I guess dreams can come true.

The Huskers just might be going to the Champs Sports Bowl after all.

A trip to Orlando before Christmas? A football season in the books before Santa hits the chimney? It's a football writer's dream.

Now I know it's not the ideal scenario for a program used to playing closer to New Year's. You'll be happy to know the Holiday Bowl still has one eye on the Huskers. But all things considered, a Dec. 21 trip to the former Tangerine Bowl sounds pretty good right now.

If the Huskers do in fact make it 36 bowl appearances in a row, they can give a Florida Citrus salute to a guy from Pender named Bill Busch. For a moment around the lunch hour Saturday, Busch became Boston Red Sox reliever Keith Foulke. He was mobbed by fellow coaches. He was the man.

The curse of the Nebraska special teams was no more.

Busch was no longer the whipping boy of the staff.

The Husker special-teams coordinator has taken quite a beating this season, mainly because of NU's early special-teams struggles. He was ripped by fans on the coaches' radio show last week.

"You take some shots," he said. "It's part of the game."

Busch and his special teamers fired back Saturday. The ex-Utah assistant must have been pumped up by the presence of Ute legend Rick Majerus, because Busch's boys had a heck of a day.

The key play came midway through the second quarter when Andrew Shanle fired through the Missouri line and blocked a punt by Matt Hoenes. The ball bounced perfectly into the hands of Adam Ickes, who took it 16 yards for the only touchdown NU needed in a 24-3 victory.

"(Shanle) blocked it because he blocks them in practices, and he practices that hard every day," Busch said. "It wasn't a magic play. It's something we've worked on. We've repped it. He does it so good. He understands the technique, and he executed it."

No, it wasn't magic. It was the result of Busch's design work. That's why he got so many hugs and high-fives from fellow coaches after the play.

"He saw something on film, that we could get to their punter, and it worked. It was a great scheme and design by him," said running backs coach Randy Jordan. "We just tried to attack the middle and cross them up.

"We practice blocking punts all the time. It was just good to see that we were finally able to get one and finally scoop and score."

The play set the tone for the game, which was won by NU's defense and special teams. Busch, a Nebraska Wesleyan grad who also coaches NU's outside linebackers, and defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove, another subject of criticism the last few weeks, came through in the Huskers' biggest game of the season.

A loss Saturday could have easily sent the Huskers to a 5-6 or 4-7 finish. Instead, they have a solid shot at 7-4, which is about what most folks expected when the season started. Let's ease up on the Big 12 championship game talk for now.

"We had to have it in this game," Busch said. "Studies have been done. When you block a punt, 90 percent of the time, you're going to win."

And it's darn near 100 percent when the opposing punter gives you another touchdown with a dropped snap. That's what happened to Hoenes and the Tigers in the third quarter.

There were other big special-teams moments for NU, certainly enough to offset the punt the Tigers partially blocked to set up their only scoring drive of the game.

Brandon Jackson had a 40-yard kickoff return. The Husker coverage units didn't allow much. Sandro DeAngelis kicked a 41-yard field goal into the wind to give the Huskers a 3-0 lead, and punter Sam Koch was brilliant in sticking Mizzou inside its own 20 on five of his 10 punts.

"I thought (Koch's) role was significant because of the wind conditions, early on pinning people down inside, utilizing the field position that we did," said NU head coach Bill Callahan. "And you look at Sandro and the field goal he booted into the wind, I thought it all came alive today."

Who knows? After a rough ride the last few weeks, the Huskers might be headed for Disney World on the Scoop and Score Express.

Reach John Mabry at 473-7320 or jmabry@journalstar.com.


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