Game 5–No. 12/8 Nebraska (4-0, 1-0) vs. Troy State (3-2)
Date: Saturday, Oct. 4, 2003 Time: 12:30 p.m.(CDT) Site: Lincoln, Neb.
Stadium: Memorial Stadium Field: Tom Osborne Field
Surface: FieldTurf (1999)
Capacity: 73,918 (259th Consecutive Sellout)
Nebraska Radio: 57-station Pinnacle Sports Network (Jim Rose–Play-by-Play; Adrian Fiala–Analyst; Gary Sharp–Sideline; Randy Lee-Booth, Pregame)
Internet: Live Radio on Huskers.com
Huskers Complete Non-Conference Play Against Troy State
Lincoln -- Nebraska returns home to complete the non-conference portion of its 2003 schedule this Saturday, taking on Troy State at Memorial Stadium. The Huskers enter the game 4-0 after a 38-14 victory at Southern Mississippi last Thursday night in NU's first road test of the season. Kickoff against Troy State is set for 12:30 p.m. with no television coverage planned for the contest.
Troy State's visit to Lincoln marks the third straight year the Trojans have played at Memorial Stadium. TSU was not on Nebraska's 2003 slate until this spring, when the Southern Mississippi game was moved to Thursday night to accomodate ESPN, forcing Nebraska to replace San Jose State with Troy State on its schedule. The Trojans opened each of their last two seasons at Nebraska, losing 42-14 in 2001 and 31-16 last fall.
Troy State comes into Lincoln with a 3-2 record, following a 33-24 victory against Marshall on Saturday evening in Troy, Ala. The Trojans dropped their first two games at Kansas State and Minnesota, but have since rebounded with three straight victories, downing UAB, Southeast Louisiana and Marshall.
A Husker victory on Saturday would allow NU to complete its non-conference schedule undefeated for the fifth time in Frank Solich's six seasons as Nebraska's head coach. Nebraska has been nearly unbeatable at home against non-conference competition, winning 34 straight home games against non-league opponents since 1991.
Nebraska's victory over Southern Mississippi allowed the Huskers to continue their rise in the national polls. NU is ranked 12th in this week's Associated Press Poll, up three spots from last week and eighth in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll. The Huskers are ranked in the top 10 for the first time since prior to Penn State game last season.
Nebraska Passes First Road Test of 2003
Nebraska's defense continued its opportunistic ways and the Husker offense used two long touchdowns through the air to post a comfortable 38-14 victory at Southern Mississippi last Thursday night. Nebraska's win pushed the Huskers to 4-0 this season and marked the fifth time in the past six years Nebraska has won its road opener.
The Huskers wasted no time taking the partisan Golden Eagle crowd out of the game. On the game's third play nose tackle Ryon Bingham recovered a fumbled USM snap at the 29-yard line, and the Huskers quickly converted. Jammal Lord capped a four-play drive with a six-yard touchdown run to give Nebraska a 7-0 advantage just over three minutes into the game. Nebraska forced a three-and-out on its next possession and after a short Golden Eagle punt began at the USM 43-yard line. The Huskers drove inside the 20 before the drive stalled, and freshman place-kicker David Dyches connected on his ninth field goal in 10 attempts this season to push the advantage to 10 points. The score remained 10-0 for just more than a minute. Free safety Josh Bullocks intercepted a Dustin Almond pass on USM's first play of its next drive and returned the ball 41 yards to the 4-yard line. I-back David Horne ran in from three yards out just three plays later to give the Huskers a 17-0 advantage midway through the opening quarter.
Southern Mississippi's defense began to stiffen in the second quarter, and the Golden Eagles cut the lead to 10 points thanks to a big special teams play. Marvin Young returned a Nebraska punt 37 yards to the Husker 22 and USM scored in four plays to trim the lead to 17-7 shortly before halftime.
The teams traded punts to open the second half, but Nebraska struck quickly on its second drive of the half. Lord connected with split end Ross Pilkington for a 44-yard touchdown on the initial play of the possession to give NU a 24-7 edge. Southern Miss fumbled on the second play of its next drive, and Barrett Ruud recovered at the Golden Eagle 44. The Huskers again capitalized via the deep ball, with Lord hitting redshirt freshman Isaiah Fluellen for a 43-yard touchdown pass on the third play of the drive to give NU a 31-7 edge.
Nebraska's defense allowed just 144 yards in the first three quarters, before Southern Miss gained 175 yards in the final quarter. The Golden Eagles posted their final points with 2:43 to play to cut the NU lead to 31-14, before Husker I-back Robin Miller capped the scoring with a 47-yard touchdown run with less than two minutes remaining.
The Husker defense forced five Golden Eagle turnovers in the contest, including three fumbles and a pair of interceptions. Nebraska's passing attack had its most productive outing of the season, finishing with 124 yards, including Lord's two touchdown passes.
Recapping Game Four...Nebraska 38, Southern Miss 14
Nebraska improved to 4-0 for the sixth time in the past seven seasons and won its road opener for the fifth time in six seasons under Frank Solich. The Huskers are now a perfect 4-0 in ESPN Thursday night games and 23-5-1 all time on the network.
The win pushed Frank Solich's winning percentage to .768, fifth among active coaches with five years experience. Solich passed Joe Paterno on the list with the victory.
