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College Sports

Wendell Barnhouse

Huskers find ways to win

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LINCOLN, Neb. - For 15 dollars, you can buy a poster that is becoming an instant classic. It's called The Play. It illustrates Black 41 Flash Reverse Pass, the Mike Stuntz to Eric Crouch tricked-up touchdown pass that was the big play in Nebraska's victory over Oklahoma on Oct. 27.

That play is becoming the most famous play in this season of Big Plays in Husker Land. But that gimmick play from deep in the playbook is only one of several significant accomplishments. Nebraska has a "Just Win Baby" philosophy with the subheading of "Just Make A Big Play At The Right Time."

The Huskers beat the Sooners 20-10. Certainly, not a dominating performance. Saturday, they beat a sub-.500 Kansas State team 31-21 after trailing by a point at halftime. Sure, Nebraska is leading the nation in rushing, and its defense is worthy of Black Shirt status. But this is not the dominant type of Cornhuskers team that won three national titles in the 1990s.

Nebraska, No. 2 in the polls and No. 1 in the Bowl Championship Series standings, required more than three minutes to go 3 yards on the "drive" that led to its final points, a 28-yard Josh Brown field goal. With a first-and-10 at the Kansas State 14, that possession should have resulted in six points, not three. But nothing is easy for these Huskers, who have learned that dogged determination and focus often produces the luck that turns plays into big plays.

"This team has found ways to get it done in important games," Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. "It's not just one guy. It's any one of a number of guys, offense, defense, special teams. Not every team has that."

The Huskers are one of three undefeated teams. Miami and Brigham Young had narrow escapes Saturday. The Hurricanes' hopes for a national championship might have hinged on an Immaculate Interception that ended Boston College's upset chances.

When informed of Miami's good fortune, Solich nodded wisely.

"You've got to have those kind of things happen," said Solich, who was Nebraska's offensive coordinator when The Immaculate Deflection gave the Huskers a miracle victory at Missouri in 1997. "You've got to have a few things go right for you. Every now and then you've got to have a ball bounce right. There's a lot of things that go into getting to 11-0."

Nebraska has won 11 games, more than any other team, but they've accomplished nothing. A loss at Colorado on Nov. 23 would ruin the season, knocking the Huskers out of the Big 12 Conference championship game and costing them a shot at the national championship.

"Colorado? Oh, yeah ... whew," Nebraska junior defensive back DeJuan Groce said. "We've got to get ready. They're a deadly team."

Sophomore Willie Amos had two interceptions. He returned one 20 yards for a touchdown and the other 50 yards to set up Brown's field goal. The Huskers have scored 88 points off turnovers. Groce's 60-yard punt return for a touchdown gave the Huskers a 28-14 lead late in the third quarter and put the game away.

"We made a lot of big plays," Groce said. "Big-time players make big-time plays. I take that to heart."

There are those who expect an upset in Boulder. But there is a certain resolute and resilient attitude about this Nebraska team. National champions these days survive rather than dominate. The Huskers don't want to get voted off the island.

Sophomore defensive back Pat Ricketts was beaten by Kansas State's Aaron Lockett for the touchdown that gave the Wildcats a 14-13 halftime lead. But after an interception gave Kansas State one last, faint hope with 1:59 remaining, Ricketts out-scrapped Lockett to make a game-turning interception.

"This team has an intangible that's a difficult thing to define," Nebraska defensive coordinator Craig Bohl said. "There's not a statistic for that. We saw it coming about, but as a staff, you never know how it's going to develop. They're really solid; they're a tight, tight group."

The victory over the Wildcats was the last of eight home games this season. There were no roses thrown on the field by fans looking through Rose-Bowl colored glasses.

"There's no room to celebrate," Solich said. "I'm relieved to be undefeated at this point in our schedule. Hopefully, we've got three tough games ahead of us."

Games that will only be won if the Huskers keep being playmakers.

Wendell Barnhouse, (817) 390-7760 wbhoops@star-telegram.com

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