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Published Sunday, October 31, 1999

NU defense has fun in tight game
Husker defense comes through at end of game


Last modified at 12:34 a.m. on Sunday, October 31, 1999
 

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photo: HuskersHQ
Nebraska cornerback Ralph Brown (22) tries to tackle Kansas quarterback Dylen Smith (4) during the second quarter Saturday, Oct. 30, 1999, Lawrence, Kan. Smith gained 11 yards on the play. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
By Terry Douglass
The Independent

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- While Nebraska's coaching staff and fans were left in agonizing suspense for four quarters, several members of the Cornhusker defense insisted that they actually enjoyed themselves in Saturday night's hard-fought 24-17 win over Kansas.

"It's always fun when you get into tight games," Nebraska senior rover Mike Brown said. "That's why you come to big schools, just to play in great games. There's great athletes out there competing and that's what it's all about."

No. 8-ranked Nebraska (7-1, 4-1 Big 12) had to rally from a 9-0 halftime deficit and break a 17-17 tie in the fourth quarter to beat the Jayhawks (3-6, 1-4). Kansas hasn't defeated the Huskers since 1968.

After giving up the tying score with 11:44 to play, the Nebraska defense was able to hold Kansas three consecutive times to secure the win. The Jayhawks could only march to their own 38-yard line on their final drive before time ran out.

"This is the kind of game that you really practice for," Warren said. "You don't really practice for blowing anybody out because you never know what's going to happen. You've got to be ready for every situation, whether you're ahead or whether you're behind."

While Kansas was able to gain 333 yards of total offense on a Nebraska team that entered the game No. 1 in the conference and third nationally in total defense (237.1 yards per game), Brown said it was a good experience.

"I think every season you need a game where you have to come back and win it," Brown said. "All that does is build character and make you a better football team. I think this victory is maybe going to help take this team to the next step."

Brown said he knew that if the defense could hold, the Nebraska offense would come around. The Huskers were able to score 24 second-half points after being shut out, picking up just three first downs and gaining 69 yards of total offense in the first half.

"We were really tested tonight," Brown said. "We knew that we had to step up and play good. But this game was won by the offense, no doubt. They came into the second half and scored 24 points -- that's what it took and they did it."

Nebraska head coach Frank Solich said he was proud of the defense.

"I felt it was tremendous in terms of our players responding to get it done," Solich said. "They were put into a fair share of tough situations and they responded."

Prior to the 24-20 loss at Texas on Oct. 23, Nebraska hadn't allowed an opponent to score more than 14 points in a game. However, several Husker defenders said that their inability to force even one turnover against the Longhorns was a big factor in the loss.

Nebraska senior cornerback Ralph Brown said that after the Texas game, the defensive unit has made a promise to itself.

"We take it upon ourselves that every game now, we're going to have to go out and win it ourselves and make some big plays on defense," Brown said. "We kind of struggled today on some of their plays with their mobile quarterback, but overall, we kind of handled it and came through in the end."

Mike Brown said that Kansas gave he and his teammates some new looks in the first half. That helped account for the Jayhawks' 184 total yards, including 64 rushing yards, he said.

"They came with some stuff that we hadn't seen on film before," Brown said. "That's something that we really had to adjust to. In the second half, we made a lot of quick adjustments on them and I think that really worked."

Several players said Nebraska actually added some defensive schemes it hadn't practiced yet this season during the course of the game. The Huskers began blitzing linebackers from the outside to get pressure on KU quarterback Dylen Smith, who was 16 of 30 passing for 217 yards and two touchdowns.

"That's how you know that this team is really focused in our what they're doing," Nebraska defensive tackle Loran Kaiser of Farwell said. "We put a defense in that we haven't run all year. We threw it in and it made that little bit of a difference."

Despite trailing 9-0, Kaiser said the team was confident at halftime.

"There wasn't a lot of yelling and there wasn't a lot of screaming," Kaiser said. "We just pulled together and figured out what they were doing. We started bringing more heat from the outside and that ended up being a key factor in the second half."

However, Nebraska's lone major defensive breakdown of the second half made things interesting. Smith hit Mike Chandler with a short sideline pass that Chandler caught and then slipped out of NU cornerback Keyuo Craver's grasp and ran 77 yards for the score.

"I take that upon myself," Craver said. "It was a bad break on my part and I take full responsibility for it. I'm not supposed to do that, but I will because I could've stopped it. After that, you've just got to bounce back."

Kansas then made a two-point conversion on a Smith pass to Chandler to tie the game 17-17.

"It almost felt like a repeat of last week," Kaiser said. "They hit us and you just kind of look at yourself like, 'damn, what's going on.' But we were able to battle back and keep them off the board the rest of the time."

Kansas made just one first down after their tying score. With less than nine minutes to play, Nebraska's Aaron Wills and Kyle Vanden Bosch teamed up to sack Smith for an 11-yard loss and help stall a Jayhawk drive. The Huskers scored the game-winner on their next possession as quarterback Eric Crouch hit Bobby Newcombe for a 49-yard scoring pass.

Despite coming off an emotional loss at Texas, Mike Brown said he didn't think the Huskers let down against Kansas. Nebraska was favored by more than four touchdowns.

"We were ready to roll," Brown said. "There was no question about our intensity and what we were doing out there. We were ready to play, all focused ... it was just a good game. It was a good battle and that's what it's all about."

Instead, Brown said credit needs to be given to Kansas.

"They worked hard tonight," Brown said. "This isn't the same Kansas team that I've played the last three years. They came to play and they were ready to win.



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