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Huskers Look to Rebound at Kansas

By NU Athletic Communications
Defensive end Titus Adams and the Huskers travel to Kansas this weekend.
Defensive end Titus Adams and the Huskers travel to Kansas this weekend.
Photo by Associated Press

Game 10–No. 19/16 Nebraska (7-2, 3-2) at Kansas (5-4, 2-3)
Date: Saturday, Nov. 8, 2003
Time: 2:40 p.m.(CST)
Site: Lawrence, Kan.
Stadium: Memorial Stadium
Surface: AstroPlay
Capacity: 50,250
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
TV: Fox Sports Net, Regional (TBA-Play-by-Play; TBA-Color; TBA-Sideline)

Huskers Look to Rebound at Kansas; Stay in Thick of North Race
Nebraska attempts to bounce back from its second loss of the 2003 season this Saturday, as the Huskers travel to Lawrence, Kan., to take on Kansas in a Big 12 North Division contest. The Huskers are coming off a 31-7 setback at Texas last week, a loss that left the Huskers with a 7-2 overall record and a 3-2 mark in conference play. Nebraska remains tied for the North Division lead with Kansas State, a half-game in front of Missouri.

Nebraska dropped in both national polls this week, falling seven spots to No. 16 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, while it is now ranked 19th in the Associated Press poll, also down seven spots from last week. The Huskers will try to maintain their share of the North lead this Saturday against a Kansas team that is 5-4 overall in 2003, including a 2-3 record in conference action. The Jayhawks remain in contention in the North race, but would be eliminated from contention with a loss to Nebraska. Kansas jumped to a 5-2 start and a 2-1 Big 12 record, but has lost road games the past two weeks at Kansas State and Texas A&M.

Saturday’s game will mark the 110th all-time matchup between the two schools, the most of any Husker opponent. The Nebraska-Kansas series is the nation’s longest continuous series, with the 2003 meeting marking the 98th straight year the schools have met on the gridiron. Nebraska holds a commanding 85-21-3 edge in the all-time series and has won each of the last 34 meetings, marking the second-longest win streak against an opponent in Division I-A football.

Kickoff on Saturday in Lawrence is set for 2:40 p.m. (CST) with the game televised regionally on Fox Sports Net, marking the Huskers’ eighth television appearance in 10 games this season.

Longhorns Hand Nebraska Second Loss of 2003 Campaign
Texas dominated both lines of scrimmage en route to a 31-7 victory over Nebraska on Saturday in Austin, handing the Huskers their second loss of the 2003 campaign, and dropping NU to 3-2 in Big 12 Conference play. The Longhorns took control of the game from the outset with a strong running game behind quarterback Vince Young and tailback Cedric Benson.

Nebraska thwarted a Longhorn scoring threat on the game’s first drive as defensive end Trevor Johnson blocked a UT field goal attempt. However, UT regained possession following a Nebraska punt and marched methodically down the field behind a power rushing attack. The Longhorns covered 72 yards in 14 plays, including 13 rushing plays, capped by Benson’s 1-yard touchdown run to take a 7-0 advantage.

The Huskers squandered an excellent scoring opportunity midway through the second quarter. A Jammal Lord to Matt Herian 42-yard pass put the Huskers inside the UT 10, but the drive stalled and David Dyches’ field goal attempt was blocked, keeping Texas in front 7-0. The Longhorns quickly capitalized on the momentum shift, taking just two plays to extend their lead to two touchdowns. After completing a 15-yard pass on the first play of the drive, Young sprinted 65 yards down the sideline for a touchdown to push the lead to 14-0, a lead UT took into the locker room at halftime.

A bad snap on a punt deep in Nebraska territory set up Texas at the Nebraska 10 on its second drive of the second half. The Blackshirt defense stiffened, allowing only a field goal to give the ‘Horns a 17-0 lead. Texas marched deep into Nebraska territory early in the fourth quarter, but the scoring threat ended when safety Josh Bullocks notched his school-record eighth interception of the season, and Nebraska’s third interception of the day.

The takeaway temporarily changed momentum, as Nebraska marched 73 yards in six plays to score its first points of the day. Lord connected with Herian on a 48-yard touchdown pass to cut the Longhorn advantage to 17-7 with more than 11:58 remaining in the game.

The Husker momentum did not last long. Texas went back to a power rushing attack to march 71 yards in 10 plays on the next drive. Benson carried 10 times on the drive, and gave Texas a 24-7 edge with a five-yard TD run. Benson capped the scoring with his third touchdown of the day later in the fourth quarter to account for the final 31-7 margin.

Texas out-gained Nebraska 353-53 on the ground, with Benson (174 yards) and Young (163 yards) both topping the 150-yard mark. Overall, Texas racked up 484 yards of total offense and controlled the football, holding the ball for more than 33 minutes in the contest.

