DALLAS — Nebraska’s defense allowed 178 yards, the second-fewest by an opponent this season. Auburn couldn’t run the football. The Huskers bullied Tiger quarterback Brandon Cox.
And still, the Blackshirts, following their strongest performance of the season, had one regret.
“We should’ve gotten some field goals (by Auburn) on the short field,” Nebraska linebacker Stewart Bradley said. “That would’ve changed the game. We could’ve played better.”
Instead, the Tigers, with two gift-wrapped opportunities in the red zone, converted them into touchdowns both times.
They stood up in No. 10 Auburn’s 17-14 victory against No. 22 Nebraska in Monday’s Cotton Bowl.
“It’s a tough one,” Nebraska defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove said, “when you go neck-and-neck with a top-10 team and you come out on the short end.”
Cosgrove, before the game, stressed stopping the run, creating turnovers and pressuring Cox. The Blackshirt did all three.
Nebraska held Auburn to 67 rushing yards, forced and recovered two fumbles and sacked Cox five times.
“I’m real proud of the way our seniors played, the way our defense played today,” Cosgrove said. “They did a lot of good things. Played physical, got some turnovers, got after the quarterback pretty good.”
They just didn’t hold the Tigers to field goals in sudden-change situations.
Auburn’s first touchdown, a 9-yard pass from Cox to Carl Stewart, came two plays after Karibi Dede’s 52-yard interception return to the Nebraska 9-yard line.
Nebraska botched a fake punt in the second quarter, and Auburn recovered at the Nebraska 14. Four plays later, Stewart dove for the end zone from the 1, stretching the ball across the goal line.
Auburn drove from its 20 to the Nebraska 25 on its second series of the second half, setting up John Vaughn’s 42-yard field goal.
“We could’ve stopped them,” Bradley said. “We made mistakes.”
Bradley, a senior who led Nebraska with seven tackles, tried to make up for it. With Auburn possessing the ball and running down the clock in the fourth quarter, Bradley, on a third-and-12 play, sacked Cox, knocked the ball loose and recovered it.
It gave Nebraska possession with 3 minutes, 36 seconds remaining at the Auburn 42. The Husker offense, though, stalled on fourth-and-11 at the Auburn 30.
Bradley’s sack was one of five the Huskers generated, as Cosgrove showed some new blitzes, most notably the corner blitz; Andre Jones sacked Cox for a 12-yard loss.
“We had the whole (blitz) package in,” Cosgrove said, “but we showed the whole thing in normal down and distance.”
The Huskers had success in their third-down 30 defense (three linemen, three linebackers, five defensive backs), getting a sack from Adam Carriker on Auburn’s first possession. Bradley’s sack also came from the alignment.
Cox, who completed 10 of 21 passes for 111 yards, connected with Courtney Taylor six times; three of those came on a 13-play drive that allowed Auburn to wiggle out of the shadow of its 1-yard line in the second half.
Nebraska eventually forced a punt, then held Auburn three-and-out on its final three possessions.
Reach Brian Rosenthal at 473-7436 or firstname.lastname@example.org.