Lawrence, Kan. - Kansas' surprising shoutout of Missouri a week ago might have caused a few raised eyebrows in the Nebaska football porgram.
|Eric Crouch and the NU offense depend on linemen such as Dominic Raiola to keep the ball moving.
But it hardly sent panic racing through the Huskers' camp.
"Anyone shutting out a team deserves respect," Nebraska defensive tackle Loran Kaiser said. "It shows us that if Kansas comes to the table, they can play. We just can't think because it's Kansas, we can go in there and annihilate them.
"What it makes us do is work hard, and then we'll annihilate them."
Over the years, few teams have served as the squad most likely to be annihilated by Nebraska than has Kansas. The Jayhawks have lost 30 straight times to the Huskers, the majority in lopsided fashion, and are 21-81-3 in the longest uninterrupted series in Division I-A football.
The teams will meet for the 94th time Saturday night at 6:08 p.m. at Kansas' Memorial Stadium. Fox Sports Net's cameras will capture the action, broadcasting the game to a nationwide audience that might want to keep the remote control handy in case the game develops in typical NU-KU fashion.
The Jayhawks have not scored a point against Nebraska in the past two meetings, and have been outscored 180-10 in the past four. Just one of the past 25 encounters has been close - Nebraska has won 24 of those games by margins of at least 16 points. The exception is the 1993 game, when Kansas came within a failed two-point conversion of upsetting the Huskers, who escaped with a 21-20 win.
The history of the series hardly makes the game a candidate for compelling television viewing. But last week's developments - Nebraska's 24-20 loss at Texas and Kansas' 21-0 blanking of Missouri - add just a dash of intrigue to tonight's game.
Still, it's difficult to imagine anyone outside the Kansas football complex who might truly believe the Jayhawks stand much of a chance tonight. The oddsmakers have established eighth- and ninth-ranked Nebraska (6-1 overall, 3-1 in Big 12 Conference play) as a 32-point favorite to stay within striking distance with North Division leader Kansas State, which is expected to feast on bottom-feeding Baylor.
The Huskers did their best all week to say the right things - no Nebraska player proclaimed his hatred for Kansas or accused the Jayhawks of being a high and mighty bunch. But the feeling this week around the practice field and in the halls of the Husker football complex is that tonight's game is merely one in which Nebraska needs to take care of business, then move on to bigger challenges.
Any chance of Kansas catching Nebraska with a Longhorn hangover?
"We've put the Texas loss behind us, and we're not going to dwell on it," Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch said. "It's over and in the past, and if we do dwell on it, it's going to hurt this team. Our focus is on Kansas, and it's not going to help us to think about what happened at Texas.
"The only thing we can do now is try to win out. Kansas is the game in front of us, and we're going to stay focused on them."
If Nebraska wins its remaining regular-season games - tonight against Kansas, Nov. 6 against Texas A&M, Nov. 13 against Kansas State and Nov. 26 against Colorado - the Huskers will have a chance to play for the Big 12 championship against the South Division's representative, which possibly could be Texas.
Meanwhile, Kansas kept its hopes for postseason play on life support with its stunning victory over Missouri. The 3-5 Jayhawks, 1-3 in Big 12 play, also need to win out to become bowl eligible. One might need to consult an actuary to determine the possibility of Kansas running the table against Nebraska, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Iowa State.
Such long odds don't scare the Jayhawks. Neither do the Huskers.
"I've played against them, so it's not like, 'Oooh, Nebraska,' " Kansas defensive end Dion Rayford said. "That mystique isn't really there anymore. As you get older, you don't look at people the same way."
After a pause, Rayford added, "They are going to come in here really upset and trying to prove a point."
A case could be made that Nebraska outplayed Texas, holding a 420-275 advantage in total yardage. But three fumbles, including two within the shadow of the Longhorns' goal line, and key defensive breakdowns in the second half cost the Huskers their unbeaten season.
And left them in a somewhat surly mood.
"We have all this emotion built up," Kaiser said, "and we need to go out and let out this tension."
In other words, the Jayhawks might want to tighten up their chinstraps before taking the field tonight.
What Kansas must avoid, KU Coach Terry Allen said, is allowing Nebraska to get off to a scorching start on Memorial Stadium's artificial turf.
"They do a great job of not allowing people to think they can beat them," said Allen, who will be coaching against the Huskers for a third time. "How do they do that? They do a great job at the start of the game. They've outscored people 138-13 in the first half this season.
"How does Kansas beat Nebraska on Saturday? We have to believe we can beat them. We have to make some plays, get on them early. If Nebraska comes out and rolls down the field and scores the first couple of times, game over."
Kansas' opponents have scored early and often against the Jayhawks. Kansas ranks 93rd nationally in scoring defense, allowing 30.9 points per game, and is 95th in total defense, yielding 411.4 yards per game.
On the flip side, Kansas will put the nation's 91st most productive offense (311.5 yards per game) up against a Nebraska team that ranks third in total defense (237.1 yards per game), fifth in scoring defense (11.7 points per game), seventh in pass efficiency defense (89.4 points) and eighth in rushing defense (77.6 yards per game).
Naturally, Nebraska Coach Frank Solich cautioned against getting caught up in the numbers.
"I saw Kansas at the beginning of the year during their football game with Notre Dame, and I thought they looked pretty good," Solich said. "Since then, they've suffered a few injuries and have had a few things that haven't gone their way. But they've stuck together, and they've played through that.
"Right now, they appear to be playing their best football. They feel very good about their win at Missouri and shutting them out. I think there is a certain amount of confidence there that is beginning to grow for their football team. They feel they've gone through the worst of times already."
So do the Huskers.
"We're going to bounce back," Nebraska rover back Mike Brown said. "I think when you look back on the last game, the defense just couldn't come up with a big play. If we could have gotten a turnover or some other kind of big play to change the momentum, it would have been a different ballgame.
"We didn't play that badly, and we have so many leaders on this team that won't let us slack off. We'll come back, no doubt about it."