Errors put Cyclones in halftime hole

Jeff Stell

LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska has made a living out of jumping on teams early and burying them into the turf at Memorial Stadium.

The ISU football team has been on the receiving end of several poundings from the Huskers in Lincoln and it got another taste Saturday night.

The Cyclones came into the game hoping to avoid early mistakes that could prove to be disastrous but that plan blew up in their face. The Cyclones committed two turnovers and had a punt blocked, falling behind 41-0 by halftime.

By shooting themselves in the foot time and time again, the Cyclones allowed the Husker momentum to snowball into an avalanche. It also gave 78,002 crazed Husker fans reason to get even more fired up.

“I thought it was as complete a first half as we’ve played, in terms of offense, defense and special teams,” Nebraska coach Frank Solich said.

The Cyclones started the game on a good note with two plays combining for 36 yards to drive to the Husker 44-yard line. Two plays later, a Husker defensive back intercepted a Seneca Wallace pass and darted 57 yards for a score.

That would be the first of two costly first-half interceptions for Wallace as the other also led to a Husker touchdown.

“The turnovers just killed us,” McCarney said. We were leading the conference in turnover ratio coming into today and we gave them the ball in good field position. You can’t do that to Nebraska’s offense. They get short field and excel.”

Trailing 7-0 just two minutes into the game, the Cyclones again drove into Husker territory but stalled and had to punt.

The Cyclones tried to pin the Huskers deep in their own territory, but returner Dejuan Groce nearly broke it for a touchdown, racing out to the Cyclone 49-yard line. The Huskers scored again five plays later.

Two drives later, Wallace was picked off again, this time by Groce, and the Huskers set up shop at the Cyclone 23-yard line. Only 1:38 later, the Huskers found the end zone again for a 20-0 lead.

For Wallace, the first half was a tough lesson for the junior college quarterback playing in just his fourth Division I game.

Wallace finished the first half 4-of-14 with two interceptions.

“Seneca didn’t play well in the first half, but nobody played well,” McCarney said. “This is just his fourth college football game; he’ll learn from it. [Nebraska’s] defense gave us a lot of different looks and we weren’t crisp in throwing or running routes.”

The final error came late in the first half when Troy Hassebroek swooped in and blocked a Tony Yelk punt. The Huskers took over at the 10-yard line and scored 30 seconds later when quarterback Eric Crouch scored his fourth touchdown of the half.

“The defense gave us great field position, giving us good position to score as many times as we did,” Crouch said.

Crouch’s four touchdowns increased his career total to 52, breaking the NCAA mark for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. Crouch was named the Big 12 offensive co-player of the week Monday.

After going toe-to-toe with Nebraska for three quarters last season, Saturday night’s humiliation may appear to be a step backwards for the Cyclones – a step backwards that McCarney didn’t expect.

“I really was surprised,” McCarney said. “We have nine new starters on defense but I didn’t anticipate that at all. I thought it would be a good, touch, competitive game.”