LINCOLN — Though his first career start didn’t come until his 48th game, that’s not the primary reason I-back Imani Cross will fondly remember Nebraska’s 39-38 come-from-behind victory over Michigan State.
How Cross and his teammates battled back to beat the sixth-ranked team is what made Saturday night special for the soft-spoken senior from Gainesville, Georgia.
Cross said it quickly moved to the top of his list of favorite Husker moments.
“It was awesome,” Cross said. “It probably ranks No. 1 since I’ve been at Nebraska. The result of believing and the result of having faith.
“The No. 6 team in the country comes in to our house, and are we going to believe or are we going to dwell on the past and tonight we believed. I’m thankful for that.”
After coming up on the short end of five games decided by two, three or five points, the 4-6 Huskers soaked up every last drop of admiration from the Memorial Stadium crowd of 90,094 in one of the most raucous celebrations in recent memory.
Cross led Nebraska with 98 yards rushing on 18 carries and scored a touchdown in his first career start.
NU offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said the coaches were counting on Cross more than ever because starter Terrell Newby still wasn’t completely healthy from an injury he suffered in Nebraska’s 55-45 loss Oct. 31 at Purdue.
“Terrell didn’t practice a lot during the week and we went with him early and he wasn’t 100 percent,” Langsdorf said. “We just wanted to get some power runs. We felt like we wanted to go right after them in the run game, and we thought Imani gave us some good, hard runs and some toughness in there.
“So we stayed with him and he was great.”
Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong said he wasn’t surprised that Cross made the most of his chance.
“Imani is one of the great, great leaders from the backs,” Armstrong said. “He’s just looking for an opportunity, and he got an opportunity today. He got tough yards when they were needed, he got first downs when they were needed.
“It takes a guy like him to be there to just work as hard as he can and get opportunities like that to make plays.”
There also were a few runs where Cross got through Michigan State’s rugged defensive line and had a chance to show flashes of speed he doesn’t often get to exhibit when churning for those tough yards through the middle of the defense.
When asked about a few of his slippery and speedy moves, Cross smiled sheepishly, lowered his head. One run went for 21 yards.
“It was really fun getting out on the edge with a little bit of speed, just a tiny bit,” Cross said. “The tight ends and the tackles and Andy (Janovich) did a great job setting the edge for me, so all I had to do was press it and then hit it outside.”
That’s also the way Langsdorf saw things open up for Cross.
“He hit a couple of stretch runs really nice,” Langsdorf said. “He’s a patient runner, which you need on some of those stretch runs, and then he hit it hard and he creased a couple, too, that got us some big yards.”
Langsdorf said the way Cross prepares and works hard at every practice made it easy to make him the guy who carried the load in what now can be viewed as Nebraska’s biggest game of the season.
“He had a good week of prep,” Langsdorf said. “He had some runs that really were his cup of tea, hard zone runs that were downhill, and we hit some draws that I think he’s good at. I thought he was outstanding all day.”
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