LINCOLN — There were two telling statistics that jumped off the stat sheet Saturday after the Nebraska-Iowa State game at Memorial Stadium.
One was the difference in turnovers. Nebraska had eight. Iowa State none.
The other stat was the only one that really matters in the end: Iowa State 9, Nebraska 7.
The Cyclones (5-3 overall, 2-2 in the Big 12) scored after two of those turnovers.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini wouldn’t say the turnovers cost the Huskers the game.
“I don’t want to say that because that would discredit the effort that they put forth,” Pelini said of Iowa State. “They did what was necessary to win the football game.
“I’m disappointed in our football team … I’m disappointed and it starts with me.”
The Huskers had a lot of success offensively, at least between the 20s. The Huskers ended the game with 362 total yards, including 114 on the ground and another 248 through the air.
“It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?” Pelini said when asked if he was concerned about the offense. “We moved the football. We just didn’t finish off drives. You have to execute.
“We had plenty of opportunities to win the football game and we didn’t get it done. I’m very disappointed.”
Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads couldn’t explain what happened with all the turnovers and how or why the Cyclones won in Lincoln for the first time since 1977.
“Strange,” Rhoads said. “Who knows why we get all those balls out like we do? We didn’t do any extra strip drills or anything like that. Strange, strange day. Maybe somebody thought 32 years was long enough and we needed to come out of here victorious.”
Iowa State is now just one win from being bowl eligible after breaking an 11-game Big 12 Conference losing streak a week ago with a win over Baylor.
“It’s big. (When) you don’t win in a stadium on the road since 1977, it’s big,” Rhoads said of the win. “This (Nebraska) is a program that has as much tradition as anybody in college football. This is a program that was in the top 25 a week ago. It’s a big win.”
Pelini said he had to give credit to the Cyclones.
“They made the plays necessary to win the football game (and) we didn’t,” Pelini said. “That’s pretty obvious.”
Nebraska’s turnover problems began on the first play from scrimmage when NU’s Roy Helu fumbled and Iowa State’s Kennard Banks recovered on the NU 29.
The Huskers (4-3, 1-2 in the Big 12) held, but Grant Mahoney drilled a 52-yard field goal to give the Cyclones a 3-0 lead.
Nebraska did bounce back later in the first quarter with a 58-yard scoring drive. Freshman Dontrayevous Robinson, who led the Huskers with 77 yards rushing, went over from three yards out for the first touchdown of his career to give the Huskers a 7-3 lead with 3:26 left in the first quarter.
A bit later in the second quarter, the Huskers drove down to the Iowa State 16, but Zac Lee’s pass to Mike McNeill was tipped. Helu, who was also in the area, tried to go for the ball but Iowa State’s David Sims picked it out of the air and returned it to the ISU 17.
“I think a linebacker actually tipped it and it caromed off the linebacker, two of our guys, one of theirs and they ended up with it,” Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. “They played well. You can’t take anything away from them. You have to give them credit.”
It appeared like the Huskers had the Cyclones stopped on their next drive. But on fourth-and-5 on the ISU 33, punter Mike Brandtner found an open lane around the left side of the defense and went for 20 yards and a first down on the NU 47.
“At that point, we thought how much are we going to be able to drive, and how much are we going to be able to score,” Rhoads said of the fake. “It was the right place on the field to run it. We’d had a couple looks at what they’ve done. They’d actually done something different, and we had to adjust the fake to accommodate that if we got it. And the boys executed the play awfully well.”
On the next play, ISU quarterback Jerome Tiller — who was playing in place of injured starter Austen Arnaud — found Jake Williams for a 47-yard scoring pass. NU defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh blocked the extra point and Iowa State held a 9-7 lead.
But the first-half fun wasn’t over just yet.
A bit later in the quarter, Lee found Paul open down the left sidelines. Paul appeared headed for a possible touchdown, but as he tried to tightrope down the sidelines, he lost control of the ball.
It bounced into the end zone where Iowa State’s James Smith recovered it for a touchback.
The turnover bug continued to bite the Huskers in the second half. Twice the Huskers drove down inside the ISU 10, but fumbles by Helu and Robinson ended those two scoring threats.
The Huskers continued to struggle along the rest of the game. Lee threw interceptions on the last two Husker drives. The final interception by Jesse Smith on a fourth-and-10 play gave the Cyclones the ball with 1:31 remaining, and they ran out the clock from there.
“It was fourth-and-10, you’ve got to give a guy a chance to make a play,” Lee said. “It’s one of those things where I got hit right when I threw it. I was just trying to give Wes (Cammack) a chance — he was running across the route.
“Obviously, the ball came up a little shy of what I would’ve liked, but it was just one of those things. I was just trying to give him a shot to get it.”