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Pete Goering -- Jayhawks do their best Husker imitation

By PETE GOERING
The Capital-Journal

LAWRENCE -- This was going to be a scouting report on Nebraska -- a favor, if you will -- for Kansas State, which has to play the Huskers in a couple of weeks.

But darned if Kansas didn't almost screw it up.

The Jayhawks, whopping 31-point underdogs, scared the husk out of the Corners, leading until late in the third quarter when the inevitable happened.

Bobby Newcombe, Nebraska's best player (You tell me why he touches the ball only five or six times a game!), scored the go-ahead touchdown on an 86-yard punt return with 2:14 left in the third quarter, and Nebraska went on to beat KU for the 31st time in a row.

OK, so that doesn't quite do the game -- or the Jayhawks -- justice.

KU, its chances for the biggest upset in Big 12 history seemingly gone after Nebraska had wiped out a 9-0 deficit to take a 17-9 lead, climbed off the slippery artificial turf to tie before Newcombe -- surprise, surprise -- scored the game-winner on a 49-yard pass from Eric Crouch.

Final score: Nebraska 24, Kansas 17.

INSTEAD OF a look ahead at the K-State-Nebraska game, this was the K-State-Nebraska game. This was everything you'd expect from two top-10 teams.

Except KU isn't a top 10 team. Not even close. Not with a 3-6 record.

Saturday, however, the Jayhawks were almost good enough. Almost. They exposed some Nebraska shortcomings that K-State, with superior talent, should be able to exploit.For much of the game, the Huskers didn't even look like the best team in Memorial Stadium, let alone the best team in the Big 12 North Division. They had 69 yards in the first half. Total.

I mean, vintage Husker teams had that much on one play, usually early in the first quarter. Saturday, they were playing against the Big 12's worst defense ... and were being stopped dead in their tracks.

KU led 9-0 at the half, and it wasn't a fluke. Nebraska had three first downs, KU 12. The Jayhawks' Moran Norris had rushed for more yards (49) than the entire NU team. Somewhere, Mike Rozier and Jeff Kinney were shaking their heads and trying to figure out who those imposters in the white helmets really were.

The vaunted Black Shirt defense is pretty good, but it didn't look nearly as good as K-State's. KU beat it early with a long touchdown drive and again late when Dylen Smith hooked up with Michael Chandler on a 77-yard touchdown pass that tied the game.

IF THIS WAS Nebraska at its best, Kansas State can start making those hotel reservations in San Antonio.

But I'm guessing this wasn't vintage Nebraska, even though you'd think the Huskers would have been eager to make amends after last week's loss at Texas. And, they probably were. Somebody simply forgot to tell Kansas.

This isn't the Kansas team that was embarrassed here last month by San Diego State. Or, for that matter, the one K-State overmatched in Manhattan.

"I think we're getting better each and every week," coach Terry Allen said.

Smith is getting more comfortable every game, Norris has developed into a legitimate running threat and the defense -- the Big 12's worst, remember -- put together a string of seven quarters without allowing a touchdown until the Huskers punched across two in the fourth quarter.

The loss officially eliminated KU's bowl hopes. The Jayhawks needed seven victories to qualify. The best they can get now is six. That's six actual victories. Moral victories don't count.

"You don't get congratulated," Allen said after the game. "We came to play; we came to win."

They almost did, and who would have thought that possible?

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