Recapping the Nebraska-Texas Game

  • The loss marked Nebraska’s fifth in the last six meetings with Texas, and gave the Longhorns a 6-4 edge in the all-time series between the schools, including a 2-1 advantage in Austin.
  • Nebraska intercepted three Texas passes in the game, marking the sixth straight game and seventh time overall this year the Huskers have had at least two interceptions. Nebraska has 21 interceptions this season, its most since picking off 23 passes in 1996 and tied for the fourth most by Nebraska since 1946.
  • The three takeaways marked the ninth straight game this season that Nebraska has had at least two turnovers gained. Nebraska now has 35 takeaways in nine games this season, tying the 1999 team for the most takeaways during Frank Solich’s six seasons.
  • The Huskers gained just 175 yards of total offense, its lowest offensive output since putting up 171 yards in a 22-0 loss to Miami in the 1992 Orange Bowl.
  • Nebraska’s 53 rushing yards marked the lowest rushing output in the Frank Solich era and the lowest overall by a Nebraska team since gaining just 36 yards rushing in a 17-7 loss at Missouri on Oct. 11, 1969. Nebraska entered the game ranked fourth nationally in rushing offense, with its previous season low on the ground 141 yards at Southern Mississippi.
  • Senior defensive end Trevor Johnson blocked a first-quarter UT field goal, marking the Huskers’ sixth blocked kick of the season, including three field goals. Nebraska’s blocked kicks have been by six different players.
  • Junior linebacker Barrett Ruud continued his outstanding play in the loss. Ruud posted a career-high 17 tackles against Texas, marking the fourth straight game he has posted 10 or more tackles. Ruud has at least seven tackles in every game this season.
  • Sophomore free safety Josh Bullocks put his name in the Nebraska record book with his fourth-quarter interception of Texas’ Vince Young. The pick was Bullocks’ nation-leading eighth of the season, surpassing the previous school record of seven held by three players. Bullocks also moved into the top 10 on the Nebraska career interception list, as his nine career interceptions are tied for ninth on the list. He is just five interceptions away from the NU career record.
  • Josh’s twin brother Daniel Bullocks posted a career-high 15 tackles in the game and had a pass breakup.
  • Nebraska quarterback Jammal Lord threw for 122 yards in the game, and moved into the top 10 on Nebraska’s career passing list. Lord now has 2,334 career passing yards to rank 10th on the Husker career list.
  • Sophomore tight end Matt Herian was Nebraska’s top offensive threat in the Texas contest. Herian caught two passes for 90 yards, including a 48-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Herian now has 24 catches in his Husker career, with 11 of those receptions covering 28 yards or more. Herian’s TD catch was his second of the season and sixth of his Husker career.
  • Redshirt freshman wide receiver Isaiah Fluellen caught a season-high three passes for 32 yards in the game and rushed twice in the contest. Fluellen entered the game with just three career catches.
  • Senior punter Kyle Larson continued his outstanding season by averaging 54.4 yards on eight punts, including a career-long 80-yard punt on the final play of the first quarter. All eight of Larson’s punts covered at least 44 yards, including four punts of 50 or more yards.

Scouting Kansas
Kansas enters Saturday’s game in Lawrence with a 5-4 record, including a 2-3 mark in Big 12 Conference play. The Jayhawks are coming off a 45-33 loss on Saturday afternoon at Texas A&M, their second straight road loss after a 42-6 setback at Kansas State on Oct. 25.

KU lost its season opener to Northwestern at home, but responded with four consecutive wins, including an impressive 35-14 win over Missouri in Lawrence. Kansas also extended Colorado to overtime before falling on the road, and posted its second conference win of 2003 over Baylor on Oct. 18.

The Jayhawks rank in the top 30 nationally in passing offense (266.7), scoring offense (33.1) and total offense (436.4). Kansas continued its high-powered offensive ways against Texas A&M rolling up 481 total yards, including 328 yards through the air. True freshman quarterback Adam Barmann shed his redshirt and completed 25-of-37 passes against the Aggies for 294 yards and four touchdowns. Barmann replaced senior Bill Whittemore who was injured in the Kansas State loss and will not play against Nebraska. Whittemore was one of the nation’s top offensive threats until he was injured. In eight games, he threw for 1,921 yards and 15 touchdowns against just three interceptions. Whittemore also rushed for 365 yards.

Running back Clark Green has been KU’s top rushing threat, rolling up 715 yards and five touchdowns this season, while averaging nearly five yards per attempt. Green is also an excellent receiving threat out of the backfield, with 31 receptions for 368 yards on the year. Redshirt freshman Charles Gordon is KU’s top receiving threat, hauling in 35 passes for 505 yards and four touchdowns this fall. Gordon had nine catches in last Saturday’s loss at Texas A&M.

Kansas ranks eighth in the Big 12 in total defense, allowing just over 400 yards per game. KU opponents have picked up 186.3 yards per game on the ground, and another 219.2 per contest through the air. Sophomore safety Nick Reid leads the Jayhawk defensive attack, posting 104 tackles this season, while linebacker Gabe Toomey is just behind with 96 tackles, including eight tackles for loss.

Junior place-kicker Johnny Beck has connected on 8-of-14 field goals this season, while punter Curtis Ansel averages nearly 41 yards per kick. Gordon also handles Kansas’ punt return duties and ranks 12th nationally, averaging 14.2 yards per return.

Kansas Coach Mark Mangino
Mark Mangino is in his second season as Kansas’ head coach and owns a 7-14 record with the Jayhawks. Mangino led Kansas to a 2-10 record last season, but has guided the Jayhawks to five wins this fall, tying the school’s most wins since 1995. A 1987 graduate of Youngstown State, Mangino served as an assistant coach at Kansas State and Oklahoma before taking over the Jayhawk program. Mangino is 0-1 against Nebraska.

Nebraska-Kansas Series...NU leads 85-21-3
Nebraska has dominated the all-time series with the Jayhawks, holding an 85-21-3 advantage, including victories in each of the last 34 meetings between the two schools. Kansas’ last victory over the Huskers was a 23-13 victory in Lincoln in 1968.

