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Carl Pelini had an astonished look on his face outside the Nebraska locker room last week when he heard Kansas had scored 35 fourth-quarter points against Colorado.

Did that sudden outburst cause the Nebraska defensive coordinator some concern?

"I'm always concerned," Pelini said. "I coach out of fear all the time. Every time you call a defense, you think of the worst-case scenario every time you prepare. I'm psychotic like that. I always go into a game thinking they're going to score a hundred (points) on us."

The worst-case scenario never materialized Saturday. Quite the contrary, actually.

Nebraska held Kansas to 87 total yards and five first downs, sacked quarterback Quinn Mecham six times and held the Jayhawks out of the end zone in a 20-3 victory at Memorial Stadium.

The 87 yards were the fewest allowed under head coach Bo Pelini, and the fewest by a Nebraska opponent since 2000, when Baylor managed 84 yards.

"I've never been involved in anything even close to that," Carl Pelini said. "These days in college football, teams are hanging up 700 yards, so to hold a team to 200 or 300 is considered a good defensive game. To hold a team to 87 yards in unbelievable."

And this after Kansas, like many previous Husker opponents, used formations and plays that Nebraska hasn't seen in six or seven games of film study.

"It just seems like offenses are doing that to us, and they're gunning for us," Carl Pelini said. "But our guys were really locked in with their preparation, did their adjustments. We played physical, we played fast, and I'm just very proud of how those guys played tonight.

"Obviously, 87 yards later, who knows? Maybe it wasn't the greatest offensive plan in the world they had."

Nebraska set an early tone by blitzing and sacking Mecham on a fourth-and-6 play from the NU 35-yard line. The seven-play drive, set up after a 45-yard kickoff return, was KU's longest of the night, in terms of plays run.

"When that (sack) happened, it felt like we were going to dominate them," cornerback Alfonzo Dennard said. "It just showed that they were getting kind of scared of us."

Dennard returned to the starting lineup after sitting out last week's game while recovering from a concussion. He recovered after slipping on press coverage on a deep ball thrown by Mecham in the third quarter and intercepted the pass for his fourth pick this season.

How big was Dennard's return to the defense?

"Huge," Carl Pelini said. "I felt that all week. We're a different defense when he's opposite Prince (Amukamara). It's tough, because we can do a lot of things inside to stop the run and just trust that guys aren't going to get open on the outside."

Nebraska stopped the run on first and second down, something tackle Jared Crick said factored into the Huskers' pass rush. KU had 72 rushing yards, and Mecham completed three passes in 13 attempts for 15 yards. The Jayhawks' only points came after a Husker turnover.

"I thought we executed consistently for the first time all season," Crick said. "I'm very proud of our guys, how we hustled to the ball."

Sacks ended each of KU's first four possessions. Consider that a challenge that Nebraska's defensive line met.

"If there's any complaining I had about their play coming in, it was that in obvious passing situations, they were too conservative," Carl Pelini said. "So I challenged them, ‘Get your butts in the air and go. Go have some fun and wreck some shop in the backfield.' It was good to see them do that, turn it loose. Hopefully that will carry over."

Reach Brian Rosenthal at brosenthal@journalstar.com or 402-473-7436.