STILLWATER, Okla. — Nebraska's road woes continued Saturday at Oklahoma State and perhaps the most disturbing aspect for the Cornhuskers is that there's no end to the trend in sight.
The home-standing Cowboys used a balanced offensive attack, gutsy defensive play and a second-half rally to snap a 36-game winless streak against Nebraska with a 24-21 win. Oklahoma State's victory over the Huskers was its first since 1961 and was celebrated wildly as a jubilant mob from the crowd of 45,017 stormed rain-soaked Lewis Field and tore down both goalposts.
It was a scene that's becoming all too familiar for Nebraska, which has lost five straight games away from Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. The Huskers, who dropped to 5-3 and 1-2 in the Big 12 Conference, fell to 0-3 on the road this season.
Nebraska center John Garrison was simply at a loss to explain why the Huskers haven't been able to produce away from home.
"My hands are up in the air right now," Garrison said. "We've been preparing the same every week, so maybe something needs to change.
"It's just a matter of us coming out and performing and not acting like a fish out of water."
Nebraska safety Philip Bland was also left shaking his head. It seems no one in a Husker uniform has a clue why it has been nearly a year — Nov. 3, 2001, at Kansas — since they've won outside of Memorial Stadium. As a result, the Huskers have suffered three losses before the month of November for the first time since 1961.
"To be honest with you, I have no good answer," Bland said. "But it sure is getting old. It sure isn't any fun."
On Saturday, it was the Oklahoma State combination of Rashaun Woods and Tatum Bell that proved to be the thorn in Nebraska's side. Coming off a 44-9 loss at Kansas State one week before, the 8-point underdog Cowboys (3-4, 1-2 Big 12) got 182 yards rushing from Bell and 134 yards receiving from Woods and kept the Husker defense guessing the entire second half.
Trailing 7-3 at halftime, OSU struck for 14 straight points in the third quarter and carried a 17-7 lead into the final eight minutes of the game. It was enough for the Cowboys to withstand Nebraska's two-touchdown rally in the fourth quarter to give them a rare win in a series the Huskers lead 35-3-1.
"We knew that this was a fun game for us as far as getting the win and we came out and did that today," Woods said. "For all those people that played on the past (OSU) teams that Nebraska beat, this is a good feeling for them also."
Woods played a starring role, catching 11 passes, including a 5-yard TD with 1:24 left in the third quarter to make it 17-7. Whether going one-on-one against Nebraska cornerbacks DeJuan Groce and Fabian Washington or breaking through against double teams, the All-America candidate was a major reason Oklahoma State was able to convert 8 of 16 third-down opportunities.
When Nebraska defensive coordinator Craig Bohl opted to take a defender away from the line of scrimmage to help double-cover Woods, the Cowboys made him pay with the running game. Bell had 107 rushing yards in the second half and finished with the sixth-best single game rushing effort ever recorded against Nebraska.
"We didn't get anything under control in the second half," Solich said, noting that the Cowboys weren't forced to punt once in the second half.
Oklahoma State quarterback Josh Fields wasn't spectacular but made plays when he had to. The sophomore completed 17 of 27 pass attempts for 192 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, helping the Cowboys enjoy a 387-369 edge in total offense.
Meanwhile, Nebraska's offense showed the ability to move the ball, but mistakes killed several drives that had started on a promising note. The miscues included a pair of false starts, an illegal block in the back, holding and a personal foul penalty for unnecessary roughness that took away 15 yards after a 24-yard scramble by quarterback Jammal Lord in the third quarter.
"Offensively, we made some plays, but we hurt ourselves big-time in terms of putting ourselves in long-yardage situations," Solich said. "We took ourselves out of a lot of drives."
Nebraska broke its season-long drought of not having an I-back top the 100-yard mark as true freshman David Horne replaced starter Dahrran Diedrick and rushed 24 times for 125 yards. Lord rushed for 73 yards and completed 7 of 14 pass attempts for 110 yards, but it wasn't enough or the Huskers to overcome their mistakes.