The Huskers have won 17 straight games against Kansas in Lawrence since a 10-0 setback in the 1967 season. In that 17-game win streak in Lawrence, Nebraska has won by at least three touchdowns in 15 of those victories.

Last season, Nebraska extended its win streak over Kansas to 34 straight with a 45-7 victory at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. The Huskers jumped to a 24-7 halftime lead and dominated in all three phases of the game to cruise to victory. NU rolled up 352 yards on the ground in the contest, while limiting the Jayhawks to just 71 yards rushing and 224 total yards. Kansas quarterbacks completed just 10-of-31 passes in the game and were intercepted twice. Nebraska’s Lannie Hopkins blocked two punts in the game, the second of which was returned for a touchdown to give the Huskers a 38-7 third-quarter edge. I-backs David Horne and Dahrran Diedrick each topped 100 yards on the ground for Nebraska, while quarterback Jammal Lord added 74 yards and passed for a pair of touchdowns.

Nebraska-Kansas Series Notes

  • Saturday’s meeting will mark the 110th all-time between the two schools, the third-longest series in Division I-A trailing only Minnesota-Wisconsin (113) and KU-Missouri (112).
  • This marks the 98th consecutive season the teams have played, making it the longest continuous series in I-A and an NCAA record (surpassing the 95 games by KU and Oklahoma from 1903 to 1997).
  • Nebraska’s 34-game win streak against Kansas is the second-longest winning streak in NCAA history over an opponent in an uninterrupted series. The streak trails only Notre Dame’s 39-game win streak against Navy, a series that also continues on Saturday.
  • This will mark the 20th straight matchup in Lawrence in which Nebraska has entered nationally ranked.
  • Nebraska has scored 40 or more points in 26 of the last 34 meetings with Kansas, including 13 of the last 17 matchups in Lawrence.
  • The Huskers have held Kansas to single digits in 22 of the last 32 meetings between the schools.
  • Nebraska has three players on its roster from the state of Kansas, including reserve fullback Philip Kniep (Belleville), reserve linebacker Peter Atha (Topeka) and place-kicker Dale Endorf (Wichita), who is out for the season with a knee injury.

Nebraska Head Coach Frank Solich
Coach Frank Solich (Nebraska, 1966) is in his sixth season at the helm of the Husker program with a 56-18 school and career record (.757). Solich ranks sixth among active coaches with at least five years of service in winning percentage.

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...

  • The Nebraska graduate has set NU records for most wins after two, three, four, five and six years as head coach, bettering Devaney and Osborne. Nebraska’s 28-0 shutout of Iowa State on Oct. 25 gave Solich 56 wins in his first six seasons, the most by an NU head coach in his first six years, one better than Osborne’s 55 wins in 73 games at the conclusion of his sixth season.
  • 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.
  • Solich 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.

Husker Coaching Staff Boasts Experience at All Levels
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 is again coaching the Husker defensive tackles, and is also tutoring the defensive ends and serves as Nebraska's special teams coordinator.

Huskers Rank Among Nation’s Best in Solich Tenure
Nebraska is one of four Big 12 Conference teams that rank among the top 12 in the nation in best winning percentage since the start of the 1998 season. Since Frank Solich took over the Husker program, NU has posted a 56-18 record for a .757 winning percentage, the nation’s 12th-best mark in that stretch. Miami leads the group, winning 86 percent of its games since 1998. Oklahoma is tops among conference schools in fifth place, followed by Kansas State (8th), Texas (9th) and Nebraska (12th).

Scanning the Polls
The Huskers are ranked 16th in this week’s ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, down seven spots from last week and are 19th in the AP poll, a seven-spot demotion. Nebraska is one of five Big 12 teams ranked this week, joining Oklahoma (1 AP/1 Coaches), Texas (11/11), Oklahoma State (21/22) and Missouri (22/–). Meanwhile, Kansas State is receiving votes in 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 the Huskers have stayed there for each of the past 10 AP polls.

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 532 of 547 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). Nebraska entered the AP top 10 at No. 10 before the loss at Missouri, marking NU’s first visit to the top 10 since before the Penn State game last season. Nebraska has now been ranked in the AP top 10 for at least one week in each of the last 34 seasons and 40 of the last 41 years.

Pair of Shutouts Headline Huskers’ Defensive Dominance
Nebraska’s 28-0 whitewash of Iowa State on Oct. 25 added to an impressive resume for the 2003 defense that is establishing itself as one of the finest in school history. The shutout was NU’s second in four games, with the Huskers also blanking Troy State 30-0 on Oct. 4. This season marks the first time since 1999 that Nebraska has posted two shutouts in a season, and the Huskers have now posted six shutouts in Solich’s six seasons as head coach.

Troy State never seriously threatened to put points on the scoreboard in NU’s first shutout, and Iowa State’s only scoring threat was on its final possession of the game against reserves. The Huskers have not allowed an offensive touchdown in three of the last five games overall, as Texas A&M reached the end zone only on a kickoff return.

The shutout against Troy State was the first by NU since a 59-0 win over Baylor on Oct. 21, 2000, a span of 37 games. The 2003 Blackshirts became just the fifth defense in the Osborne-Solich era to hold opponents to 14 points or less in each of the first five games. The Huskers have now accomplished the feat three times in six seasons under Solich (also 1999, 2001) and also held the first five opponents to less than 14 points in 1990 and 1976 under Tom Osborne.

Troy State Coach Larry Blakeney left impressed after Nebraska’s shutout.

"We faced a very good defense, a defense to be reckoned with. They might be good enough to take that team to pretty good heights."