Nebraska's 17 first-quarter points were its most in any quarter this season and the most points NU has scored in a first quarter since also scoring 17 against Utah State on Sept. 7, 2002.
Nebraska forced five turnovers for the second time this season (also Oklahoma State), including three fumbles and a pair of interceptions. NU converted the five turnovers into 21 points. The Huskers have forced 15 opponent turnovers in just four games in 2003.
Junior linebacker Barrett Ruud had a third-quarter fumble recovery, his third of the season. Ruud is now tied for the linebacker record for season fumble recoveries, tying his father, Tom (1974). The last time any Husker had three fumble recoveries in a season was Tyrone Williams in 1993. NU has scored on each of Ruud's fumble recoveries this season, resulting in 17 points.
Josh Bullocks picked off his fourth pass in the season's first four games and continues to lead the nation in interceptions per game. Bullocks returned his interception 41 yards. Bullocks' four interceptions this season tie Nebraska's season high in 2002 by Fabian Washington and DeJuan Groce.
Fabian Washington had two pass breakups in the game, including a deflection on Bullocks' interception. Washington now has 18 breakups in his career to rank 10th on Nebraska's career chart.
Senior linebacker and Butkus candidate Demorrio Williams led Nebraska with 12 tackles, including a three-yard sack, his team-leading fourth of the season. Williams also had a fumble recovery and two quarterback hurries.
Punter Kyle Larson had a pair of punts of more than 60 yards, including a season-long 67-yarder in the fourth quarter. Three of Larson's punts pinned Southern Miss inside its own 20, and he has now pinned opponents inside their own 20 on eight of 17 punts this season. Larson averaged a season-high 47.6 yards on seven punts.
True freshman place-kicker David Dyches made a 40-yard field goal in the first quarter and is now 9-of-10 on field goals this season.
Nebraska once again held a decided advantage in field position. The Huskers' average drive began at their own 43-yard line, while Southern Miss started at an average of its own 29. NU started six drives on USM's half of the field and scored on all six of those possessions.
Ross Pilkington's 44-yard TD catch was the second of his career and NU's first TD pass of the season. Pilkington, who finished with three catches for 56 yards, scored his other TD on a 90-yard catch at Iowa State last season.
Isaiah Fluellen made his first career reception memorable, hauling in a 43-yard TD pass from Lord. A redshirt freshman, Fluellen has played in just two games at Nebraska.
The two touchdown passes tied Jammal Lord's career high and his 124 yards passing were a season-high.
Josh Davis continued to carry a heavy load for Nebraska, compiling 143 all-purpose yards (59 kickoff returns, 42 rushing, 42 punt returns). Davis entered the game ranked fifth nationally in all-purpose yards per game. His 59 kickoff return yards left him just eight yards shy of the Big 12 career record.
Senior I-back Robin Miller scored his second career touchdown on a 47-yard run in the fourth quarter. Miller entered the game with eight career carries for 38 yards.
Southern Miss' fourth-quarter touchdown marked the first points NU has allowed in the second half this season. The Huskers have outscored opponents 47-0 in the third quarter.
Scouting Troy State
Troy State enters Saturday's game at Nebraska with a 3-2 record, after an impressive 33-24 home victory over Marshall on Saturday night. The Troy State win was its third straight victory since starting the year with road losses at nationally ranked Kansas State and Minnesota. Since those setbacks, the Trojans have defeated UAB, Southeastern Louisiana and Marshall.
Offensively, the Trojans are quarterbacked by junior Aaron Leak who has connected on 43 percent of his passes for 486 yards and three touchdowns. Leak is also a rushing threat, picking up 127 yards on the ground, including 59 in the victory over Marshall. Junior DeWhitt Betterson leads the Trojan rushing attack, averaging better than 70 yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry. Betterson is coming off a 114-yard effort on Saturday night. The Troy State receiving corps is led by junior wideout Jason Samples who has hauled in 24 passes in five games. Samples averages 12.6 yards per catch and has two touchdowns. The Trojans are averaging 178.2 yards per game on the ground and better than 125 through the air.
Defensive back Derrick Ansley leads the defense with 36 tackles and is tied for the nation's lead in interceptions with five picks. Ansley returned an interception 70 yards for a touchdown in the win over Marshall. Senior defensive back Rayshun Reed is second for the Trojans with 33 tackles and has an interception, five pass breakups and two forced fumbles. The Trojans are allowing 370.0 yards per game, but just 120 per game on the ground. TSU allowed 417 yards to Marshall, but intercepted three passes in the victory.
Sophomore place-kicker Thomas Olmsted has hit on 5-of-8 field goals this season and is the Trojan's leading scorer with 25 points. Olmsted also handles the punting chores for TSU, averging 42.5 yards per punt to rank 33rd in the nation.
Troy State Coach Larry Blakeney
Larry Blakeney is in his is in his 13th season at Troy State and as a collegiate head coach. He has compiled a 105-44-1 records with the Trojans. He led Troy State to the Division I-AA playoffs in seven of 10 seasons before Troy State made the jump to I-A competition in 2001. The Trojans were 7-4 in 2001, before a 4-8 record last fall. Blakeney was an assistant at Auburn for 14 seasons before being named Troy State's head coach. He is 0-2 against Nebraska and Frank Solich as a head coach, and also coached against the Huskers while at Auburn in 1981 and 1982.
