LINCOLN, Neb. - If ever the time was right for Kansas to put to rest its long losing streak to Nebraska, Saturday night had to be it.
John Randle ran for 105 yards on the nation's top rushing defense, while KU's defense showed up once again. And the Huskers were all thumbs offensively in giving up four turnovers and a safety.
Shoot, even Johnny Beck was back out there kicking field goals for KU.
The Jayhawks, however, didn't have enough punch to use all that and still came away with a 14-8 loss. For the record, that's the second closest KU has come to beating Nebraska since 1968.
But it was a loss just the same, stretching the Jayhawks' losing streak to the Huskers to 36.
"Coming close doesn't mean anything," KU coach Mark Mangino said. "There will never be moral victories as long as I'm coach at the University of Kansas."
Ironically, KU's only offensive points came from Beck, the senior who was benched two weeks ago. Saturday night, he hit his only two field goal attempts after his replacement, Scott Webb, missed a 37-yarder in the first quarter.
"I just try go out and do my job," said Beck, who is now 4 of 8 on field goals this season. "With the type of game it was, I just wanted to keep the team close. Hopefully, I gave the coach some confidence in me again."
Apparently not enough to let him try a field goal with the Jayhawks trailing by what would be the final score with about 9 ½ minutes remaining. Facing a fourth-and-8 at the Huskers' 24, KU opted to go for the touchdown.
"Let me give credit where credit is due to Johnny Beck," Mangino said. "He went out there and did his job when he didn't even know he'd be kicking. He gave me an encouraging sign tonight."
Yet he opted not to try to trim the lead with plenty of time left.
"No disrespect to anybody," Mangino said, "but I'd rather put the game in the hands of my defense than the kicking game. I'm just looking at history."
So on the fourth-down play, quarterback Adam Barmann was way off the mark with a pass to wide receiver Charles Gordon in the end zone.
"I got flushed out of the pocket and had to throw early," said Barmann, who completed 24 of 49 passes for 200 yards and was intercepted once. "We didn't get a chance to develop the route as much as we wanted."
Actually, the Jayhawks didn't develop much of an offense all night beyond Randle's running and Beck's kicking.
The Jayhawks converted only 3 of 19 chances on third down. Out of six possessions in the fourth quarter, they had only two first downs.
Nebraska's offense didn't do much more, making good on only 3 of 12 third downs and coming up with only one first down in the final period.
NU quarterback Joe Dailey threw three interceptions, giving him 11 in four games. Playing his other role as cornerback, Gordon had two of those picks.
"We were ready for them defensively," Gordon said. "It was a tough, tough night. But I thought we kept bringing the defensive wood to them."
Nebraska did squeeze out two touchdowns, both coming from I-back Cory Ross. He scored on an 18-yard run in the second period to give the Huskers' a 7-5 halftime lead, then put them up for good by taking a 14-yard screen pass from Dailey with just over four minutes left in the third quarter.
Clearly the Huskers are a team in offensive transition as they try to adjust to first-year coach Bill Callahan's West Coast ways.
"There's going to be some growing pains," Callahan said, "and you've got to take the good with the bad. I like our offense. We've got to get better."
His offense was also going against a KU defense that has easily been the Jayhawks' most consistent and improved area. Ross broke loose for 107 yards on 19 carries, but Nebraska sustained few drives.
Shortly after the Huskers went up 14-8, they appeared to be ready to add to that lead when their mistakes again caught up with them.
Ross Pilkington had just caught a long pass deep in KU's territory when Gordon jarred the ball loose. Linebacker Banks Floodman recovered the fumble at the Jayhawks' 28 with seven seconds left in the third quarter.
A few minutes later, Gordon again cut off a deep Nebraska penetration when he intercepted a pass at the Jayhawks' 14.
To be sure, these aren't the Huskers of old. But this was also a KU team that kept fighting a week after blowing a 25-point lead and losing by a point at home to Texas Tech.
"A lot of people pronounced this team dead a week ago," Mangino said. "I had some seniors tell me after the game that not so long ago, the tent would have been packed up at halftime and the team would have been headed down Highway 75.
"That's not going to happen with these guys. They're probably one of the toughest, most hard-nosed resilient bunch of kids I've ever been around."