WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) -- Sam Keller nearly gave away the game during his first road start at Nebraska. Zack Bowman jumped up to take it back for the Cornhuskers.
Three plays after Keller threw an interception deep in Nebraska territory, Bowman picked off a Wake Forest pass in the end zone and the 16th-ranked Cornhuskers held on to win 20-17 on Saturday.
"Sometimes you're going to have to come away with a character win, and we did that today," Keller said. "Somebody had to step up, and we did. You come into the defending ACC champions' house and take one from them -- that's big time."
Nebraska (2-0) lacked the gaudy offensive numbers of last week but withstood its first real challenge of the season and now can focus on next week's visit from No. 1 Southern California.
Keller completed 24-of-41 passes for 258 yards, was picked off twice and led an impressive scoring drive late in the second quarter that ended with his lone touchdown pass.
"There's a couple of plays I think he'd like to have back ... [but] in the 2-minute drill, that's where I thought he really emerged," Nebraska coach Bill Callahan said. "He made some outstanding plays under duress."
Wake Forest had a prime opportunity to take the lead -- or at least tie it -- midway through the fourth quarter, when defensive end Zach Stukes smothered Keller and John Russell intercepted the pass at the Nebraska 10. The Huskers took it back three plays later when Bowman stepped in front of Brett Hodges' pass with 6:05 to play.
"It was there. I just had to make the catch," Bowman said.
Wake Forest's last chance came after stopping Nebraska on downs with 1:54 to play. Ben Eisenhart seemed to intercept Hodges' third-down pass near midfield, but replay officials reversed the ruling. It didn't matter -- Hodges' final pass missed Kenny Moore, allowing the Huskers to run out the clock.
Nebraska -- which rushed for 413 yards in a rout of Nevada -- managed just 27 on the ground at halftime against Wake and finished with 115. Marlon Lucky, who had a career-high 233 yards rushing last week, had just 90 yards on 24 carries.
Hodges was 12-for-24 for 140 yards with two interceptions in his first start for the Demon Deacons, who were significantly better running the ball than they were last week. Held to just 2 yards rushing by Boston College, Wake Forest had 236 yards on 53 carries but fell to 0-2 for just the second time under coach Jim Grobe and first since 2005.
"Last year, we were making the plays in the tough situations," Moore said. "This year, so far, we haven't made the plays we've needed to make. A couple of mistakes -- still got some young guys who need to get some more game experience, but we're right there. We'll be OK."
Moore, a receiver, had 116 yards on the ground -- with most coming on misdirection handoffs out of the shotgun. His 5-yard touchdown capped Wake Forest's first possession after halftime, giving the Demon Deacons a 17-13 lead.
The Cornhuskers countered by moving 74 yards in eight plays, with Lucky bouncing a run outside and racing 22 yards down the right sideline to make it 20-17.
Nebraska traveled 1,165 miles to play its only nonconference road game of the season, but the predominance of red inside 31,500-seat Groves Stadium -- the smallest venue the Huskers have played since 1971 -- made it seem a little like Lincoln, and early on had Keller feeling right at home.
The Arizona State transfer led the Huskers' two-minute drill late in the second quarter, with his 25-yard touchdown pass to Sean Hill with 16 seconds before halftime giving the Huskers a 13-10 lead.
"We really felt that we had them on the ropes right there," Callahan said. "We felt that we had them out of condition there for a moment. I thought they were dragging. I thought we had a chance to come out in the third quarter and put them away."
Hodges' prettiest pass was a 62-yarder to Kevin Marion, who caught the pass in stride while crossing the field and stepped out just before reaching the pylon. That set up Hodges' 1-yard sneak three plays later that gave Wake Forest its first lead at 10-6 with 5 minutes before halftime.
Alex Henery kicked a pair of 22-yard field goals in the first half for Nebraska, and Sam Swank converted from 25 yards out for Wake Forest.
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