Nebraska-Troy State Series...NU leads, 2-0
Saturday's matchup marks the third consecutive season Troy State has visited Lincoln. Nebraska has captured both games against the Trojans, defeating Troy State 42-14 in 2001, before posting a 31-16 victory over the Trojans a year ago. The Nebraska game has been Troy State's season opener each of the past two years, but will be TSU's sixth contest of the 2003 campaign.
In last year's game, senior DeJuan Groce set an NU school record with two punt returns for touchdowns against the Trojans to break open a competitive contest. Groce's first return gave Nebraska a 14-0 lead in the second quarter, with his second TD coming in the third quarter to give the Huskers a 24-10 lead. Groce also had a pair of interceptions in the game.
Quarterback Jammal Lord led the Husker offense with 206 yards of total offense, including 92 yards and a touchdown on the ground and 114 yards passing. The Husker defense allowed 347 yards, but was tough against the pass, holding Troy State to just 11 completions in 29 attempts.
In the 2001 matchup, Troy State jumped to an early 7-0 edge, but Nebraska scored the game's next 28 points to erase any doubt about the outcome.
NU-Troy State Series Notes
Nebraska held Troy State to minus-25 yards rushing in the 2001 meeting in Lincoln and just 165 total yards in that contest.
Nebraska's three meetings with Troy State are its first against a team against the state of Alabama since traveling to Auburn in 1982.
Troy State is the first team to visit Memorial Stadium in three consecutive seasons since Indiana came to Lincoln four straight years from 1940 to 1943.
Freshman offensive lineman Brett Byford is the lone Husker who hails from the state of Alabama. Byford, a Hartselle, Ala., native is redshirting this fall.
Nebraska Head Coach Frank Solich
Coach Frank Solich (Nebraska, 1966) is in his sixth season at the helm of the Husker program with a 53-16 school and career record (.768). Solich ranks fifth among active coaches with at least five years of service in winning percentage. Nebraska's 4-0 start has allowed Solich to move ahead of Penn State's Joe Paterno into fifth place on the list.
With a victory over Oklahoma State in the season opener, Solich collected his 50th win in just his 66th game as Nebraska's head coach, the same amount as his Hall of Fame predecessor Tom Osborne (50-14-2). Solich's 49 wins in his first five seasons as a head coach tied him for third place on the all-time Division I-A list for most wins in the first five years of a head coaching career.
Solich has piled up a number of notable accomplishments during his Nebraska tenure including...
Becoming just the third first-year Nebraska head coach to record nine wins in his first season at the helm, joining a pair of Hall of Fame Coaches–Tom Osborne (9-2-1 in 1973) and Bob Devaney (9-2 in 1962).
He posted the best record of any Husker second-year coach, as his team posted a 12-1 record in 1999, leading NU to a Big 12 championship and No. 2 (coaches poll) and No. 3 (AP poll) final national rankings.
The Nebraska graduate has set NU records for most wins after two, three, four and five years as head coach, bettering Devaney and Osborne. The NU best for coaching wins in the first six seasons is 55 by Osborne (73 games). 4Solich was named the 1999 Big 12 Coach of the Year by his league peers and the AP after winning the league championship, and was named coach of the year by the conference coaches a second time in 2001.
Solich is the only Husker coach to have won 12 games in either of his first two seasons. In fact, neither Devaney nor Osborne had an 11-win campaign in their first four years, with Devaney posting a pair of 10-win seasons and Osborne hitting 10 wins in his third season.
Solich tied Devaney by winning his first conference title his second year, while Osborne tied for his first title in his third year at the helm.
Solich has continued Nebraska's winning tradition the Husker way–by identification of athletic talent regardless of position or recruiting rank; with successful recruitment nationwide of the country's best student-athletes; developing local talent and utilizing the envious Husker walk-on program; and by providing the best athletic facilities and support available for the student-athletes.
Solich also recognizes the Husker tradition, which is most evident in his coaching staff. Including Solich, six of Nebraska's 10 full-time coaches played college ball at Nebraska. Solich is one of 19 current Division I-A football coaches who played for and now coach their alma mater.
Solich was named Nebraska's 26th head coach on Dec. 10, 1997, after serving as an NU assistant for 19 years. He played fullback for Hall of Fame Coach Bob Devaney, lettering in 1963-64-65. Solich was the first Husker running back to rush for 200 yards in a game and remains the only fullback to accomplish that feat. He also lettered for the NU baseball team in 1965. After serving as a local high school football coach for 14 years, Solich took over the NU freshman program and posted a 19-1 record from 1979 to 1982. He was elevated to NU's running backs coach after four seasons, a position he held for 15 years (1983-97). He was promoted to assistant head coach in 1991 and head coach following the 1997 season. Solich earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from NU in 1966 and 1972, respectively.
Fresh Faces on Husker Sidelines for 2003 Season
Solich is surrounded by several new faces on his coaching staff for the 2003 season. Six new coaches are on the NU staff, including three assistants on each side of the ball, led by new offensive and defensive coordinators.
The new Husker assistants (previous coaching stop) include...