Iowa State Coach Dan McCarney echoed Blakeney’s thoughts on the Husker Blackshirts.

"They are tough, fundamentally sound, playing with confidence and going after the ball in an attacking style. It’s a defense that they should be really proud of."

Blackshirts Taking Ball Away at Record Pace
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. NU has forced 35 turnovers in nine games, an average of 3.9 per game. Nebraska leads the nation in takeaways and interceptions (21), setting the pace for a team that also leads the nation in turnover margin at +1.89 per game. The nation-leading turnover margin is keyed by a school-record eight takeaways in a 48-12 win over Texas A&M, while the offense did not commit a turnover in the contest.

  • The eight turnovers gained against Texas A&M tied the NU school record, most recently accomplished against Colorado State on Sept. 14, 1991.
  • Nebraska converted its eight turnovers into 35 points against A&M, including a pair of touchdowns on interception returns by Barrett Ruud (27 yards) and Titus Adams (3 yards). The Husker defense has scored 21 points of its own this season and converted the opponents’ 35 turnovers into 110 points, nearly as many points as the NU defense has allowed all season. Nebraska scored 48 points off turnovers in 14 games in 2002.
  • The eight turnovers against Texas A&M marked the third time the Huskers have forced five or more turnovers in a game this season, and the Blackshirts have forced at least two turnovers in all nine games. The last time the NU defense forced two turnovers in more consecutive games was a stretch of 17 straight games in 1990 and 1991, including all 12 games in 1990, and the first five games of the 1991 season.
  • The Texas A&M effort came after a 41-24 loss at Missouri, a game in which the Huskers committed five turnovers and were a minus-three in the turnover department. The Tigers converted NU’s miscues directly into 21 points. The Nebraska offense has committed 18 turnovers this season, but has committed just three in the past three games.
  • Nebraska’s 35 takeaways this season are its most since also forcing 35 in1999, when the Huskers went 12-1. The school record for turnovers gained in a season is 47 by the 1971 Nebraska defense, helping NU to a 13-0 record and a national championship. 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 accomplished that feat three times in nine games.
  • NU has had at least one interception in all nine games and two or more interceptions in six straight games. Nebraska’s 21 picks this season are its most since 1996 and tied for the fourth-most by Nebraska since 1946.

Among the individual stalwarts in the turnover department are...

  • Sophomore free safety Josh Bullocks has eight interceptions in nine games, an average of 0.89 per game to lead the nation in that cateogry. Bullocks’ fourth-quarter interception against Texas was his eighth of the season and set a new NU season record, surpassing the seven interceptions by Larry Wachholtz (1966), Dana Stephenson (1969) and Bill Kosch (1970). Last season Fabian Washington and DeJuan Groce tied for the season interception lead with four in 14 games.
  • 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. Ruud has also forced three fumbles this season, including one against Texas A&M and returned his first career interception 27 yards for a touchdown against the Aggies.
  • Senior Will linebacker Demorrio Williams has created headaches for opposing offenses all season, including forcing two fumbles and recovering three others. He had his first career interception at Missouri and blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown by Josh Bullocks against Iowa State.
  • 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 corner Fabian Washington has picked off three passes in 2003, and has seven picks in his career. He also recovered a fumble against Troy State.
  • Sophomore Titus Adams gives Nebraska four players with at least two fumble recoveries this season and capped Nebraska’s turnover bonanza against Texas A&M with a three-yard interception return for a touchdown. He added his second interception of the year against Texas.

Blackshirts Back Among Nation’s Best Defenses
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 did not faze his players, as Nebraska has played strong defense throughout the season. In addition to forcing turnovers at a record rate, Nebraska ranks among the nation’s best in several statistical categories. Here are a few notes regarding the performance of NU’s defense through nine games...

  • NU ranks in the top 10 nationally in four of five major defensive categories, including leading the nation in passing efficiency defense with a rating of 77.7 points. The Huskers are seventh nationally in total defense at 278.1 yards per game, and are fourth in scoring defense at 13.6 points per game.
  • 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).
  • NU has forced 35 turnovers in nine games, including a school-record eight against Texas A&M and five each against Oklahoma State and Southern Miss. NU did not force more than three turnovers in a game last season and just 21 total in 14 games in 2002. Nebraska’s +1.89 turnover margin ranks first in the nation, just ahead of Michigan State (+1.78).
  • Nebraska has limited five opponents to less than 100 yards rushing this season, including a season-low 4 yards on the ground by Penn State. The Nittany Lions rushed for 217 yards against Nebraska in 2002.
  • Nebraska’s defense has allowed just nine runs of 20 yards or longer this season. Nebraska did not allow a run of longer than 17 yards in the season’s first five games. Only 15 opponent pass plays have covered more than 20 yards.
  • Troy State’s 150 yards of total offense were the fewest NU has allowed since Baylor picked up just 84 in a 59-0 NU victory in October of 2000. That game was also NU’s most recent shutout before the 30-0 win over Troy State.
  • Nebraska has allowed just six points in the third quarter this season (FGs by A&M, Texas), and the Huskers hold an 88-6 scoring advantage in that period. By comparison, NU opponents outscored the Huskers 110-97 in the third quarter in 2002. The Blackshirts allowed just seven points in the second half through the first five games, before Missouri exploded for 27 fourth-quarter points in a 41-24 NU loss.
  • Nebraska has allowed just 19 drives to enter its red zone in nine games, including only five in the season’s first five games. Nine of the drives that have reached Nebraska’s red zone have started inside the Nebraska 36-yard line, including all five by Missouri (three inside NU 10). Opponents have penetrated the red zone on just 10 of the other 122 drives against the Husker defense this season. Utah State, Troy State and Iowa State all failed to reach the red zone against NU’s defense. 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 just 183 yards of total offense, the fewest Nebraska had allowed in 24 games. 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). The Cowboys are averaging nearly 450 yards of total offense in eight games since.
  • 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. Nebraska also stymied Texas A&M in the second half, allowing just 49 yards of total offense to the Aggies after halftime.

