Huskers thinking OU early? You bet

 

Lincoln , Neb. -- No. 1 ranked Nebraska insisted all week it wouldn't get caught looking ahead to its showdown at No. 3 Oklahoma until the Cornhuskers had taken care of Baylor.

Well, that task took 1 minute and 48 seconds Saturday.

That's how much time had elapsed before the Huskers scored the first of eight touchdowns against the hapless Bears. Toss in a field goal and Nebraska posted a 59-0 win.

It probably could have been 159-0 for two reasons -- Nebraska was very good, and Baylor was equally horrible. The bad news Bears just may be the worst team in the five- year history of the Big 12.

So, Yogi Berra, this mismatch was over before it was over. And coach Frank Solich acknowledged as much after the Huskers improved to 7-0 before 77,959 fans at always sold- out Memorial Stadium.

Solich conceded that his thoughts turned to this Saturday's gigantic 11 a.m. showdown with the Sooners in Norman shortly after Nebraska scored a school-record 38 points in the first quarter.

Some thought Solich pulled his starters after the first 15 minutes out of compassion for Baylor coach Kevin Steele, who coached five seasons at Nebras ka.

Steele is a nice guy. But Solich said the move had nothing to do with compassion, and everything to do with avoiding injuries and making sure Nebraska is fresh when it plays an OU team that had Saturday off.

"If we weren't thinking ahead, we wouldn't have taken Eric (Crouch) out of there that early," Solich said of Crouch, the junior quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate. "We always play our starters the (entire) first half.

"That wasn't the case this time. And that's because Oklahoma is our next ballgame. The last thing we wanted to do was take a team down to Oklahoma that's really banged up."

Instead of physically beat up, Nebraska is emotionally pumped up. The Cornhuskers are also on a roll. After some early season struggles, they have won their last two games by a combined 117-3.

But how much validity can you place in the 56-3 win two weeks ago at Texas Tech and the 59-point whitewash of Baylor? Is Nebraska peaking at the right time, or have the Huskers fattened up their egos against two of the Big 12's weaklings?

Solich obviously believes his team has hit its stride at the opportune time. And the third-year Husker coach didn't seem to enjoy the suggestion that the dominating wins over outclassed competition has built a false case of optimism in him and his players.

"You can't have it both ways," Solich said. "You can either look at the (quality of the) opponents, or you can look at us peaking. And I'm going to look at it that we are peaking."

Not surprisingly, Nebraska's players agreed with their coach. The Huskers said they set the tone early against Baylor to prove two things -- the Texas Tech blowout wasn't a fluke, and they are ready to take on the surprising Sooners.

But what about that narrow escape at Notre Dame in overtime? And how about struggling against mediocre Big 12 teams like Iowa State and Missouri? Those less-than-convincing performances cost Nebraska its No. 1 spot in the polls for one week.

The Huskers believe what happened after the Iowa State game is why they are primed for the Sooners. The captains called a players-only meeting and aired their concerns.

"We have really been hungry the last couple of weeks," defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. "That's a big change from earlier in the year.

Starting the season (ranked) number one, we took a lot of things for granted. We played down to teams and let them hang with us until the third or fourth quarter. But these last couple of games we really wanted to come out and prove something."

OK, fine. And Oklahoma may run an offense similar to Texas Tech, and its defense has been questioned at times. But the only thing the Sooners have in common with the Red Raiders and Bears is that all three are in the South Division of the Big 12.

"There is no question that Texas Tech and Baylor didn't test us these past two weeks," Solich said. "But we've been tested, and these players have responded to every test. There is no fear on this team. I'm confident we will play very well down there (OU)."

It's no secret what Nebraska wants to do against OU. The Huskers hope their huge and talented offensive line and rushing attack will dominate the young and undersized Sooner defense, eat up the clock and keep the ball out of the hands of quarterback Josh Heupel and OU's explosive offense.

"We've going to have to come out strong and try to put it away right away," said Crouch. "That's usually our game plan -- power football and executing. It's going to be a big week for us."

Big? Try huge. Oklahoma-Nebraska means something again.

That's why nobody will have to worry about overlooking anybody this week. And it's a safe bet the outcome won't be decided in the first minute and 48 seconds.