Barney Cotton, Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line (Offensive coordinator, New Mexico State)
Bo Pelini, Defensive Coordinator, (Linebackers, Green Bay Packers)
Tim Albin, Running Backs/Passing Game Coordinator, (Graduate Assistant, Nebraska)
Scott Downing, Tight Ends/Kickers & Punters/Recruiting Coordinator (Ass't. Head Coach, RBs, Purdue)
Marvin Sanders, Defensive Backs, (Secondary, Colorado State)
Jimmy Williams, Linebackers (Defensive Line, Toledo)
All of the new assistants had previous Nebraska ties except for Pelini, who came to Nebraska from the NFL coaching ranks and played college football at Ohio State. The newcomers join assistants Ron Brown (17th year), Turner Gill (12th year) and Jeff Jamrog (4th year). Brown continues to coach Nebraska's wide receivers. Gill remains the Huskers' quarterbacks coach and added the title of assistant head coach. Jamrog will again coach the Husker defensive tackles, but will also tutor the defensive ends and serve as Nebraska's special teams coordinator.Huskers Continuing History of Fast Starts
Nebraska's victory last week at Southern Miss gave the Huskers a 4-0 record and marked the fifth time in six seasons under Frank Solich's direction that NU has started at least 4-0. A win against Troy State would give the Huskers a 5-0 record for the ninth time in the last 11 seasons (all except 1996, 2002). Before suffering their first loss of the season, Solich's teams have started–5-0 (1998), 6-0 (1999), 7-0 (2000), 11-0 (2001) and 3-0 (2002). The Huskers were 3-0 this September, and NU has been close to unbeatable in that month in recent years. Since the start of the 1992 season, Nebraska is 37-4 (.902) in September, with the only losses on the road at Washington (1992), Arizona State (1996), Penn State (2002) and Iowa State (2002).
Memorial Stadium Not a Friendly Place for Non-Conference Foes
Memorial Stadium has been one of the nation's most difficult stadiums for opposing teams, especially for Nebraska's non-conference opponents. The Huskers have won 34 straight home games against non-conference opponents since a 1991 loss to Washington. That streak is only part of Nebraska's remarkable success against non-league opponents not only in Lincoln, but overall, including...
The Huskers have lost just five home games against non-conference opponents since 1970 (Washington, 1991; Florida State, 1985; Penn State, 1981; Florida State, 1980; Washington State, 1977).
Nebraska is 38-2 overall in the last 10 seasons (1993-2002) in regular-season non-conference games, losing only at Penn State last season, and at Arizona State in 1996.
Nebraska is 7-2 since 1990 against ranked non-conference opponents in regular-season matchups.
Nebraska Looks to Add to Non-Conference Perfection
Nebraska enters Saturday's game with Troy State at 4-0 overall, including a 3-0 record against non-Big 12 foes. Saturday's game will complete the non-conference portion of Nebraska's schedule, before the Huskers resume league play at Missouri on Oct. 11. A perfect non-conference record would be nothing new for Nebraska, consider...
Nebraska has not lost a regular-season non-conference game in four of Frank Solich's first five seasons
The Huskers have been perfect in the non-conference portion of their schedule in 23 of 41 seasons during the Devaney-Osborne-Solich era. In two other seasons (1970, 1976) NU's only non-conference blemish was a tie.
The Huskers will be gunning for their 10th perfect non-conference mark since 1990.
Nebraska Stays on Track with Road Win
Nebraska opened the season with three impressive home victories, but faced its first road test of the 2003 campaign at Southern Miss. The Huskers dropped their road opener at Penn State in 2002, but have had good success in their first venture onto opponents' home turf in recent years. Nebraska is 5-1 under Frank Solich in road openers and 17-4 in its first road game the past 21 seasons.
Under Solich, Nebraska has used strong defensive performances to capture victories in road openers. Nebraska limited both California (1998) and Missouri (2001) to just three points and Iowa to seven in 1999. In addition, Notre Dame scored just one offensive touchdown in NU's 2000 win in South Bend, while forcing five turnovers at Southern Miss this season.
Scanning the Polls
Nebraska found itself in an unfamiliar preseason position entering the 2003 season–unranked in both major polls. The Huskers were just outside of the top 25 in both polls, marking the first time since 1969 that Nebraska entered a season unranked in the Associated Press poll. The Huskers took care of that unusual situation in just one week. NU's 17-7 victory over Oklahoma State moved the Huskers into the polls, and they have continued to rise.
The Huskers are ranked eighth in this week's ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll and moved up to 12th in the AP poll. Nebraska is one of four Big 12 teams who are ranked in at least one of the polls, joining Oklahoma (1 AP/1 Coaches), Texas (13/13) and Kansas State (14/16). Meanwhile, five other conference teams received votes in at least one of the polls, including Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Missouri, Kansas and Texas Tech.
The Huskers' move back into the national polls came after an absence from the Associated Press weekly polls for 12 straight weeks. Nebraska has now been ranked in 527 of 542 AP polls since 1969 (all but one week in 1977, two weeks in 1981, the final 11 weeks of 2002 and this year's preseason poll).
