Nebraska won the Big 12 North with a 17-3 win over Kansas State last night. It won't be considered pretty or stylish, but if you've come to love defense (and if you're a Huskers fan, you'd better love defense) it was another masterful performance by the Blackshirts.
Kansas State took their opening drive, marched down the field like they were on fire and being aided by yet another personal foul penalty on Larry Asante (at least he got it out of the way early this game). The Wildcats stalled at the 31 and Josh Cherry kicked a 44-yard field goal. With the way the Wildcats looked on their first drive, it was hard to imagine those were the only points they'd score.
The Huskers responded with a field goal of their own, moving down the field with a mixture between Roy Helu's rushing and Zac Lee's passing. On the next possession the Wildcats gained a first down and after two consecutive Thomas rushes, but their drive stalled after Eric Hagg nailed quarterback Grant Gregory with a 14-yard sack. Doerr punted, giving the Huskers great field position at their own 43.
The Husker offense was aided by a Wildcat personal foul penalty, then Zac Lee found Mike McNeill all alone in the end zone. The score made it 10-3, where it would remain until the Huskers scored another touchdown on the opening possession of the third quarter. The offense was incredibly efficient, scoring on four plays that included a 47-yard to Niles Paul and a subsequent 14-yard touchdown run by Roy Helu.
The Wildcats fared well on their second half opening drive until running back Keithen Valentine fumbled near the goal line and Prince Amukamara recovered. The Huskers spent the rest of the game trying to run the ball, but gained only 35 yards in four possessions.
Ndamukong Suh did his best impersonation of the greatest college football player in the nation, taking over the game in the fourth quarter. He sacked Gregory twice (one being aided by Barry Turner when they turned Gregory into a quarterback sandwich), batted down a pass, and picked up four of his nine tackles.
Kansas State playmaker Brandon Banks was held in check all night. Adi Kunalic consistently kicked off into the end zone, and when Banks chose to bring it out, he was buried before he got to the 20-yard line. Only once did Banks seem to be a big-play threat, when he broke free for a 22-yard return in the third quarter, giving Kansas State the ball at the Nebraska 43-yard line.
Despite such great field position, the Wildcats gained only two yards on eight plays. They made it as far as the 32-yard line when linebacker Phillip Dillard sacked Gregory, forcing a fumble and driving the Wildcats back to the 41.
There was some ugly as the offense managed only 267 total yards. The Husker missed opportunities to score some more points when Lee missed a wide open McNeill in the end zone, and later threw an interception in the opposite end zone. There was some good, too, as the offense finished the game without a single penalty. The Huskers had three for the game, with Larry Asante picking up another personal foul penalty, Justin Blatchford was called for running in to the kicker, and Eric Hagg picked up a pass interference call. That's pretty darned good for a team that has been consistently hit with false starts and holding calls throughout the year.
Alex Henery once again showed his mastery of punting an opponent into a hole. In the second quarter, he booted a punt that went out of bounds at the KSU one-yard line. In the fourth, he had a booming 61-yard punt that went out of bounds at the Kansas State three. All told, Henery had six punts for a 45-yard average. That's a good day of work any way you look at it.
Let's not kid ourselves. The Huskers have plenty of football left. First, there's the derelicts from Boulder, and then there's that championship game against Texas, who clinched the Big 12 South with a 50-21 win over Kansas. There's still a chance to have an incredible season.