Williams Setting Tone for Blackshirts
Nebraska’s defensive effort in 2003 has been truly a team effort. However, it is hard to overlook the play of senior Will linebacker Demorrio Williams. The Beckville, Texas, native is second on the team with 83 tackles, including 52 solo stops. He tied his career high with 13 tackles against Troy State, including seven solo stops, a pair of tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Williams recorded his third consecutive double-figure tackle game, and added a sack and his first career interception against Missouri. In Nebraska’s record-setting takeaway day against Texas A&M, Williams recovered his third fumble of the season.

The senior is one of 11 players on the Butkus semifinalist list, Nebraska’s first semifinalist for the award in three seasons. He was also named to a pair of midseason All-America teams, earning recognition from both SI.com and CollegeFootballNews.com

Williams has 10 tackles for loss (45 yards) and 6.5 sacks (40 yards) both team-leading totals. He has also forced two fumbles, recovered three fumbles, hurried opposing quarterbacks a team-high 10 times, broke up three passes and intercepted a pass. Williams contributed a huge special teams play against Iowa State, blocking a first-quarter punt that was returned for a touchdown by Josh Bullocks. Against Texas, Williams returned a blocked field goal 16 yards and also tipped a pass that was intercepted by Nebraska’s Titus Adams in the second quarter.

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 at Southern Miss, recording 12 tackles, the third-most of his Husker career. He has been Nebraska’s nominee for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week three times this season. Williams’ play has drawn rave reviews from both Husker 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

Ruud Less Than Hospitable to Opponents
Junior linebacker Barrett Ruud joined Williams on the Butkus watch list this fall and although he didn’t make the semifinal cut, Ruud’s play has also been at an award-winning level throughout the season. The Lincoln native leads the team in tackles with 95, including six double-figure tackle games (12 vs. Missouri, 11 vs. Utah State, 10 vs. Southern Miss, 10 vs. Texas A&M, 12 vs. Iowa State, 17 at Texas). His 17-tackle effort at Texas was a career-high and the most tackles by a Husker since MIKE linebacker Jamie Burrow totaled 17 in Nebraska’s 20-10 win over Oklahoma in 2001.

Ruud has also been a key part of the Nebraska defense ranking first in the nation in turnover margin at +1.89 per game. Ruud has recovered three fumbles this season to tie his father’s Nebraska linebacker record for fumble recoveries in a season, and is tied for the team lead with Demorrio Williams. Ruud’s three fumble recoveries have resulted in 17 points, including a pair of touchdowns and a field goal. Ruud has also caused three fumbles this fall, most recently on a sack of Texas A&M quarterback Reggie McNeal in Nebraska’s 48-12 victory.

Ruud has converted two opponent turnovers directly into touchdowns this season. In the season opener against Oklahoma State, Ruud returned a fumble 15 yards for a touchdown to give the Huskers the go-ahead points in a 17-7 victory. Against Texas A&M, Ruud made the most of his first career interception, returning it 27 yards for a touchdown to give NU a 20-3 first-quarter edge. Ruud is the first Husker defender since Julius Jackson in 1999 to score touchdowns on both fumble and interception returns.

The 6-2, 235-pound Ruud is quickly climbing the NU career tackle chart. His team-high 17 tackles against Texas pushed his career total to 235 tackles, good for 13th place on the Husker career tackle list. Ruud passed his father on the career list against A&M, as Tom recorded 202 tackles from 1972 to 1974.

Ruud’s performance this fall has not come as a surprise to NU coaches. Head Coach Frank Solich expected big things from the junior and pointed that 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."

Bullocks Nebraska’s and Nation’s Top Pass Thief
Sophomore free safety Josh Bullocks is challenging Williams and Ruud for headline-grabbing play this season, and gives NU three bona-fide All-America candidates on defense. Bullocks recorded his eighth interception of the season on Saturday at Texas, and leads the nation in both total interceptions and interceptions per game (0.89 per contest).

  • Bullocks’ eighth interception set a new Husker season record, bettering the previous total of seven, held by three players. The record had stood for 33 years since Bill Kosch tied the record with seven picks in 1970. Bullocks picked off a pair of passes in Nebraska’s season opener against Oklahoma State, and has since picked off a pass in six of the last eight games, including four straight contests (Southern Miss-Texas A&M).
  • Bullocks’ interceptions in four consecutive games tied a school record, matching the feat also accomplished by Troy Watchorn in 2000. Watchorn had interceptions in four straight games in the 2000 season (Iowa, Missouri, @ Iowa St., @ Texas Tech).
  • Bullocks now has nine career interceptions to rank in a tie for ninth place on the Husker career list. Just a sophomore, he is just five interceptions away from Dana Stephenson’s NU career record of 14 interceptions.

The 6-0, 195-pound Bullocks has routinely earned praise from his own coaches this season, and recently he picked up national recognition, joining Williams on SI.com’s Midseason All-America Team and is also a member of the Thorpe Award Watch list. In addition to his eight interceptions, Bullocks has 32 tackles and four pass breakups this fall.

