LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska has posted a gritty 10-3 halftime lead over Kansas State in exactly the kind of defensive game that most expected.
Here's a look at some of the trends in the first half of the game that will determine the North Division champion.
Turning point: Kansas State safety Tysyn Hartman’s interception late in the second half was a critical play that accounted for a huge momentum swing for the Wildcats. Nebraska was set to take a potential 14-point lead as they were moving the ball well against a Kansas State defense that seemed to be tiring. But defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald came up with a huge sack before Hartman’s interception in the end zone. His pick not only ended Nebraska’s scoring drive, but also kept the Wildcats within striking distance at the half.
Stat of half: The diference in penalties was startling. Kansas State was penalized six times for 54 yards – and each one seemed to place the sputtering KSU offense in difficult positions for first downs. Nebraska was penalized once for 15 yards.
Best player of the half: Take away one interception and Nebraska quarterback Zac Lee had a solid first half. Lee completed 9-of-14 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown. He also chipped in with 14 yards on seven carries and also took a critical 15-yard late hit along the sidelines by KSU linebacker John Houlik early in the second quarter that helped spark the Cornhuskers’ drive that resulted in a touchdown three plays later.
Best call: Tight end Mike McNeill was injured late in the Kansas game and was thought to be doubtful to play until late this week. But McNeill is back in the lineup and made a huge contribution that gave the Cornhuskers the lead. McNeill streaked through the KSU secondary, making a fancy double move to split the defenders for a 17-yard touchdown reception from Lee that has accounted for the game’s only touchdown so far.
What Nebraska needs to do: Keep the same defensive intensity. Other than the first and last drive of the half, the Cornhuskers’ defense was the major story. Not only did it limit KSU to only three points, but it also enabled the Wildcats to convert only one of six third-down plays.
What Kansas State needs to do: Stay away from penalties. The Wildcats’ offense isn’t built to pick up yards in big chunks. Penalties make it hard to do that with a station-to-station offense like the Wildcats have. They can’t beat themselves if they want to stay in manageable down-and-distance situations.