Huskers Turning the Tables on Turnovers
Part of Nebraska's struggles during a 7-7 campaign in 2002 were a result of finishing the season with a negative turnover margin. The Huskers forced 21 turnovers in 14 games last season, an average of 1.5 per contest. On the flip side, Nebraska committed 24 turnovers and finished the year a minus-three in turnover margin, one of just two seasons in the past 28 years Nebraska has had a negative turnover margin.
This season has been far different. Nebraska has forced 15 turnovers in just four games, an average of 3.75 per game, while the NU offense has committed just seven turnovers, giving the Huskers a +2.0 turnover margin per game, good for second in the nation. By comparison, Nebraska did not force its 15th turnover last season until the 11th game of the season. Entering the season, Nebraska had not forced five turnovers in a game for a span of 43 games since the 1999 campaign. This season, the Blackshirt defense has forced five opponent miscues against both Oklahoma State and Southern Miss.
Among the individual stalwarts in the turnover department are...
Junior linebacker Barrett Ruud has tied the NU season record for fumble recoveries by a linebacker with three, including a 15-yard return for a touchdown against Oklahoma State. Ruud's three recoveries tie his father, Tom (1974), for the position record.
Senior Will linebacker Demorrio Williams has created headaches for opposing offenses all season, including forcing two fumbles and recovering two others.
Senior nose tackle Ryon Bingham has also recovered a pair of fumbles, both of which have been converted to touchdowns by the Husker offense.
Sophomore free safety Josh Bullocks has four interceptions in the first four games to lead the nation in interceptions per game. Last season Fabian Washington and DeJuan Groce tied for the season interception lead with four in 14 games. Bullocks has five interceptions in his career.
Back in Black and Tops in Total Defense
Nebraska's top defensive players had to wait until just a few days before the season opener to learn who would be given Blackshirts–the coveted practice jerseys worn by first-team Husker defenders. First-year coordinator Bo Pelini's delay in awarding the Blackshirts does not seem to have fazed his players, as Nebraska has opened the season with four straight stout defensive efforts. Here are a few notes regarding the performance of NU's defense through four games...
4 Nebraska ranks in the top 17 in all five major defensive categories and turnover margin, including No. 1 in total defense at 235.8 yards per game.
4 The Huskers held their first three opponents to 10 points or less for the first time since 1984. In that season, Nebraska finished the year No. 1 in the country in total defense (203.3 ypg) and scoring defense (9.5 ppg).
4NU has forced 15 turnovers in the first four games, including five each against Oklahoma State and Southern Miss. NU did not force 15 turnovers until the 11th game in 2002, and did not force more than three turnovers in a game. Nebraska's +2.0 turnover margin ranks second in the nation.
4 Nebraska has held each of its first four opponents to 108 or fewer yards on the ground, including just 44 by Penn State, which rushed for 217 yards against Nebraska in 2002. Nebraska is allowing an average of just 74.5 yards per game on the ground, good for ninth in the nation.
4 Nebraska's defense has yet to allow a rushing play of 20 yards or more. The longest rushes against the Huskers this season were 17-yard scampers by Utah State's David Fiefia and Southern Miss' Tim Blackwell. Only eight opponent pass plays have covered more than 20 yards.
4 Nebraska has not allowed a point in the third quarter this season and the Huskers hold a 47-0 scoring advantage in that period. By comparison, NU opponents outscored the Huskers 110-97 in the third quarter in 2002. The Blackshirts have allowed just seven points in the second half this fall, a late TD by Southern Miss.
4 Nebraska has allowed just five drives to enter its red zone in four games. Three of the five drives that have reached Nebraska's red zone have started inside the Nebraska 30-yard line. Opponents have penetrated the red zone on just two of the other 50 drives against the Husker defense this season.
Southern Miss reached the NU red zone twice in the second half, marking the first second-half red zone trips by opponents this season.
The Huskers allowed Oklahoma State just183 yards of total offense, the fewest Nebraska had allowed in 24 games, since holding Notre Dame to 162 yards in a 27-10 victory in Lincoln on Sept. 8, 2001. Nebraska had not allowed fewer yards in a season opener since Iowa picked up just 169 yards of total offense in the 1999 opener in Iowa City (NU, 42-7).
Nebraska's defense was nearly flawless after the first quarter in each of the first two games. Oklahoma State picked up 113 yards in the game's first 18 minutes in the season opener, but managed just 70 yards of offense in the game's final 42 minutes, including 57 in the second half. Utah State gained 145 yards in the first quarter, but had just 93 the remainder of the game, with 59 of those yards coming on the final possession of the game.
Williams Setting Tone for Blackshirts
Nebraska's defensive effort in 2003 has been truly a team effort. However, it is hard not to notice the play of senior Will linebacker Demorrio Williams. The Beckville, Texas, native is second on the team with 35 tackles, including 24 solo stops. His six tackles for loss (34 yards) and four sacks (30 yards) both lead the Blackshirt defense. Williams has also forced two fumbles, recovered a pair of fumbles, hurried opposing quarterbacks a team-high five times and broke up a pair of passes.
Williams simply dominated the second quarter against Utah State, recording three sacks for 27 yards, forcing fumbles on two of the sacks. Nebraska converted the fumbles Williams caused into nine points in a 31-7 victory. Williams' play against the Aggies earned him Big 12 Defensive Player-of-the-Week honors.
