Lawrence, Kan. - Moran Norris and his Kansas teammates backed up their bravado Saturday night.
The Jayhawks - 32-point underdogs - pushed Nebraska to the limit before NU pulled out a 24-17 Big 12 Conference football victory.
After shutting out Missouri 21-0 last week, Norris and his teammates didn't hesitate to say they thought KU could beat the Nos. 8 and 9 Cornhuskers.
And Saturday, Norris said the closeness of Saturday's game didn't ease the pain of KU's 31st straight loss to Nebraska.
"A loss is a loss," Norris said. "We didn't play good enough to win the game. We just had a few mistakes that hurt us. They changed their defensive schemes up and made it tougher for us."
Norris was a big reason Kansas was able to keep Nebraska and its estimated 20,000 fans at Memorial Stadium nervous until the end of the game. He accounted for 80 of KU's 116 rushing yards and was a big reason the Jayhawks had two more first downs than the Huskers (17-15).
KU quarterback Dylen Smith was another Jayhawk who didn't consider the narrow defeat a moral victory. The shifty runner and deft passer racked up 221 yards of total offense on the vaunted NU defense.
"I'm very disappointed," Smith said. "We were in this game until the very last second. Nebraska is a great team, but I've said all year we can play with anybody in this league, and we proved that tonight."
Kansas Coach Terry Allen said the performance of Norris, Smith and his other players showed that the Jayhawks aren't far from being a force in the Big 12. The KU offense, defense and special teams all made big contributions, especially in the first half.
"I think we came in believing we could win," Allen said. "This past week we talked about trying to make things happen. We tried to use Dylen's athletic ability."
The Jayhawks took their first lead on Nebraska since 1993 when sophomore Brandon Wier blocked Dan Hadenfelt's punt out of the end zone after the Jayhawks had backed the Cornhuskers up to their 1-yard line.
That 2-0 advantage was made possible because of a 37-yard punt by Joey Pelfanio that pinned NU at its 3. Kansas then stuffed Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch on three consecutive running plays, forcing the punt.
The Jayhawks allowed Nebraska just 12 rushing yards on 11 carries in the first quarter. Five of those attempts produced negative yardage, and two others went for no gain.
By halftime, Nebraska had added just 22 more yards to its rushing total and finished the first 30 minutes with just 69 yards of total offense. Through three quarters, KU limited the Huskers to 78 yards on the ground.
Allen said the defense's intensity from its shutout of Missouri carried over against the Huskers.
"Our defense played extremely well," Allen said. "The guys up front played especially well. It was just unfortunate that we gave away some key plays in the second half."
A different player touched the ball on all seven plays of Kansas' opening scoring drive, a 79-yard drive that gave KU a 9-0 lead.
Smith and Norris accounted for 20 rushing yards, and Smith connected with wide receivers Harrison Hill, Anton Paige and Michael Chandler, running back David Winbush and freshman tight end David Hurst on the five passing plays. Hurst beat Cornhusker linebacker Tony Ortiz slanting into the middle on the 22-yard touchdown pass.
While the Kansas offense didn't produce any third-quarter points, Smith and Co. did a good job of controlling the clock. Nebraska had just three offensive series, and its only score was a 31-yard field goal by Josh Brown.
But an 86-yard punt return by Nebraska wingback Bobby Newcombe and a 49-yard pass from Crouch to Newcombe in the fourth quarter were types of big plays the top teams like Nebraska are known for.
"They have really good athletes, and those athletes find a way to make the big plays," Allen said. "You have to believe you can make plays like that, and Nebraska can do that."