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Of all the things Nebraska gave away Saturday, the last might be remembered most.
The 21-0 lead the Huskers spotted Texas Tech got wiped out. The three second-half turnovers resulted in minimal damage.
But when Le Kevin Smith intercepted a late pass by the Red Raiders and fumbled the football back, it was one final act of generosity that Texas Tech didn't waste.
Allowed to run four more plays, the Red Raiders turned the last into a 10-yard scoring pass from Cody Hodges to Joel Filani. The touchdown with 12 seconds left gave Nos. 13 and 15 Texas Tech a 34-31 victory at Memorial Stadium.
"That's (some) of the worst luck we've ever had here at Nebraska,'' linebacker Bo Ruud said. "I don't think Nebraska has ever lost a game like that. That's a hard one to deal with.''
Had the 31-27 lead held, Nebraska would have staged the greatest comeback win in 115 seasons of playing football. Instead, it suffered a stunning loss that negated a gutty performance and removed it from the list of NCAA Division I-A unbeatens.
"That's all you can ask, that your kids play as hard as they can and give you a chance to win,'' NU coach Bill Callahan said. "That's what they did today.''
That chance slipped through Smith's hands and back to Texas Tech as 77,580 fans went from cheering wildly to not believing their eyes.
Hodges was throwing from the NU 12-yard line when linebacker Corey McKeon tipped his pass and Smith intercepted. The defensive tackle ran with the ball, got it poked free by Bryan Kegans and Danny Amendola recovered for Tech on the Huskers' 18 with 1:11 left.
"After that, I knew it was a second chance,'' Hodges said. "Let's just score and get out of here.''
Asked about Smith not just falling down with the ball, Callahan said: "You would like for that to happen'' then added that the fifth-year senior was "excitable'' and just "trying to do his best.''
Smith declined requests to come to the postgame interview room.
"It happens,'' McKeon said. "We made a big play and they came back and punched it out. Le Kevin did a great job, he got to the ball in the air, got on it. And maybe next time we'll be ready to fall and just let the offense take over.''
Three plays then took Texas Tech (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) from the 18 to the 10, where it faced fourth-and-2. Hodges took advantage of time to throw, waited for Filani to improvise and found the junior coming across the middle with free safety Blake Tiedtke a step behind.
It wasn't anything like the 70-10 loss last year in Lubbock. But it hurt just the same.
"There was a hunger for that team,'' Ruud said. "We wanted to get after those guys. We got after them pretty good, but we just didn't get them all the way.''
Nebraska (4-1, 1-1) recovered from a poor start defensively Saturday, allowing 118 second-half yards after surrendering 294 in the first. Defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove showed a 3-4 look that took Texas Tech's nation-leading offense out of an earlier rhythm.
The defensive turnaround included twice holding Texas Tech to Alex Trlica field goals after NU quarterback Zac Taylor committed turnovers inside the Husker 20. Taylor wiped out those points with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Terrence Nunn that pulled Nebraska within 27-21 late in the third quarter.
Another Taylor-to-Nunn scoring play and a 27-yard field goal by Jordan Congdon provided the Huskers' 31-27 lead with 5:10 remaining. They settled for the field goal, however, after having first-and-10 at the Tech 11-yard line.
The Huskers weren't the only ones leaving points on the field, according to Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, who said the Red Raiders had "a pile of missed opportunities to fill this room.''
That wasn't the case early as Texas Tech drove 85, 94 and 77 yards to build the 21-0 lead. All three possessions were capped by Hodges touchdown passes, including two to Filani.
Nebraska fought back by scoring on its final two series before halftime. Freshman I-back Cody Glenn notched the TDs on 5- and 1-yard runs to make it 21-14.
The loss spoiled NU hopes of cracking the Top 25 for the first time in the Callahan era. But the Huskers showed something that definitely wasn't there the last time against Texas Tech.
"Last year's loss was an embarrassment,'' Ruud said. "This year's loss was kind of like a heartbreaker. You at least know this year that we had the game won. That's the difference. We did what we were supposed to. It was just unfortunate the way it ended.''