Williams made another strong statement in front of a national stage on ESPN Thursday night at Southern Miss, recording a season-high 12 tackles, the second-most of his Husker career.
The Butkus Award committee has noticed the play of the 6-1, 215-pound senior by adding him to the watch list for the Butkus, given annually to the nation's top linebacker. Williams' play has also drawn rave reviews from both Nebraska opponents and the NU coaching staff.
"Whoa, that's like having a safety at linebacker. He was in the backfield all the time. We had him blocked and he was quick enough to get around us and cause trouble." –Oklahoma State offensive guard Sam Mayes
"If you really want to know, I can still feel him. He was the best player out there today. I've never played against anyone like him before." –Utah State quarterback Travis Cox
"We don't have an athlete like him. He's a difference maker and those two turnovers he caused were a major, major, major difference in this game." –Utah State Head Coach Mick Dennehy
"He's a special player. He has special talents. That left guard might be seeing him (Williams) in his sleep for a while."–Nebraska Defensive Coordinator Bo Pelini after Oklahoma State game
NU Defense Dominating in All Areas
Demorrio Williams has been the headline grabbing player on defense early in the season, but the Blackshirts have received great individual efforts from numerous players in 2003, including...
Junior linebacker Barrett Ruud leads the team in tackles with 36 stops, including a team-high 11 tackles against Utah State and 10 at Southern Mississippi. Ruud's three fumble recoveries have resulted in 17 points, including a pair of touchdowns and a field goal. Ruud's performance this fall has not come as a surprise to NU coaches, a fact Head Coach Frank Solich pointed out after the season opener.–"I thought leading up to this game that Barrett Ruud had a great fall camp. He is a great football player, and I think that showed in a lot of ways today."
Left cornerback Fabian Washington is only a sophomore, but has emerged as the leader in the Nebraska secondary. Washington ranks third on the team in tackles with 27 stops, including team-high efforts against Oklahoma State (11) and Penn State (9). Washington was a key in the NU defense that limited Oklahoma State All-America receiver Rashaun Woods to five catches for 47 yards, including two receptions for nine yards in the second half.
Washington had another superior effort against Penn State, finishing with nine tackles, his first interception of the season, a pair of pass breakups and two tackles for loss. Washington broke up two more passes against Southern Miss and now has 18 career pass breakups, 10th on Nebraska's career list. Pelini has been impressed with the work of NU's left corner– "He was all over the place (against Oklahoma State). He's a good football player, who really steps it up in live competition. It was no surprise to us the way he played. He's a gamer."
Defensive Backs Coach Marvin Sanders echoed Pelini's feelings on Washington after his standout performance against Penn State – "He's showed he is a very special player. Fabian has been a very consistent player, and he is getting better every week. I think, right now, he's definitely playing at an All-Big 12 level."
Sophomore free safety Josh Bullocks has intercepted four passes this season and is tied for first in the nation in intercpetions per game. Bullocks' two picks against OSU marked the first time a Husker had two interceptions in a game since Washington picked off two Iowa State passes last season. Sanders has also praised Bullocks by saying that he is also performing at an all-conference level.
Senior linebacker T.J. Hollowell has teamed with Williams and Ruud to make the Husker linebacking corps a three-man wrecking force. Hollowell has made 22 tackles this season, including seven each against Utah State and Southern Miss. The Husker linebackers combined for 29 tackles against Southern Mississippi.
Power Husker Running Game Controlling Football
Nebraska's offense has yet to hit on all cylinders, but a powerful ball-control Husker running attack, combined with great defense, has kept opponent offenses off the field this season. Nebraska has snapped the ball a total of 300 times (75 per game) in the first four games, a remarkable 52 more plays than its opponents have run. The discrepency in offensive snaps has led to a huge Husker advantage in time of possession. Through four games, Nebraska has held the ball an average of 35:55 to just 24:05 for the opposition. Against Penn State, Nebraska's advantage was 19:30 (39:45-20:15). The Huskers' 8:12 drive to open the third quarter represented more possession time than the Nittany Lions had in the entire second half (7:33). The 19 1/2-minute time of possession advantage against Penn State was Nebraska's greatest since Nebraska held the ball for 39:47 in a 41-0 shutout against Kansas in 1998. Southern Mississippi was the first team this season to win the time of possession battle against Nebraska, but only after controlling the ball for 11:42 in the fourth quarter after the outcome had been decided.
Nebraska Looks to Make Most of Red Zone Opportunities
The Husker offense has struggled to cross the goal line once it has moved inside the opponents' 20-yard line, scoring seven touchdowns in 22 red zone opportunities, with another nine of those drives ending in field goals. While Nebraska's ability to finish drives with touchdowns has been a concern, the offense's ability to march into the red zone this season has been a drastic improvement from 2002.
This season, NU is averaging 5.5 trips per game into the red zone, while last year Nebraska moved inside the 20 just 43 times in 14 games, or an average of 3.1 trips per outing. On the flip side, NU opponents have moved inside the Husker 20 just five times in the first four games, after averaging 3.4 red zone opportunities in 2002.
Huskers Winning Field Position Battle
While Nebraska's offense continues to polish its attack early in the season, the Huskers have leaned on excellent defense and outstanding special teams. While the defense has carried Nebraska by dominating opponents and forcing turnovers, and the offense has controlled the clock, the Husker special teams has quietly done its part to give NU a huge advantage in field position.
