LINCOLN — It was a walk Brett Smith didn't want to make.
Wyoming's junior quarterback wasn't ready to leave Memorial Stadium's new turf Saturday night, not after coming oh so close to pulling off an upset that generations of Cowboys fans never would forget.
Smith's eyes that were spotting weaknesses and soft spots in a revamped Nebraska defense now were filled with tears.
Now the 6-foot-3, 206-pound junior from Salem, Ore., was staring at that turf, some of its particles still clinging to the back of Smith's neck. That's when Cowboys coach Dave Christensen caught up with him around the 15-yard line.
Christensen asked Smith to look at him three times. Smith finally managed to take a peek at his coach who moments earlier had quickly vented his frustration with the outcome.
After shaking hands with Nebraska coach Bo Pelini at midfield, Christensen headed west, got free from any crowds, looked down and uttered one expletive. With that out of his system, Christensen went back to shake a few hands before seeking out his quarterback.
“Walk with your head held high like the way you came in here,” Christensen told Smith. “Look at that, 602 yards. We've got this fixed.”
The yardage number is the total yards Wyoming put up against Nebraska's defense before a record crowd of 91,185. That's only 56 less than Nebraska gave up to UCLA less than a year ago.
Smith was responsible for 475 of those — 92 rushing on eight carries and 383 passing to five receivers. Smith didn't always view his need to scramble as a way to escape Nebraska's pressure. Other times it simply was what needed to be done to create a play.
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“I thought the receivers did a great job of getting open,” Smith said. “Things are going to break down multiple times in games. Whether that's by a blitz that came through or something that wasn't picked up on the line or the secondary covers your route, sometimes I feel like I have to buy time getting out of the pocket.”
Smith had four touchdown passes and just one interception, but in the postgame press conference he was quick to point out that that pick led to some Nebraska points.
“Three points, that's one or two plays,” Smith said. “I threw an interception, that throw shouldn't have been made and they were able to capitalize and get points off that. You have to look at the good things and take as many (of those) things. That's the only way you're going to get better.”
It's that level of personal responsibility and the way he nearly led the Cowboys to one of the biggest upsets in school history that had Christensen beaming after the game. When asked for one word to describe Smith, Christensen didn't flinch.
“Special,” Christensen said. “I've been fortunate I've had a special guy a few times in my career. He fits that bill; he's different than all the other guys. He'll make throws, he'll get away, he can run, he's a great competitor, a great leader.
“He did some things in the second half with his teammates that were unbelievable. When some times got tough he never lost his focus.”
Christensen said Smith told his teammates that they were going to get right back out and we're going to score again.
“Well, guess what,” Christensen said. “They did just that. In the past in our program I don't know if that would have happened against a team like Nebraska.”
Maybe that's why he wanted to delay the walk down the tunnel. Smith knew they were close to that program-altering upset. He left to cheers and high-fives from Wyoming and Nebraska fans alike.
One young fan, wearing a red T-shirt, asked Smith for the towel hanging from the front of his pants. That smile he flashed when Smith flipped him the towel likely won't go away for days.
Smith said some memories of what happened Saturday will fade, but others need to stay fresh.
“I think you want to forget the fact that you lost, but you want to remember it as well,” Smith said. “You don't want to feel this way (again). Basically how I'm going to look at it is we played an outstanding game, but we lost because of some crucial mistakes.”
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Video: NU coach Bo Pelini at the postgame press conference:
Video: NU's Quincy Enunwa at the postgame press conference:
Video: NU's Jeremiah Sirles at the postgame press conference: