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Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2002

Big 12 games this week:
SATURDAY

Nebraska at Oklahoma State, 11:30 a.m. (Fox Sports Net)

Texas A&M; at Kansas, 1 p.m.

Baylor at Colorado, 2 p.m.

Iowa State at Oklahoma, 2:30 p.m. (ABC)

Texas at Kansas State, 6 p.m. (Fox Sports Net)

Missouri at Texas Tech, 6 p.m.

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McKEEVER COLUMN: One way or another, Houston's beginning to look good for NU

Houston, here we come.

No, not for the Big 12 championship shindig ya-all are hosting in early December. I'm talking about that other happenin' hoedown a few weeks later.

The Houston Bowl, is it? Catchy little name, and I think I've got just the team -- with pizzazz to match.

OK, so at least they have a long history of being able to pack 'em in.

Look, I know you have your giddy Texans fans, and all. But you ain't seen nothing until you've witnessed a migration of fun-lovin' Huskers painting the town red.

Gol darnit, their boys actually looked like a playoff -- I mean bowl -- team against Missouri Saturday.

Yeah, yeah. I know, tell you another knee-slapper. But really, the Tigers came ridin' into our fair little town with a quick-draw, sharp-shooting quarterback who had left a lot of bodies in his wake. And he had the locals running for cover.

Guess what? The posse finally caught up to him.

The Blackshirts actually gunned down Bad Brad Smith, and the good guys came away with a 24-13 win.

"I thought it was special in a lot of ways," said Nebraska's rodeo-tough Coach Frank Solich, who was so happy I'm sure he would've gladly posed in a 10-gallon hat after his team improved to 5-2.

Go ahead and cringe, folks, but that's where Nebraska is right now.

Unranked. No longer thought of as a contender for the Big 12 North Division title. And glad-handing after a win against anybody.

Saturday's was Nebraska's 24th straight against Missouri, and so I'm sure some of you will write it off as an insignificant eventuality.

That, however, would be unfair to a team that in between some boos produced its best effort of a season that two weeks ago looked like it was swirling down the drain.

No, the Huskers aren't ready to win a beauty contest. There probably isn't a surgeon around who could give them that kind of look, either. But at least they don't need a heart transplant.

Look at the defense, a sometimes disorganized bunch who was starting to get that deer-in-the-headlights look. Saturday, without their best player (Chris Kelsay), the Blackshirts took to the hunt and bagged the Tigers' dazzling quarterback Smith.

The redshirt freshman came in averaging nearly as many yards by himself (322) as the Huskers did as a team. He had nearly single-handedly huffed and puffed the Tigers past Oklahoma last week with a 391-yard effort.

"He'll always be a concern any time he's in a football uniform," Solich said.

Smith got undressed on Saturday.

Inspired by player-set goals (the coaches almost always establish those), the Huskers limited Smith to 157 yards (3.4 per touch) and sent the Tigers back to Columbia, Mo., to lick their wounds.

The goals? Thirteen points. Less than 100 yards rushing. No more than 250 total.

"It reflected big on this performance," said senior co-captain DeJuan Groce, who helped the Blackshirts achieve all three, and threw in a 89-yard punt return to boot. "This is the first time all year I've seen the defense fly around like that."

Good, bad or ugly, you've got to admire a team that takes ownership of its look.

"The games we lost, and even some we won, teams were getting big plays on us, and that was frustrating," linebacker Scot Shanle said. But "when a team sets their own goals, you take pride in that.

"There was a point today where they were over 100 yards (rushing) and then we got a sack and put them back under."

The performance was just the kind of boost Nebraska needed heading into back-to-back road games against Oklahoma State and Texas A&M.;

Who knows if it'll be enough to keep the road demons that have haunted the Huskers the last three trips from rearing their ugly heads again. But at least after Saturday, Nebraska should expect to be much more than easy road kill.

"We're really not in the spotlight any more. We're not mentioning the Big 12 North any more, and that's helped us," Shanle said. "If we get on a roll, there's not going to be many teams that will want to face us.

"I think we started in that direction today."

Anyone up for a trip in late December? Say, Houston or bust?

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


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NU VOLLEYBALL: Cepero suspended at least one match; Wischmeier new starter
'At another level'
Sutton, Pius X win titles
NU BASEBALL: Defense top priority for new head coach
Washington, Hopkins earn Blackshirts
Bolts push Class A powers to limit
This year, Knights more experienced and prepared for state
Pius X's top singles player to miss state meet
HUSKER DEPTH CHART
NU running back Collins may leave
NU FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK
NWU MEN'S BASKETBALL: Meyer pushes for starting job
JOHN MABRY: Husker QB needs a timeout
  

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