Sam Keller threw for 258 yards and a touchdown and Zackary Bowman had a critical interception in the end zone, leading the 16th-ranked Huskers past Wake Forest 20-17 Saturday in Winston-Salem.
Keller completed 24-of-41 passes for Nebraska (2-0), which 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.
"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."
"There's a couple of plays I think he'd like to have back, (but) in the two-minute drill, that's where I thought he really emerged," said Nebraska coach Bill Callahan. "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 into the end zone with 6:05 to play. "It was there," said Bowman. "I just had to make the catch."
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 as Hodges' final pass missed Kenny Moore, allowing the Huskers to run out the clock.
Nebraska, which rushed for 413 yards in last week's rout of Nevada, managed just 27 on the ground at halftime against the defending ACC champions and finished with 117.
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 rushing the ball than they were last week.
Held to just two 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 for the first time since 2005.
"Last year we were making the plays in the tough situations," said Moore. "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 okay."
Moore, a receiver, had 116 yards on the ground with most coming on misdirection handoffs out of the shotgun. His five-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 in since 1971, made it seem a little like Lincoln, and early on had Keller feeling right at home.
The Arizona State transfer's 25-yard touchdown pass to Sean Hill with 16 seconds before halftime gave the Huskers a 13-10 lead at the break.
"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' one-yard sneak three plays later that gave Wake Forest its first lead at 10-6 with five 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.