"The bottom line is we are where we're at as a football team," Solich said. "We're playing hard. We're not especially playing well. I think we had some excellent individual performances, but it's been a tough go as far as getting everyone on the same page and playing great football as a unit."
Oklahoma State broke the scoreless tie on the second play of the second quarter as Luke Phillips drilled a 45-yard field goal to make it 3-0. The kick capped a 12-play, 58-yard drive keyed by Woods' receptions of 18 and 25 yards.
Nebraska took the lead with 8:19 left in the first half when Diedrick bulled in from 3 yards out. Josh Brown's point-after kick made it 7-3, giving the Huskers their first lead in a road game this season.
NU's Groce helped set up the drive with a 22-yard punt return to the Nebraska 47. Then, on the first offensive play of the drive, Lord found true freshman tight end Matt Herian over the middle for a 44-yard pass play to the Oklahoma State 9.
The Huskers had another scoring opportunity late in the first half but stalled out at the OSU 33 with the help of a 5-yard false start penalty. Instead of trying a 50-yard field goal against the wind, Solich opted to punt, pinning the Cowboys at their own 3 with 4:07 left before halftime.
However, Oklahoma State drove out of trouble before punting to Nebraska with 33 seconds left before intermission. Once again, Woods came up big as he had catches of nine and 23 yards on the march.
The tide appeared to turn early in the second half as Nebraska again elected to play for field position and punted on a fourth-and-2 play at the OSU 46. However, the Huskers misplayed Kyle Larson's near-perfect punt as five players in white couldn't down the ball at the 1 and it squirted into the end zone for a touchback.
Oklahoma State responded with a 12-play, 80-yard drive to take a 10-7 lead with 6:43 left in the third quarter when Fields rolled to his right looking to pass, but saw nothing but daylight and dashed around the end for a 3-yard scoring run.
On Nebraska's ensuing drive, Lord fumbled at his own 39 to set up another opportunity for the Cowboys. They didn't squander it. Bell broke off a 19-yard run and Oklahoma State later scored a TD when Fields hit Woods just inside the end zone on a 5-yard strike to make it 17-7 with 1:24 left in the third.
The start to the second half wasn't what Solich had envisioned.
"We were trying to gather the momentum, but we were not able to get it done," Solich said. "There was a point in time that in the second half that I thought if we could prevent them from getting good field position, maybe we could get it rolling well enough to put enough points on the board to start to separate ourselves from them, but that did not happen."
After failing in its first chance to answer, Nebraska finally got back on the scoreboard with 8:56 to play when Horne capped an 8-play, 49-yard march with a 2-yard TD run up the middle, cutting the Huskers' deficit to 17-14. The drive was set up when NU's Washington recovered a fumble by Bell.
But again, Oklahoma State had the answer. The Cowboys responded with a 9-play, 80-yard drive that was finished off by John Lewis' 12-yard TD catch in the right corner of the end zone to make it 24-14 with 4:30 to play.
The Huskers quickly rushed down the field to make it interesting when Lord walked in for a 1-yard TD, pulling Nebraska to within three points with 2:06 left. The 80-yard march was keyed by Lord pass plays to Troy Hassebroek of 12 yards and completions of 19 and 16 yards to Ben Cornelsen.
Nebraska's attempt at an onside kick was unsuccessful. Oklahoma State was able to run out the clock, continuing the Huskers' frustration in road games.
And it won't be getting any easier for the Huskers. Up next is Saturday's trip to Texas A&M, which is traditionally tough to beat at Kyle Field. Nebraska's other remaining road game is at Kansas State — the same team that beat OSU by 44 points.
"We don't have the luxury of going back to a good home crowd," Garrison said. "We're going to a very tough stadium to play, so we're going to have to fight back even tougher this week.
"It's to the point now where our backs are up against the wall. We need a road win. I don't remember the last time we had a road win è and that's embarrassing."