The worst: Special teams play for the Cornhuskers. Nebraska allowed a punt return for a touchdown for the first time since 1988. It allowed a kickoff return for the first time since the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.
"I promise we'll have better special teams," coach Frank Solich said.
Red sea rolls in
Nobody muscles their way into visiting stadiums like Nebraska fans.
When the gates opened Saturday, red-clad fans streamed into Notre Dame Stadium. They took their place in the upper end zone, the section provided by Notre Dame for visiting teams' fans. Then they covered an area behind the Cornhuskers' bench, the place for players' parents and friends.
Then came the amazing part. Nebraska fans filled rows throughout the stadium, in every section. An estimated 25,000 fans in the 80,000-seat stadium cheered the Huskers.
Which means some 20,000 fans were able to purchase tickets from Notre Dame season-ticket holders or students. So much for the home-field advantage.
"It's unbelievable," Solich said. "No matter where we go they're there. It's amazing. Somehow, some way they get into the stadium. I bet there are probably a few in the bars in South Bend."
As with all over-hyped events, T-shirt sales zoom. Added to the Nebraska collection: "The Luck Stops Here." For the Notre Dame collection: "Catholics vs. Cornstalks."
Lunacy report I: About 35,000 attended a Notre Dame pep rally in the stadium on Friday night and heard Irish shill Dick Vitale predict a 21-19 Notre Dame victory.
Lunacy report II: About 3,000 Nebraska fans watched the Cornhuskers' walk-through on Friday.
In two of the past three seasons, Nebraska won an overtime time and went on to a successful finish.
In 1997, the Cornhuskers defeated Missouri 38-31 in the "flea-kicker" game in Columbia. That team, ranked first at the time, dropped in the polls, but rebounded to finish No. 1 in the coaches poll with a 13-0 record.
Last season, Nebraska survived a major scare at Colorado, winning 33-30. The Huskers finished second in the coaches poll and 12-1.
Nebraska's triumph was the first over a ranked team in an enemy stadium for Solich. In his first two seasons, Solich teams had lost at Texas A&M, Kansas State and Texas. He had defeated ranked teams away from Lincoln, but in neutral sites. The Fighting Irish were ranked 23rd.
Feel like winners
Notre Dame players believe they made a statement by taking the top-ranked Cornhuskers into overtime.
"We knew we could play with them," linebacker Anthony Denman said. "We are just as good as they are."
Said offensive tackle Mike Gandy: "We thought we had this game won. It was all going our way. We really couldn't have played a better game."
No lost fumbles, still
Nebraska's lone turnover came on a tipped interception -- same as Notre Dame's. That means for the second straight game the Cornhuskers haven't lost a fumble, after losing 25 last year.
But there were some close calls Saturday. On a punt return. Joe Walker and Bobby Newcombe collided and the ball squirted into Walker's hands. Then as he was being tackled the ball popped out and into the arms of teammate Clint Finley.
Also, a few option pitches hit the ground but trickled out of bounds.
While the Irish have 1999 bowl teams Purdue, Michigan State and Stanford as their next three foes, the Notre Dame contest figures to be Nebraska's toughest for a while. None of the Cornhuskers' next five opponents -- Iowa, Missouri, Iowa State, Texas Tech and Baylor -- played in a bowl game last year and only Tech (6-5) had a winning record.
It should give Nebraska plenty of time to fix its special teams.
-- Blair Kerkhoff/The Star
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