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Keith Whitmire's Big 12 column

Irish don't make Nebraska look too special


By Keith Whitmire / The Dallas Morning News

SOUTH BEND, Ind – Nebraska came to college football's Holy Land seeking answers. The Huskers came away with more questions.

Questions such as, "Is No. 1 Nebraska really the best team in the nation?"

Certainly not on special teams. Not after giving up a kickoff return and a punt return for touchdowns Saturday.

Does the best team in the country allow such things? Does the best team in the country need overtime to survive Notre Dame, a team that wasn't even ranked a week ago? Do the Huskers survive if the Irish don't sit on the ball in the final minute of regulation?

Do the pollsters chalk up the Cornhuskers' 27-24 win as another example of Notre Dame mystique? Or are the No. 23 Irish really that good?

The only real answer coming out of South Bend on Saturday is that a lot of Irish fans made a lot of money selling their tickets to Nebraska fans. The red-clad Husker fans completely took over parts of the stadium and, when mixed with green-clad Irish supporters, made the rest of the stadium look like a Christmas decoration.

When Nebraska won the coin toss for overtime, there was a reason Notre Dame coach Bob Davie chose to play in the stadium's north end. That's where the Notre Dame student section occupies one corner – the only place in the stadium dominated by Notre Dame fans.

Fan support was about the only thing Nebraska had going for it in the second half. While the defense kept Notre Dame in check, the Huskers' offense started looking predictable. The special teams were as unpredictable as they could get.

From the opening kickoff, which Notre Dame's David Givens returned for 41 yards, special teams were the Irish's wild card. After Nebraska took a 14-7 lead in the second quarter, Notre Dame's Julius Jones returned another kickoff 45 yards.

Things only got worse for Nebraska in the second half. After taking a 21-7 lead, Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. Then an 83-yard by Joey Getherall tied the score at 21-all.

"From the sideline it looked like a complete collapse," said Nebraska coach Frank Solich, when asked to analyze the punt coverage.

"There was some concern about that [special teams] coming out of our fall camp," Solich said. "There was some concern after our last game, and that concern is still there. That's obviously something we're going to have to work on."

Offense is another concern. Despite rolling up 377 yards, when the Huskers needed to move the ball in the second half, they couldn't.

"As the game went on, our base offense was shut down pretty well," Solich said. "We were not able to establish the consistency we had earlier in the ball game. Notre Dame's defense got better at stopping us."

Fortunately for Nebraska, there are no kick returns in overtime. After holding Notre Dame to a field goal on the first possession of overtime, Nebraska's offense went into survival mode.

Playmaking quarterback Eric Crouch, who seemed to have trouble on obvious passing situations, hit tight end Tracey Wistrom for a key third-down conversion. Then Crouch outran the Notre Dame defense on a option play for the game-winning score, his third touchdown of the day.

[ Sports Day | ]
(c) 2000 The Dallas Morning News