PITTSBURGH Water was rising all around Nebraska's football players, figuratively and literally, and the Huskers were running out of sandbags.
Their offense was sputtering, the turnover bug had once again reared its ugly head, and suddenly Pittsburgh was moving the ball in the late stages of Saturday's game at Heinz Field.
In fact, the Panthers, trailing by seven points, moved the ball well enough to position themselves for a badly needed marquee win at home.
In the waning seconds, from the Huskers' 19-yard line, Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko was flushed from the pocket by hard-charging lineman Titus Adams. Throwing off-balance, Palko heaved the ball into the end zone, where it found a mass of Husker red and white and Panther blue and gold.
Somebody in red and white batted the ball to the soggy grass.
Everybody in red and white could breathe again.
"It was a big sigh of relief," Nebraska true freshman cornerback Cortney Grixby said after the Huskers' 24-17 triumph. "A win is a win."
Nebraska forced four first-half turnovers and led 24-10 at the break, but never landed the knockout blow in the second half. The Huskers (2-1) managed just 75 yards of total offense during the final 30 minutes as quarterback Joe Dailey completed only one pass in seven attempts and tossed a late interception that kept Pitt's hopes alive.
Dailey threw three interceptions in last week's 21-17 home loss to Southern Mississippi. The Huskers averaged 36 passes in their first two games. Was it time Saturday for a more conservative offensive approach?
"I would call it a smart offensive approach," Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan said.
Dailey said the Huskers used an offensive game plan Saturday that evoked memories of the previous coaching regime: Run the ball, use play-action passes, and make things happen.
Callahan said that instead of opening up the offense, he wanted to keep it "manageable."
Nebraska's dressed-down approach stemmed in part from a field that was wet and slippery following nearly 7 inches of rain Friday. The downpour caused significant flooding in the area and no doubt contributed to lackluster attendance Saturday (40,133).
The Huskers, after rushing for 274 yards last week, managed only 123 on the ground against a big and hard-hitting Pitt defense. Dailey wound up 11-of-22 for 142 yards.
Pitt experienced similar misery on offense most of the afternoon. Through three quarters, the Panthers (1-1) had just 108 yards. Although they awakened for 150 yards in the fourth quarter, it was too little, too late, thanks in large part to their first-half turnovers.
Nebraska cornerback Fabian Washington's interception set up a field goal that opened the scoring.
Husker end Wali Muhammad dropped into coverage and snagged another Palko pass, setting up Cory Ross' 2-yard TD run that made it 10-0.
After Pitt's Allen Richardson muffed a punt at the Panther 6-yard line, Dailey zipped a TD pass to wideout Ross Pilkington on the next play, pushing the lead to 17-7 early in the third quarter.
Dailey's 17-yard TD run on a perfectly executed bootleg seemed to put the Huskers in control at 24-7 with six minutes left in the first half and Pitt's offense producing next to nothing.
Turns out, Nebraska had to fight to the end.
"This kind of game is going to test us it shows us we're contenders," Dailey said.