In addition to his defensive prowess, Bullocks is also a key on NU special teams. Against Iowa State, Bullocks blocked a punt to set up NU’s first score, then returned the Huskers’ second blocked punt of the day (blocked by Demorrio Williams) 26 yards for a touchdown to give NU a 21-0 lead late in the first quarter. His play was rewarded as he was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week following the contest.

Bullocks’ twin brother, Daniel, is Nebraska’s starting strong safety and has also made a strong impression this fall. Daniel Bullocks is tied for fourth on the team with 49 tackles, including 30 solo stops. He is coming off a 15-tackle performance at Texas, tying for the most tackles by a Husker defensive back in the past five seasons.

Entire Defensive Unit Helping Dominate Opponents
The linebacking duo of Williams and Ruud, and Josh Bullocks’ record-setting interception season have grabbed many of the headlines, but NU’s defensive dominance has been a total team effort. Other top performances include...

  • Left cornerback Fabian Washington is only a sophomore, but has emerged as a leader in the Nebraska secondary. Washington ranks sixth on the team in tackles with 46 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 passes against Iowa State and now has 21 career pass breakups, tied for fifth on Nebraska’s career list. He added an interception and a fumble recovery in the shutout of Troy State, and picked off his seventh career pass against Texas A&M. 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."
  • 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 54 tackles this season to rank third on the team, including seven each against Utah State, Southern Miss and Missouri and Texas, and eight against Texas A&M. The Husker linebackers combined for 32 tackles against Texas, and as a group have posted 25 or more tackles seven times this season. Hollowell is also excellent in pass coverage. He ranks second on the team with seven pass breakups and had his first career interception vs. Iowa State. His seven pass breakups are just one shy of the NU school record for linebackers.
  • Senior defensive end Trevor Johnson was slowed with an injury in the preseason, but has stepped his game up in recent weeks. Johnson made a career-high 12 tackles against Iowa State, helping NU to its second shutout in four weeks. In the game, Johnson had a tackle for loss, two quarterback hurries, a pass breakup and a fumble caused against the Cyclones. Johnson has 49 total tackles this season, the most among Husker defensive linemen and tied for fourth overall on the team. He is third on the team with seven tackles for loss, including a pair of sacks, and his TFL against ISU gave him 20 career tackles for loss. He also blocked a field goal against Texas.

Larson Keys Husker Punting Team
Nebraska’s special teams have a tradition of being exactly that–"special." Senior punter Kyle Larson is doing his part to continue that tradition this fall. Larson is in his third season as a starter for the Huskers, and for the third straight season has been one of the nation’s top punters. A 2002 Ray Guy Award semifinalists, Larson is a strong contender to capture that award this fall, and is making a strong push for All-America honors.

Larson has been outstanding throughout the 2003 season, and has been at his best in recent weeks. 4Larson averaged 54.4 yards on his eight punts at Texas, including a career-long 80-yard punt on the final play of the first quarter. All eight of Larson’s punts traveled 44 yards or more, including five that topped 50 yards.

  • Against Texas A&M,Larson punted nine times and averaged 49.6 yards per boot. He pinned A&M inside its own 20 four times in the game, and seven of Larson’s nine punts were 45 yards or longer, while the two that were not were both downed inside the Aggie 20.
  • Against Southern Mississippi, Larson averaged 47.6 yards on seven punts, including boots of 63 and 67 yards. His 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.

For the season, Larson is averaging 45.5 yards per punt to rank eighth nationally, helping the Huskers to a No. 9 national ranking in net punting at 40.6 yards per attempt. Larson is currently on pace to break the NU single-season punting average record currently held by Dan Hadenfeldt who averaged 44.98 yards per punt in 1999.

Larson has helped Nebraska in field position with 36 percent (17-of-47) of his punts leaving the opposition inside its own 20 yard-line. Larson has uncorked six punts of 63 yards or longer in the past six weeks. He has 14 punts this season of 50 yards or longer. Larson’s recent surge has pushed his career punting average to 43.61 yards, good for second on the NU career list, behind only his predecessor Hadenfeldt (1999-2000).

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.

Nebraska Head Coach Frank Solich lauded Larson’s effort following the Texas A&M contest. "I don’t know if there is a better punter around. There might be in terms of average, but when the pressure is on and you need a kick, he steps up and does it."

Controlling the Clock a Key to Huskers’ Fortunes
The Huskers have been at their best this season when they have been able to use a power running game to control the time of possession battle. The Huskers have controlled the clock for much of the year, averaging 32:50 of time of possession, 5:40 more than its opponents. Nebraska has snapped the ball a total of 628 times (69.8 per game), 34 more plays than its opponents have run.

The discrepency in offensive snaps has led to a huge Husker advantage in time of possession.

  • 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.
  • Nebraska has held a time of possession advantage in six of nine games this season, with only Southern Miss Troy State and Texas controlling the ball for more than 30 minutes against NU this season.
  • Texas dominated the line of scrimmage in a 31-7 win over Nebraska, running 78 plays to just 55 for the Huskers and controlling the ball for 33:16. Missouri matched NU’s total snaps (73) in its 41-24 victory over the Huskers in Columbia.

Nebraska Looks to Make Most of Red Zone Opportunities
The Husker offense has struggled at times this season to cross the goal line once it has moved inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, scoring 15 touchdowns in 36 red zone opportunities, with another 10 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 4.0 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 19 times in the first nine games, after averaging 3.4 red zone opportunities in 2002.

