AMES, Iowa — This didn’t look like a team with doubts, a team wondering when misfortune was about to raise its head.
Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium, Nebraska looked a little bit like it used to look on road trips to places like Ames — the hammer to the other team’s nail.
Not surprised by success. Undeterred by adversity. Not satisfied even after a four-touchdown win.
Yes, NU’s 35-7 victory against Iowa State felt strangely familiar, like a Husker win of yesteryear.
A three-game losing skid may have been snapped, but the Huskers walked off the field looking like nothing more than a bunch of guys who had just completed their shift at work.
This was a business trip. A good one at that.
“I’m not seeing a team that’s too high in that locker room,” Husker coach Bo Pelini said. “I was just with a team in the locker room that’s not satisfied with how we played. Believe me, we enjoy it because we just came off three losses. We’re going to enjoy it, but we understand also there’s a lot to fix.”
In the first half, the Huskers didn’t just hope for touchdowns. They expected them and got them — probably even leaving two scores on the field while making the Cyclones look outclassed.
“There was definitely a sense of confidence like every play was going to be a touchdown or a first down,” said sophomore wide receiver Niles Paul.
The Huskers piled up 349 yards in the first half. Iowa State had 45. Nebraska had 19 first downs, ISU two.
Oh, sure, there were warts. We’re talking about a 4-3 team, after all.
The Huskers sometimes handled the football like it was greased — fumbling five times, losing three of them — and Nebraska fizzled more than it sparkled in the third quarter.
The statistics show that this game should have been decided by the start of the fourth quarter, yet it wasn’t.
Iowa State trailed just 21-7 at that point, still in the game thanks to a 67-yard touchdown run by Alexander Robinson on the second play of the second half.
Up 21-0 at the half, Nebraska got a bit sloppy. But not rattled. Not this time.
“It’s funny, because they knew right away what the mistake was and why it happened,” Husker defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said of how players reacted to the ISU touchdown. “It was just the attitude of, ‘Hey, it ain’t going to happen again.’”
And it didn’t. Unlike recent Husker history, where one bad thing led to another, this Nebraska team shrugged off its mistakes and went back to work.
“Over this year, we’ve had problems but we’ve always bounced back,” Husker junior center Jacob Hickman said. “Coming out at half, we were all smiles and then when we had that one play, everyone looks around like, ‘OK, time to go.’ It’s a business team and it’s a business atmosphere that I haven’t seen before this year. It’s a pretty good deal and every week it’s getting better.”
And why fret when you’re moving the ball like NU did Saturday? Aside from a bad case of the fumbles, Nebraska’s offense mostly did as it pleased — whether on the ground or through the air.
Quarterback Joe Ganz passed for 328 yards and the offense rushed for 220 yards on 41 carries. When it was all said and done, NU had 548 yards to Iowa State’s 218.
You needn’t look past the stats of the Husker running backs to know the story: Roy Helu had 93 total yards, Marlon Lucky 90, Quentin Castille 75.
Lucky scored two touchdowns and even played a little quarterback — taking two direct snaps. Nine Huskers caught passes. Nebraska was 5-for-5 in the red zone.
And the defense finally caused a couple turnovers and caused ISU to go 2-for-13 on third down.
This performance was no surprise to Bo Pelini, who had seen his team probably have its best week of practice leading up to Saturday’s game.
The three losses hurt, he said, but hadn’t affected this team’s focus.
“I’m a pretty miserable human being to be around after a loss, let alone three,” Pelini said. “I’m happy for these kids, because let’s face it, you lose three in a row … there are some people and some kids that would have said, ‘I’m done.’ And there was never any sense of that.”
Once a program that thrived on these road trips, Nebraska had lost five straight road games dating to last year’s win at Wake Forest.
But Saturday, the Huskers looked completely comfortable away from home — still a team with obvious flaws, but also one that seems to have done well in distancing itself from last year’s inconsistency.
“I don’t think there’s any question they’ve bought in,” Bo Pelini said. “They’re buying in. I think the great thing is right now they’re seeing their hard work, they’re seeing their rewards. They’re seeing themselves getting better and they’re becoming more confident. And it’s going to make us better down the line.”
Reach Brian Christopherson at 473-7439 or firstname.lastname@example.org.