Through four games, Nebraska holds a 14.7-yard advantage in starting field position, beginning its average drive on its own 41.4, while opponents have started on average just outside their own 26.7.
Nebraska held a 15-yard advantage in starting field position in the season opener against Oklahoma State, a 17-yard edge against Utah State and better than a 14-yard advantage at Southern Miss.
Nebraska has started four drives inside the opponent's 20-yard line, while beginning just three inside its own 20. Opponents have started 13 drives inside their own 20 and just four in Nebraska territory.
Davis Handling Heavy Work Load for Huskers
Senior I-back Josh Davis figures to sleep well on Saturday nights this fall. The 5-11, 200-pound Davis is in his third season as Nebraska's starting kickoff return man, and already owns NU single-game, season and career records for kickoff return yardage. Davis is eight yards from becoming the Big 12's career leader in kickoff return yardage and by season's end could become the first 2,000-yard kickoff return man in Nebraska history. His special teams role has grown this season, as he has taken over Nebraska's top punt return duties. Davis has returned 16 punts for 174 yards, an average of 10.9 yards per return.
Davis has also risen to the top of the depth chart at I-back and has led the Husker rushing attack which ranks fifth nationally in rushing offense. Davis is averaging 94.8 yards per game (27th in nation) and 5.0 yards per carry. Against Penn State, Davis was a workhorse, setting career highs for carries (32) and rushing yards (179), including a career-long 42-yard run in the second quarter. His tough running style has allowed him to be thrown for only nine yards in losses in 76 carries this season. Davis has also caught two passes for 19 yards out of the backfield.
The running style of Davis reminds many of his father, Tony, who played at Nebraska from 1973 to 1975 and earned the nickname "Tough Tony." Josh's 179-yard effort against Penn State was the first 100-yard day of his career and made the Davis family the first to have a father-son combination both record 100-yard rushing games at Nebraska. Tony had seven 100-yard games in his Nebraska career.
Josh Davis' multi-purpose role with the Huskers has put him among the nation's leaders in all-purpose running. Davis averages 173.2 all-purpose yards per game, good for fourth nationally and tops in the Big 12 in that category. Davis had 237 all-purpose yards in the win over Penn State.
Larson Keys Husker Punting Team
Nebraska's special teams hope to be "special" once again in 2003. Along with senior kickoff and punt return man Josh Davis, senior punter Kyle Larson is in his third season as a starter for the Huskers. Larson has been one of the nation's top punters each of the past two seasons and his statistics rank near the top of Nebraska's career charts.
Larson averaged 43.2 yards per punt last season and keyed a Husker punting unit that ranked second in the Big 12 and fifth nationally in net punting. The Funk, Neb., native had 21 punts of 50 yards or longer last season and pinned the opposition inside its own 20 on 23 occasions. Larson was a second-team All-Big 12 selection by the league's coaches last season and was one of 10 semifinalists for the Ray Guy Award. His 42.78 career punting average ranks second on the Husker career charts, behind only his predecessor Dan Hadenfeldt (1999-2000).
Larson has opened the 2003 season with 17 punts for a 41.7-yard average, with eight of his 17 punts this season downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line and four resulting in fair catches. Larson is coming off his best outing of the season, averaging 47.6 yards on seven punts at Southern Mississippi, including a season-long 67-yard punt. Larson's effort against the Golden Eagles earned him Big 12 Special Teams Player-of-the-Week honors, marking the third time in his career Larson has captured that award.
Dyches Heads Newcomers Making Impact for 2003 Huskers
Last season a group of newcomers made a strong impact on the Nebraska football program. Five true freshmen saw action for Coach Frank Solich last fall and all made their presence known. In fact, three of the five scored touchdowns the first time they touched the ball as a Husker. Cornerback Fabian Washington set NU freshman records for pass breakups and interceptions, I-back David Horne finished third on the team in rushing, while split end Ross Pilkington and tight end Matt Herian tied for the Husker rookie receiving yardage record.
Another talented group of newcomers could have a similar impact for Nebraska this fall. Three true freshmen made their debuts in Nebraska's season opener, including wide receiver Andy Birkel, defensive tackle Brandon Teamer, and long snapper Lane Kelly. In week two, four additional newcomers hit the field for the first time, including a pair of true freshmen.
Place-kicker David Dyches has been Nebraska's headline newcomer so far in 2003. Dyches has connected on 9-of-10 field goal attempts in three games this year, including four each against Utah State and Penn State. The Spring, Texas, native ranks in a tie for first nationally in field goals per game (3.0 pg) and is eighth in the nation in scoring at 11.0 points per game. Dyches is just the third Husker place-kicker (five times) and first freshman to connect on four or more field goals in a game.
Quarterback Joe Dailey saw significant action in the second half against Utah State and accounted for 94 yards of total offense, 47 through the air and 47 on the ground. Junior-college transfers Darren DeLone and Donald DeFrand also saw their first action in a Nebraska uniform against Utah State. A number of redshirt freshman have also made their mark this fall, most recently wide receiver Isaiah Fluellen, who hauled in a 43-yard TD reception from Jammal Lord at Southern Miss, marking his first career reception.
