Lincoln - The Nebraska football team battled its way to the Huskers' 20th consecutive season-opening victory in front of the NCAA-record 269th consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium with a 25-7 win over visiting Maine in front of 77,469 fans and a Fox Sports Net pay-per-view audience on Saturday night.
In a game that featured one of the top-five receiving performances in Nebraska history, the Nebraska Blackshirt defense and Husker special teams stole the show in a hard-fought team victory.
Nebraska's Blackshirt defense, which featured four first-time starters, nearly notched the Huskers' first season-opening shutout since the 1994 Huskers opened their run to a national title with a 31-0 victory over West Virginia in the Kickoff Classic in East Rutherford, N.J. NU surrendered only a 52-yard scoring pass with just under 12 minutes left in the game to end the Huskers' hopes for a shutout.
The Blackshirts' assault on the Black Bear offense included a school-record tying 18 tackles for loss, including a school-record tying 11 sacks. Nebraska's 18 TFL matched the Huskers' total from a 17-3 homecoming victory over Iowa State on Nov. 8, 1969, while NU's 11 sacks tied the school mark set in a 35-7 win over Oregon State on Sept. 30, 1989.
First-time starter Cory McKeon (Naperville, Ill.), who replaced 2004 All-American MIKE linebacker Barrett Ruud in the Husker lineup, recorded four tackles for loss among his team-leading 10 tackles, while returning starters Le Kevin Smith (Macon, Ga.), Stewart Bradley (Salt Lake City, Utah) and junior Adam Carriker (Kennewick, Wash.) each posted two sacks.
Ruud's younger brother, Bo (Lincoln, Neb.), a sophomore linebacker for the Huskers, also made a major impact in the game. Bo Ruud recovered a fumble early in the fourth quarter and picked off a Ron Whitcomb pass and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown to seal the Husker victory with 9:58 left in the game.
While the defense shut down Maine for most of the night, the Husker special teams shined to help the offense. Sophomore Terrence Nunn (Houston, Texas) ripped off a pair of long punt returns with sprints of 62 and 45 yards in the first half to help the Huskers find the scoreboard in the first half. He finished the night with four returns for 135 yards. Cortney Grixby added five returns for 61 yards to push NU's team punt return total to 198 yards on the night, just 10 yards shy of the school record team punt return total. In 2004, Nebraska's punt return team managed just 181 yards on 31 returns for the entire season.
Junior quarterback Zac Taylor completed 15-of-36 passes for 192 yards, including seven catches for 152 yards by his former Butler County (Kan.) Community College teammate, sophomore wide receiver Frantz Hardy.
Hardy's 152 receiving yards ranked as the fourth-highest total in school history and marked the highest single-game receiving effort since Matt Davison set the school record with 167 yards against Texas A&M in 1998.
Despite a big opening night from Hardy, the Husker offense was hampered by five turnovers and Maine's defense was successful in keeping the Huskers out of the end zone for most of the night. Nebraska received four field goals from true freshman Jordan Congdon and a one-yard scoring plunge from senior I-back Cory Ross (Denver, Colo.) to produce the final margin. Ross finished the night with 20 carries for 80 yards.
After playing a scoreless opening 24 minutes against the Black Bears, Congdon, who tied the school freshman record with four field goals, finally put the Huskers on the board with a 23-yard field goal with 5:21 remaining in the first half. Nebraska's opening score of the 2005 season was set up by a 73-yard pass from Taylor to Hardy.
Hardy, who was also starting in his first career game as a Husker, was Taylor's favorite target on the night, hauling in five catches for 134 yards in the first half alone.
After Nebraska's offense found the scoreboard on Congdon's field goal, the Blackshirts forced a three-and-out on Maine's next possession. On the next play, Nunn returned his first career punt 62 yards to the Maine one-yard line to set up Ross' scoring for NU's first touchdown of the year to give the Huskers a 9-0 lead.
Nunn sparked the Huskers again after another Blackshirt stop to close the first half. On the second punt return of his career, the sophomore sprinted 45 yards before Taylor found Hardy on a pair of crisp pass plays to put the Huskers inside the Black Bear five-yard line again. However, the Huskers were held off the scoreboard after a Taylor third-down pass was intercepted at the three-yard line.
The half ended with Nebraska linebacker McKeon nearly recording a safety for the defense with a two-yard tackle for loss. McKeon's TFL, his second of the first half, was Nebraska's ninth tackle for loss in the first half alone.
Two earlier first-half possessions nearly resulted in scores for the Huskers. Nebraska's opening drive stalled on downs inside the Maine 30-yard line, while the Huskers lost a fumble inside the Maine five-yard line on their opening drive of the second half. The Huskers also lost a fumble on Maine's ensuing punt, but the Blackshirts continued to keep the Black Bears at bay.
The Husker defense held Maine to negative rushing yardage in the first half and just 37 total yards to blank the Black Bears in the opening half.