Work in Sports
Same old Nebraska
Huskers reassert Big 12 North dominance
Posted: Monday November 15, 1999 12:16 PM
By Tim Griffin, Special to CNN/SI
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Fans at Memorial Stadium don't believe the Big 12's North Division balance of powers has shifted.
Performances like Nebraska's dominating victory on Saturday will go a long way to reaffirming the "same old Kansas State" chant that serenaded the beleaguered Wildcats late in the game should continue.
The Cornhuskers took a giant step to the conference's championship game and reasserted themselves back into the national championship picture with a convincing 41-15 victory.
Nebraska's win was its 30th in 31 games against Kansas State, excepting last year's momentary lapse in a 40-30 loss at Manhattan. Included in that streak are 16 straight games in Lincoln against the Wildcats, scoring at least 35 points in every contest.
"We knew we should have won the game last year," Nebraska cornerback Ralph Brown said. "I saw a look in my teammates' eyes that I hadn't seen before. We wanted to make amends."
Saturday's performance is a good indication that last year's game and an un-Nebraska-like 9-4 record should be considered a one-year aberration.
"Games like today give us a sense of confidence again," Brown said. "Winning the games that we won against the teams we lost to give us a sense that Nebraska is back. Last year was just a down year for us."
The Cornhuskers were ranked sixth in the most recent Bowl Championship Series ratings. With one loss, they knew four of the teams in front of them would have to lose in order to hope for a berth to play for the national championship at the Sugar Bowl.
Two teams - Tennessee and Penn State -- lost on Saturday. That turn of events gives the Cornhuskers hope that more upsets can sway the balance of powers during the rest of the month. Nebraska coach Frank Solich was uncertain what Saturday's win would mean when the BCS ratings are released next week.
"I really don't know," Solich said. "I'll see how this game plays into it when the voters vote and we start to see where we're sitting. We're playing well right now, but there are a lot of other teams that are playing well, too. We're just going to have to see where the system puts us."
The Cornhuskers (9-1, 6-1 in Big 12) can wrap up a berth in the Big 12 championship game at the Alamodome in San Antonio by beating Colorado Nov. 26 in Boulder.
A big defensive effort and a career-game from quarterback Eric Crouch (158 yards, two touchdowns) helped key Nebraska's relentless attack.
"It was impossible to get last year out of our minds," said Crouch, who broke a 47-year-old record for carries by a Nebraska quarterback (27) in the process. "It was a tough loss, but we knew we would have an opportunity to show what we could do as a team."
The defense stepped up particularly big, helping Nebraska overcome its fumble-prone ways in the process. Nebraska coughed the ball up a school-record 10 times, losing three of them.
But the "Blackshirt" defense came up with repeated big efforts to snap Kansas State's 21-game Big 12 winning streak.
"We stood strong and made big plays all day long and that was really gratifying for us," Nebraska rover Mike Brown said. "I think we showed today that we can play pretty well when we want to. We go into plays planning to dominate. By putting pressure on the quarterback, good things just started to happen."
The Nebraska defense took it as a personal challenge, blocking two punts, a field goal and forcing four fumbles. Kansas State produced only 234 yards and most of that came in the fourth quarter when the game's result was already settled.
"We're really having fun out there playing and blowing people up," Nebraska rush end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. "Right now our confidence is through the roof. We feel like we can shut any team down."
Kansas State quarterback Jonathan Beasley hit only 3 of 19 passes and misfired on his last 10 attempts before he was pulled in favor of backup Adam Helm. The change didn't help as KSU quarterbacks completed 8 of 32 passes and were sacked five times.
"We weren't very good, not very good at all, probably in a lot of phases of the game," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. "It was pretty obvious."
Long memories are also seen in the Nebraska-Kansas State series. The Cornhuskers' 29-game winning streak over the Wildcats was snapped in last season's 40-30 KSU triumph.
After that game, Nebraska cornerback Ralph Brown proclaimed the victory a "one-year deal" and guaranteed the Cornhuskers would not lose again. Brown re-emphasized that prediction earlier this week. That prediction, he said, helped fuel his team's big performance.
"It feels good to back up the comment that I made," Brown said. "Everybody would have been looking for me if we would have lost today. I'm the type of guy who won't back off. I had confidence and when we're playing good football, I don't think anybody could beat us."
The Wildcats' visit to Nebraska clearly meant more than simply one game. Also at stake is positioning for conference leadership, a battle the Wildcats have been facing since Coach Bill Snyder took over in 1989.
Kansas State has the best cumulative record in the conference with a 27-3 mark. Nebraska is second at 26-4. The Wildcats, not Nebraska, have defeated every Big 12 team.
Saturday's convincing triumph should indicate that it might be a little too early to be writing off the Cornhuskers. One Kansas souvenir-maker already had a huge shipment of "The Big Red is Dead" t-shirts ready for distribution.
Vintage performances like Saturday should keep those shirts stacked away for a few more weeks -- or maybe years.
"We made a big statement today," Ralph Brown said. "That's the real Nebraska that played today. Hopefully, it will help us out in our rankings. When we play to the best of our abilities, there's nobody who can beat us."Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express-News. Check back every Tuesday for his latest CNN/SI Insider.