Lord Continuing Move in NU Record Books in 2003
Nebraska senior quarterback Jammal Lord made a large dent in the Husker record book a year ago. The Bayonne, N.J., native set NU game and season records for total offense and rushing yards by a quarterback. Lord finished the season with 1,412 rushing yards, the third-most ever by a Division I-A quarterback and amassed 2,774 yards of total offense. In the process, he also became one of only 19 Division I-A players to both rush and pass for more than 1,000 yards in the same season. He was the third Husker signal caller in six seasons to reach that plateau, joining Scott Frost (1997) and Eric Crouch (2001).
In addition, Lord was Nebraska's most consistent big-play threat a year ago. He had a hand in a remarkable 41 plays of 20 yards or more in 2002, including 21 runs and 20 passes. Despite his gaudy numbers last season, the 6-2, 220-pound Lord is hopeful of becoming a more efficient quarterback this season, most notably through the air. Last season Lord completed just under 47 percent of his passes and threw for 12 touchdowns against 12 interceptions.
Lord has opened the 2003 season with a better percentage through the air. Through three games, Nebraska has focused its offensive attack on the ground, but Lord has hit on 54.2 percent of his passes (26-48) with two interceptions and a pair of touchdowns against Southern Miss. His passing percentage improvement of nearly eight points is the most drastic among recent NU quarterbacks in their second year.
Lord continues to be among Nebraska's most dangerous rushing threats, picking up 268 yards on 76 carries with a pair of touchdown runs. Lord ran for 100 yards on 20 carries against Penn State, marking the sixth 100-yard game of his career and first in 2003. Only 2001 Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch (17) has more career 100-yard rushing games than Lord from the quarterback position.
Recent Nebraska history indicates that Lord could be in for marked improvement this fall. Husker quarterbacks in their second seasons as starters have enjoyed much greater success in year two at the helm versus their first season as a starter. Most recently, Crouch improved his completion percentage from 48.5 percent as a freshman to 51.9 percent as a sophomore. Crouch also improved his average yards per total offense attempt by nearly a yard. The above graphic examines several Nebraska quarterbacks' statistics in their first seasons as starters versus their second years.
NU Strives for Offensive Efficiency
Nebraska entered the season with a desire to become a more balanced, efficient offense. Through four games, Nebraska has relied on its punishing running game to control the clock and keep opponents off the field. As a result, the Huskers have run the ball on 246 of 300 offensive snaps, allowing NU to control the ball for an average of nearly 36 minutes per game.
Solich and offensive coordinator Barney Cotton have regularly talked about increasing the Huskers' completion rate into the 55 to 60 percent area and through four games results are good, with NU connecting on 55.6 percent of its pass attemtps. Despite the run-oriented attack early in the season, this year's Husker offense still has the potential to be one of Nebraska's more balanced units in recent years.
Last season Nebraska generated 72 percent of its offense on the ground, and in five seasons under Solich the Huskers have accounted for just over 70 percent of their offense via the run. This season, Nebraska has gained 72.1 percent of its yards on the ground. By comparison, Tom Osborne's last five Husker teams (1993-97) picked up 71.5 percent of their offense via the run.
Solich's most balanced offensive attack came in his first season in 1998, when NU gained 65.9 percent of its offense on the ground (34.1 percent passing). In fact, that season marks Nebraska's most pass-oriented offense in the past 26 years. Nebraska has not picked up more than 35 percent of its offensive yardage via the pass since the 1976 season. In that campaign, Vince Ferragamo guided an NU passing attack that led the Big Eight Conference at 188.0 yards per game and accounted for 46.1 percent of Nebraska's offense. Each of Osborne's first four NU teams (1973-76) picked up at least 37 percent of their offense by passing.
Personnel, Injury Update
Nebraska has battled some nagging injuries early in the season, but remains in fairly good health as it completes the non-conference schedule. Redshirt freshman defensive end Adam Carriker missed Nebraska's game at Southern Miss with a foot injury, but was nearing full speed by the end of last week.
Junior linebacker Lannie Hopkins missed much of fall camp while recovering from off-season surgery, played on special teams in the season opener, but has sat out the past three games. Sixth-year senior defensive lineman Jason Lohr did not play in Nebraska's first three games, but saw his first action in two seasons at Southern Miss. Cornerback Willie Amos returned to the playing field against Utah State for the first time since a severe knee injury suffered during spring practice in April of 2002, and also saw action at Southern Miss.
Senior fullback DeAntae Grixby has missed the first four games after suffering an ankle injury during fall camp, but has resumed running and could be back soon. Nebraska has suffered just one season-ending injury this season, a severe knee injury by senior place-kicker Dale Endorf.
Nine Players Enter 2003 Season With Degree in Hand
Nine members of the Huskers' senior class have already completed their undergraduate educations heading into the 2003 season. This season represents the most graduates Nebraska has had entering a season under Head Coach Frank Solich. Included in that group is senior nose tackle Patrick Kabongo, who played his junior season with his degree after graduating in three years in August of 2002. In addition to the nine players who already have their degrees, 11 more players are on track to earn their degrees after the fall semester. Last season, five Huskers played the entire season with their degree and a total of 16 Nebraska players had earned their degrees before the Huskers' appearance in the Independence Bowl.