Huskers Winning Field Position Battle
Strong special teams and outstanding defense have allowed Nebraska to help Nebraska to a huge advantage in field position this season. Field position is one of the leading indicators of Nebraska’s success this season. The Huskers have had a double-figure edge in starting field position in each of their seven victories, while Missouri and Texas both used double-figure edges in starting position to key wins over Nebraska.

  • Through nine games, Nebraska holds a 10.1-yard advantage in starting field position, beginning its average drive on its own 39.7, while opponents have started on average at their own 29.6.
  • The Huskers have had a double-figure advantage in starting field position in each of their seven victories, including a season-best 25.4-yard edge in a 28-0 win over Iowa State. NU’s average starting field position against Iowa State was its own 47.9-yard line, while Iowa State was backed up to its own 22.4 for its average drive start.
  • Against Iowa State, Nebraska started eight drives on Iowa State’s side of the field, while beginning just two inside its own 20. Iowa State did not begin on Nebraska’s side of the field all day. In the first half of the shutout victory, the Huskers snapped the ball seven times in their own territory, while initiating 20 plays in Cyclone territory.
  • Nebraska has started eight drives inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, while beginning just 18 inside its own 20. Opponents have started 25 drives inside their own 20 and only 14 in Nebraska territory.
  • The tables were turned on Nebraska at Missouri and Texas. The Tigers held a 13-yard advantage in starting field position, while Texas had a 14.8-yard advantage in starting field position in last week’s game.
  • Nebraska has a 1,173-yard advantage in cumulative starting field position, an average of better than 130 yards per game in field position differential.

Versatile Lord Continuing Move in NU Record Books
Nebraska senior quarterback Jammal Lord made a large dent in the Husker record book a year ago and continues to do so in 2003. The Bayonne, N.J., native set NU game and season records for total offense and rushing yards by a quarterback in 2002. 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 worked hard in the off-season to become a more efficient quarterback in 2003, most notably through the air. Last season Lord completed just under 47 percent of his passes and threw for 12 touchdowns against 12 interceptions.

The off-season work has produced results for Lord, who has completed 52.4 percent of his passes this season. He has thrown for four touchdowns and been picked off five times.

  • Lord has four 100-yard passing games this season, including a season-high 146 yards at Missouri, when he completed 12-of-18 passes, including a 55-yard touchdown pass to Mark LeFlore. His 146 yards passing at Missouri were just five yards short of his career-best 151 yards last season against McNeese State and tied the most accurate passing effort of Lord’s career (also 12-of-18 vs. McNeese State, 2002).
  • All four of Lord’s touchdown passes have been from long distance. He connected on scoring strikes of 44 and 43 yards at Southern Mississippi, hit LeFlore for the 55-yarder at Missouri and connected with Matt Herian on a 48-yard TD strike at Texas.
  • Lord continues to be NU’s leading rusher, despite being keyed on by opposing defenses. Lord has rushed for 628 yards on 150 carries and scored nine touchdowns this season, bettering his total of eight in 2002. Lord has scored at least one rushing touchdown in seven of Nebraska’s last eight games.
  • Lord has posted three 100-yard rushing days this season and eight in his career. He rushed for a season-high 111 yards at Missouri, and also topped the century mark against Texas A&M (109) and Penn State (100). Only 2001 Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch (17) has more career 100-yard rushing games than Lord from the quarterback position.

Lord passed two milestones in his 257-yard total offense performance at Missouri. He became the ninth Husker to pass 4,000 yards of career total offense early in the first quarter and later in the game became the 22nd Husker and third NU quarterback to reach 2,000 career rushing yards. Lord now has 4,587 yards of total offense to rank eighth in Nebraska history, 47 yards behind his position coach Turner Gill who is seventh at 4,634 yards. Lord is well within striking distance of the top five on the career list. He has 2,253 career rushing yards, 15th on the NU career list and second among quarterbacks. Against Texas, Lord moved into the top 10 on the NU career passing list and now has 2,334 yards through the air.

Davis Moves to Top of Big 12 Kickoff Return Record Books
Senior Josh Davis is in his third season as Nebraska’s starting kickoff return man and his work has earned him a place in the Nebraska and Big 12 Conference record books. Davis had three kickoff returns for 97 yards at Missouri, pushing his career total to 1,887 yards on kickoff returns, bettering the previous Big 12 career record of 1,798 yards, set by Colorado’s Ben Kelly from 1997 to 1999. Davis also holds the Big 12 career record for kickoff returns (76) and kickoff return yards in a season (994 in 2002).

Davis became the first player in school and Big 12 history to reach 2,000 career kickoff return yards at Texas. His three returns for 51 yards against the Longhorns gave him 2,033 career kickoff return yards. Davis is averaging 26.0 yards per return this season to rank 21st nationally and fourth in the Big 12 in that category.

Davis should be sleeping well on Saturday nights. In addition to his kickoff return duties, the 5-11, 200-pound Davis has taken over Nebraska’s top punt return duties. Davis has returned 23 punts for 214 yards, an average of 9.3 yards per return.

Davis is also at the top of the depth chart at I-back and is a key part of a Husker rushing attack that ranks fifth nationally. Davis is averaging 59.3 yards per game and 4.2 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 33 yards in losses in 126 carries this season. Davis has also caught four passes 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.

