Curt McKeever: Huskers find some redemption on road

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BY CURT McKEEVER / Lincoln Journal Star

Sunday, Oct 08, 2006 - 01:09:00 am CDT

AMES, Iowa — Even if you didn’t know how Iowa State’s first three home games this season had ended, you would have counted on Nebraska having to endure a nervous tight-rope walk here Saturday night.

The Huskers haven’t exactly had a lot of solid footing recently in Ames. It was 34-27 Cyclones here two years ago and 36-14 for the home team in 2002.

What’s more, Iowa State had prevailed in its three previous contests here over the past five weeks, and every one of them had been decided on the final play. So, yeah, it’s a little surprising that NU required no safety net during its well-balanced, 28-14 win.

Oh, how Bill Callahan’s team must look forward to going back out on the road again next week.

Things like an 80-yard, opening-possession touchdown drive, with Cody Glenn chugging for 49 of the yards, will do that to an offense.

And what do you think it does to a defense when it limits a quarterback who’d averaged 331 yards passing in his first two games against Nebraska to an 18-for-39, 262-yard effort? That’s the kind of night the Blackshirts made it for preseason All-Big 12 Conference pick Bret Meyer, who passed for 49 of those yards on Iowa State’s final drive.

But after Meyer marched the Cyclones to their only points during the game’s first 59 minutes, Nebraska did the kind of thing that makes champions.

Its offense ground out a 68-yard touchdown drive on the next possession, with Brandon Jackson lugging for 34 yards, remained patient while the defense forced two ISU punts, then provided the Cyclones with a silencing shot — Maurice Purify’s over-the shoulder 27-yard TD catch three seconds before halftime.

With Glenn (148 yards) and Jackson (116) paving the way to an efficient 17-for-21 passing performance by Zac Taylor, Nebraska ran like days of old.

It also trusted its defense to forget about last week’s miserable showing against Kansas. At least that’s how defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove appeared as he turned his group loose and, at times, sent the house in a successful attempt to contain the elusive Meyer.

Iowa State’s offense — clearly the Cyclones’ strength — was frustrated to a point that on its first drive of the second half, all-league wide receiver Todd Blythe needed to commit offensive pass interference to break free of the coverage provided by Andre Jones.

Then, after the Cyclones got the ball at the Nebraska 14-yard line following the Huskers’ only turnover (a fumble by Taylor), the Blackshirts made an inspiring stand capped by free safety Andrew Shanle’s blitz that forced Meyer to fling a third-down incompletion. When Nebraska snuffed out a fake field goal run by Austin Flynn, the writing was clearly on the wall.

Iowa State couldn’t convert a third-and-1 on its next series, and on the one that followed, when NU junior cornerback Cortney Grixby came up with the first interception of his career. That’s right, of his career.

Meanwhile, Iowa State’s defense had little luck stopping anything. The Cyclones entered Saturday with a 21-68 record under coach Dan McCarney when they’d allowed at least 150 yards rushing.

By halftime, Nebraska had 205.

Yes, the Huskers should feel a sense of redemption from their latest performance, never mind that the Cyclones don’t have as many reliable parts as their previous two clubs that should have won the Big 12 North. McCarney still had gotten his bunch to win its last six games here, and last week ISU produced only the eighth victory in 65 games under him when trailing at the half.

So if you went into Saturday wondering whether Nebraska was the real deal, I suggest wonder no more.

Being 2-0 in the Big 12 for the first time in five years hardly guarantees the Huskers of being North champions (and judging from its impressive statement at Texas Tech on Saturday, Missouri will have something to say about that). But let’s just say late November should feel a lot warmer this year.

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