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McKEEVER COLUMN: It was Nebraska, by a landslide

For one night at least, this was America's Team.

Even George W. - a born and bred Texan - would have marveled at the precision and might shown by Big Red in Memorial Stadium Thursday.

While the President was attending to far more serious matters, the Cornhuskers mounted an attack that simply was too broad in scope for Rice to withstand.

The Owls might have been game, but their will was shaken early and often by a team that clearly came with a well-mapped-out plan - and a focus to achieve it.

So dominant were the Huskers that one might now wonder whether anything can distract them. We'll see what Oklahoma and some other heavy hitters down the road have to say about that. But you can believe there's not many teams that would have wanted a piece of Coach Frank Solich's squad Thursday.

Nebraska was swift to take control, scoring touchdowns on its first three possessions, then relentlessly kept up the pressure.

Leading 28-0, the Huskers unleashed three more TD drives to start the second half before Solich called off the dogs.

In the meantime, NU's Eric Crouch re-established himself as a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate. Rice looked helpless trying to stop him by land or air.

Before he was pulled with 6:30 remaining in the third quarter, the senior quarterback produced 262 yards and five touchdowns. He completed 9 of 11 passes for 165 yards and three TDs, and carried the ball into the end zone twice as part of his 97 rushing yards.

"I don't think you can get much more done than what he got done tonight," Solich said. "I thought he was special."

That goes for a lot of Huskers.

Nebraska's running game is making slow, but steady, improvement. Credit that to the offensive line gaining game experience.

Rice showed some looks that not long ago would have confused the Huskers. Not Thursday. Even the pass protection was near perfect.

Defensively, Rice presented a unique challenge with its wishbone-disguised, no-huddle approach. And while the Blackshirts may have allowed too many big plays for Craig Bohl's liking, he had to have loved their fight.

Six times the Owls drove into Nebraska territory. Five times they were turned away with no points to show for the effort.

NU's special-teams play is keeping the same kind of pace. Coverage has been exceptional all season, and it's only a matter of time before DeJuan Groce goes the distance on a punt return, or Josh Davis leaves kickoff defenders in his wake.

"I think we really persevered as a team today in representing Nebraska and representing the country," Crouch said.

It left Solich with very much the same feeling - and perhaps a lump in his throat.

Hand-in-hand, the Huskers had walked onto Tom Osborne Field in a silent show of respect before the playing of the national anthem.

Their performance thereafter was no less breathtaking.

Reach Curt McKeever at 473-7441 or cmckeever@journalstar.com.

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