MANHATTAN, Kan. Nebraska football coach Bill Callahan, an offensive-minded sort, stresses the importance of third-down conversions.
Husker quarterback Joe Dailey describes third down as "the most important down in all of football," regardless of level.
Nebraska was doomed in large part Saturday because of its inability to convert on third down.
The Huskers were 2-of-11 on third-down conversions on the day and 0-of-7 in the second half of a 45-21 loss to Big 12 rival Kansas State.
"Right now, we're not successful with that," said Dailey, a first-year starter struggling in Callahan's complex West Coast offense. "It's something that will come with time and a few changes."
Dailey, a sophomore, threw incomplete passes four times on third-down plays during the third quarter as Nebraska tried to come back from a 24-14 halftime deficit.
The Huskers' only points in the final 30 minutes occurred four minutes into the third period, when safety Daniel Bullocks scooped up a botched snap on a K-State punt attempt and sprinted 10 yards into the end zone to slice the Wildcats' lead to 24-21.
Dailey was 0-for-7 passing in the second half as Nebraska managed only 56 yards against a Kansas State defense that entered the game ranked 39th nationally.
"We just didn't generate the type of plays that we needed to generate in the passing game," Callahan said. "It's a tough pill to swallow, really tough."
K-State put away the game in the fourth quarter as Nebraska unraveled on both sides of the ball.
In the Huskers' first five plays of the final period, Dailey fumbled twice while under duress in the backfield, and also threw an interception. The Wildcats converted two of the turnovers into touchdowns, sealing the outcome.
Callahan said he takes total responsibility for Nebraska's problems on both sides of the ball. The first-year head coach calls the plays on offense.
Dailey said the Huskers were well-prepared.
"It's really on us (the players)," Dailey said. "It has nothing to do with the coaches. It came down to not being able to execute."
Nebraska's offense actually performed efficiently in the first half. Trouble was, the Huskers ran only 17 plays compared with K-State's 42.
"We didn't get a chance to exploit their defense with our game plan," Dailey said.
Nebraska gained 166 first-half yards, with 63 coming on a perfectly executed shovel pass on third-and-7 from Dailey to I-back Cory Ross that set up backup I-back Brandon Jackson's 20-yard touchdown run.
The touchdown kept Nebraska in the game after K-State had bolted to a 14-0 lead.
By that point, it had become clear that if the Huskers were to win, it would probably be in an offensive shootout. And for a while, it appeared NU might be up to the task.
With Nebraska trailing 21-7, Dailey fired a 55-yard completion to true freshman wideout Terrence Nunn. The play-action pass set up Jackson's 2-yard touchdown plunge with 8:43 left in the second quarter.
The TD turned out to be the Huskers' final offensive points.
Callahan had no answers, saying his team played below expectations and that it would continue to work hard.
Dailey showed resolve in the post mortem, saying Nebraska could still win the rest of its games.
A New Jersey native, Dailey was coming off of a record-setting, 342-yard passing performance in last week's win against Baylor.
"He's a great leader," said Nebraska wide receiver Ross Pilkington, who like Dailey is a team co-captain. "Even when things go sour, he's there for us."
Dailey greeted reporters after the game sporting bruises over his right eye.
"I'm good to go, man," he said. "It may not look like it, but I'm good to go."