Iowa State was without its top two offensive playmakers because of injury, and other players were physically ill before the game and during halftime because of a stomach bug.
The 18 1/2-point-underdog Cyclones (5-3, 2-2) ended a 15-game Big 12 losing streak in games played away from Ames, Iowa, and now have their most wins since going 7-5 in 2005. They need just one more win to become bowl eligible.
After close losses to Kansas State and Kansas, the Cyclones have beaten Baylor and Nebraska (4-3, 1-2) in consecutive weeks and become a factor in the Big 12 North.
"When you don't win in a stadium on the road since 1977, it's big," Rhoads said. "This is a program that has as much tradition as anybody in college football. This is a program that was in the Top 25 a week ago. It's a big win."
Nebraska hadn't been so careless with the ball since another eight-turnover day against Iowa State in 1972.
"Eight turnovers?" Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said incredulously. "We could have gotten run out of the stadium. I don't know if I've ever been around that in my coaching career."
The Cyclones took no chances offensively.
Jerome Tiller filled in for regular starting quarterback Austen Arnaud (injured throwing hand) and Jeremiah Schwartz for Big 12 rushing leader Alexander Robinson (sore groin).
Tiller ran 19 times for 65 yards and completed nine of 19 passes for 102 yards, his biggest throw a 47-yarder to Jake Williams for a second-quarter touchdown. Schwartz pounded away at Nebraska's defensive front 22 times for a hard-earned 50 yards.
Most important, the Cyclones committed no turnovers.
"If you picked a place for your backup quarterback to start a game, I promise you it wouldn't be Memorial Stadium," Rhoads said. "He looked pretty cool to me and he had a lot of people hitting him. It was a very physical football game."
Still, the Huskers were never out of the game.
"Anybody else who would have had that kind of advantage would have won by 30 or 40 points," Rhoads said. "Credit Nebraska. They have an unbelievable defensive football team and a coaching staff that got them to hang around."
Nebraska's comeback hpoes ended when Zac Lee was intercepted by Michael O'Connell and Jesse Smith in the final 3 minutes. It was the Huskers' second straight loss at home, following a 31-10 defeat to Texas Tech.
Pelini reopened the competition for the starting quarterback's job, although Lee, the season-long starter, played the whole game and finished 20 of 37 for 248 yards.
"We didn't play well around Zac," Pelini said. "We had dropped balls and bad execution around him. We had a chance to have a boatload of points on the board and we put the ball on the ground. We were lucky to be in the football game."
Iowa State converted two of Nebraska's three first-half turnovers into points.
Grant Mahoney's 52-yard field goal put the Cyclones up 3-0 after Roy Helu Jr. fumbled on the game's first play from scrimmage. Dontrayevous Robinson's 3-yard run gave Nebraska a 7-3 lead, and the Huskers were on the verge of adding to it after driving to the Iowa State 16.
That's when David Sims intercepted his fourth pass of the season on a freak play.
Mike McNeill looked like he would be able to snag a tipped pass over the middle, but James Smith stripped it from the tight end, and the closing-in Helu knocked it up in the air just enough to allow Sims to grab it before it hit the ground.
Tiller hit Williams on the touchdown pass the play after punter Mike Brandtner ran 20 yards for a first down on a fake. Mahoney had his extra-point kicked blocked, his fourth miss in four games.
Nebraska bungled another first-half scoring chance when Lee hit Niles Paul with a long pass along the sideline. But Paul was tripped up at the Iowa State 7, and the ball dropped out of his hands and into the end zone, where Smith recovered for the Cyclones.
The Huskers turned over the ball on their first three possessions of the second half. Helu fumbled into the end zone, the Cyclones' Nate Frere stripped the ball from Robinson at the Cyclone 5 and Menelik Holt fumbled after catching a pass from Lee.
"We had chances to win the game," McNeill said. "We just beat ourselves."