NU Strives for Offensive Efficiency
Nebraska entered the season with a desire to become a more balanced, efficient offense, but Nebraska has again relied on a power running game to control the clock and keep opponents off the field. As a result, the Huskers have run the ball on 509 of 628 offensive snaps, allowing NU to control the ball for an average of nearly 33 minutes per game.

Nebraska has improved its passing percentage to 53 percent this season, just shy of the 55 percent range Head Coach Frank Solich and offensive coordinator Barney Cotton have regularly discussed. Despite the run-oriented attack most of the season, this year’s Husker offense has shown at times the ability to possess a balanced attack.

Last season Nebraska generated 72 percent of its offense on the ground, and in the first five seasons under Solich the Huskers have accounted for just over 70 percent of their offense via the run. This season, Nebraska has gained 70.1 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.

Youthful Receiving Corps Making Large Impact
Nebraska graduated all three starters and eight lettermen at its three receiving positions from the 2002 team. Heading into the season, NU coaches knew the receiving corps would be extremely youthful and relatively untested, but also knew that the group possessed a great deal of talent and athleticism. That ability has shown throughout the 2003 campaign.

Among Nebraska’s two-deep at the two receiver positions and tight end, four of the six players are either sophomores or redshirt freshmen, including....

  • Sophomore tight end Matt Herian who averaged a remarkable 43.0 yards on seven receptions last season, including four touchdowns. Herian has shown the same big-play ability this season, averaging 22.5 yards on a team-high 17 receptions, including a 77-yard catch from Jammal Lord against Troy State. He added two catches for 90 yards against Texas, including a 48-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter, his second score of the year. Herian caught his first TD pass of the season against Troy State, a 21-yard reception from freshman Joe Dailey.

    Herian finished the Troy State game with three receptions for 110 yards, the first NU 100-yard receiving game since Wilson Thomas at Colorado in 2001. It also marked the most receiving yards by an NU tight end since Tracey Wistrom had four catches for 116 yards against Oklahoma State in 1999. Herian and Lord have connected for 11 pass plays of 28 yards or longer in the past two seasons, including five this year. Herian had a streak of nine straight games with at least one catch end when he did not have a reception against Texas A&M.
  • Sophomore receiver Ross Pilkington spent two seasons playing minor league baseball before joining the Nebraska program and plays with the poise of a veteran. Also a physical downfield blocker, Pilkington is second on the team in receptions with 14 for 210 yards, an average of 15 yards per reception. Pilkington caught a 44-yard TD pass from Lord at Southern Miss. His streak of at least one catch in seven straight games ended against Texas A&M.
  • Sophomore wideout Mark LeFlore is Nebraska’s co-No. 1 "Z" receiver and ranks third on the team with 13 catches for 123 yards. He had a breakout game at Missouri, with a career-high six receptions for 76 yards, including his first career touchdown catch, a 55-yarder in the first quarter. LeFlore scored a rushing touchdown on a reverse as a true freshman last season.
  • Redshirt freshman Isaiah Fluellen is among the fastest players on the Husker roster and has emerged as a big-play threat both as a receiver and runner. Fluellen has caught a pair of touchdowns this season, including a 43-yarder at Southern Miss on the first catch of his Husker career at Southern Miss and a 29-yard scoring strike from Joe Dailey against Texas A&M. He grabbed a season-high three catches for 32 yards at Texas. Fluellen also has 10 rushing attempts this season, including five carries for a game-high 78 yards against Iowa State. Fluellen scored on a 39-yard reverse in the first quarter against the Cyclones, and his 78 yards were the most by a Husker receiver since Dana Brinson ran for 83 yards against Missouri in 1986. It also marked the first time in 24 seasons a receiver has led Nebraska in rushing.

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. Place-kicker David Dyches has been Nebraska’s headline newcomer so far in 2003. Dyches has connected on 11-of-16 field goal attempts this year, including four each against Utah State and Penn State. The Spring, Texas, native is just the third Husker place-kicker (five times) and first freshman to connect on four or more field goals in a game. Dyches’ 11 field goals are just three shy of the Nebraska freshman field goals record of 14, set by Josh Brown in 1999.

Five other true freshmen have already seen action this season, including wide receiver Andy Birkel, defensive tackle Brandon Teamer, long snapper Lane Kelly, quarterback Joe Dailey and offensive guard Greg Austin. Dailey has been impressive as Nebraska’s No. 2 quarterback, connecting on 9-of-14 passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for 128 yards. Austin made his NU debut against Troy State, becoming the first true freshman offensive lineman to play for Nebraska since 1999, when Toniu Fonoti saw action as true freshman.

Personnel, Injury Update
Strong safety Philip Bland missed his fifth straight game with a foot injury against Texas and may be out for the season. Freshman wide receiver Andy Birkel has missed Nebraska’s last five games with a foot injury, but could return to practice this week.

Nebraska has suffered three season-ending injuries this fall. Senior fullback DeAntae Grixby missed the first five games after suffering an ankle injury during fall camp, before returning to action against Missouri and Texas A&M. Grixby re-injured his ankle in practice two weeks ago and is out for the year. Senior place-kicker Dale Endorf suffered a severe knee injury in the season opener and is out for the season. Junior linebacker Lannie Hopkins missed much of fall camp while recovering from off-season surgery, played on special teams in the season opener, but returned to to the sidelines before recently undergoing season-ending abdominal surgery.

Nine Players Competing in 2003 With Degree in Hand
Nine members of the Huskers’ senior class had 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 season with their degree and a total of 16 players had earned their degrees before the Huskers’ appearance in the Independence Bowl.

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