|
Nebraska is 86-17 all-time against Iowa State.
|Southern Miss||Sept. 18|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 2|
|Iowa State||Oct. 9|
|Texas A&M||Nov. 6|
|Kansas State||Nov. 13|
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