LINCOLN — Lost in Saturday's quagmire of five Nebraska turnovers were unprecedented rushing and total offense numbers by the Huskers against Michigan State's No. 1-ranked defense.
The most noteworthy was the 123 rushing yards gained on 22 carries by junior running back Ameer Abdullah. No other player had cracked the 100-yard barrier against the Spartans this season — in fact, no team had done it.
“Ameer had great eyes. He was seeing things and getting where he needed to get to, hitting holes,” Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown said.
Before the Huskers posted 182 yards, the best team rushing performance was the 92 gained by Indiana Oct. 12 on 27 carries.
The Huskers outgained Michigan State 392-361 despite running 16 fewer plays (80-64). Again, the Hoosiers owned the previous season best with 351.
“I thought we did a nice job of spreading them out with our receivers getting wide and having to force their 'backers to go out wide and cover receivers,” Brown said. “I thought our offensive line did a nice job coming off the ball, picking up things against a very stout defense.
“There was no question we could have run the ball all day.”
If it weren't for those pesky turnovers …
“The turnovers killed us,” Brown said. “They shortened our drives tremendously, particularly in the first half. We had great effort. We had a good plan, a real good plan.”
Both Brown and offensive line coach John Garrison credited Nebraska's front five for the Huskers' average of just over six yards per play.
“Some things you can and can't control, but overall, my group of guys, I think they went out and played hard,” Garrison said. “We didn't play a great game, but I thought we gave our team an opportunity to win. Those guys gutted it out.”
By halftime Abdullah had gained 87 yards and Garrison said the NU linemen at times were controlling the line of scrimmage.
What was most heartening to Garrison was the way the whole offense continued to play hard, even when the Huskers got down by 13, then 20 in the last half of the fourth quarter. That effort resulted in a 12-yard touchdown pass to Abdullah from Ron Kellogg with 10 seconds to play.
“We controlled what we could control, and that's control of the line of scrimmage and protect our quarterback,” Garrison said. “You saw on the last drive they very well could have cashed it in, and they didn't do that.”
Ultimately, Brown said, there was one statistic that took some luster off everything else the offense accomplished.
“When you put the ball on the ground five times, to their zero, you can't beat a bad team, let alone a good team,” Brown said. “The score was 5-0. That's the key stat of the day.”