Lincoln -- Nebraska will complete its 2003 regular season with its annual post-Thanksgiving matchup with Colorado on Friday, Nov. 28 at Folsom Field in Boulder. TheHuskers are coming off a disappointing 38-9 loss to Kansas State last Saturday at Memorial Stadium, a setback that eliminated Nebraska from contention for a Big 12 title game appearance.
The loss dropped Nebraska to 8-3 overall and 4-3 in Big 12 Conference play, one game behind North Division leader Kansas State. The Huskers could still tie for the division title, but must defeat Colorado and hope that Missouri defeats Kansas State in Manhattan. Nebraska remained in both national polls despite its loss to the Wildcats. The Huskers are 23rd in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll and 25th in this week's Associated Press listing A win would give Nebraska its 34th nine-win season in the last 35 years.
Colorado will enter the matchup with Nebraska with a 5-6 overall record and 3-4 mark in Big 12 Conference play. The Buffaloes began league play with a 1-4 record, but have posted victories the past two weeks over Missouri and Iowa State to keep alive their hopes for a bowl appearance. A victory over Nebraska would give Colorado a sixth win and make it eligible for a bowl trip.
No. 25/23 Nebraska (8-3, 4-3)
at Colorado (5-6, 3-4)
|Date: Friday, Nov. 28, 2003 |
Time: 11:10 a.m.(CST)
Site: Boulder, Colo.
Surface: Natural Grass
Nebraska Radio: 57-station Pinnacle Sports Network (Jim Rose–Play-by-Play; Adrian Fiala–Analyst; Gary Sharp–Sideline)
Internet: Live Radio on Huskers.com
TV: ABC, National (Keith Jackson–Play-by-Play; Dan Fouts–Analyst; Todd Harris–Sideline)
National Radio: Westwood One (Chuck Cooperstein–Play-by-Play; Shea Walker-Analyst)
Nebraska holds a commanding advantage in the all-time series between the two schools, but the Buffaloes have won each of the past two meetings, including a 62-36 victory in Boulder two seasons ago. Despite that loss, Nebraska holds a 20-9-2 edge all-time in Boulder, and has been victorious in four of its last five trips to the Rocky Mountains.
This year’s matchup will continue the tradition of the two schools meeting following Thanksgiving. Nebraska and Colorado have played on the Friday after Thanksgiving in each of the eight seasons since the formation of the Big 12 Conference. The game will be televised to a national audience on ABC, beginning at 11 a.m. (CST), 10 a.m. local time in Boulder, marking Nebraska’s 10th televised game of the 2003 campaign.
Nebraska Suffers Rare Home Loss at Hands of Kansas State
Kansas State scored 24 unanswered second-half points to break a 7-7 tie, and the Wildcats used a big performance by quarterback Ell Roberson to defeat Nebraska, 38-9 at Memorial Stadium. The Huskers dropped to 8-3 overall and 4-3 in the Big 12 with the loss, while Kansas State took the North Division lead with a 5-2 conference record.
Nebraska received solid rushing performances from I-back Cory Ross and quarterback Jammal Lord, who both topped 85 yards on the ground in the losing effort. Ross, who was making his first start of the year, carried 16 times for 87 yards, while Lord toted 21 times for 88 yards. The Husker quarterback threw for 98 yards and a touchdown, but completed only 8-of-26 passes through the air.
Meanwhile Roberson guided a balanced K-State offense, helping the Wildcats win in Lincoln for the first time since 1968. The senior completed 15-of-28 passes for 313 yards and two scores against a Husker defense that led the nation in pass efficiency defense entering the game. He also rushed 22 times for 90 yards and a touchdown, helping the Wildcats to 248 rushing yards.
On NU’s first possession of the second half, Bryan Hickman’s sack and strip of Lord gave KSU possession at the NU 23-yard line. Roberson broke the deadlock three plays later, as he scored on an 11-yard touchdown run. The scoring run gave the Wildcats the lead for good before KSU added a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns, as Roberson found James Terry for touchdown strikes of 63 and 37 yards.
The Wildcats struck first late in the first quarter, going 74 yards on five plays, capped by Darren Sproles’ 22-yard touchdown run. The drive was keyed by a 40-yard pass from Roberson to James Terry to the NU 22-yard line for the reception. Kansas State drove into Husker territory early in the second period, but the threat was snuffed out by a Josh Bullocks interception in the end zone, his school-record 10th pick of the season. The Thorpe Award semifinalist returned the ball 41 yards, giving the Huskers excellent field position.
Nebraska followed with its best drive of the afternoon, marching 59 yards for the tying score, as Lord found Mark LeFlore in the end zone for a 6-yard scoring strike. Ross keyed the drive with two carries for 21 yards and a 26-yard pass reception for a key third-down conversion.
Each team missed a scoring opportunity later in the second quarter with K-State missing on a 27-yard field goal, while the Wildcats blocked a 30-yard David Dyches field goal attempt, leaving the game knotted at seven at halftime. The Huskers forced three turnovers in the contest, running their nation-leading takeaway total to 42, including 27 interceptions.
Recapping Game 11...Kansas State 38, Nebraska 9
The loss snapped Nebraska’s 17-game win streak over the Wildcats in Lincoln. Before the setback, Kansas State’s previous victory at Memorial Stadium was a 12-0 victory in 1968. The loss prevented the Huskers from posting a perfect home season and was just NU’s sixth loss at Memorial Stadium in the past 16 seasons. Kansas State’s victory was its second straight in the series, marking the first time the Wildcats have posted back-to-back victories against the Huskers since 1957 and 1958.
Sophomore free safety Josh Bullocks extended his school and Big 12 interception record to 10 with a second-quarter interception. He tied his career-best with a 41-yard return, setting up Nebraska’s only offensive score of the day. Bullocks now has 11 career interceptions, good for a tie for third on the Husker career list.
Nebraska intercepted three Ell Roberson passes to run its season total to 27 interceptions, three off the school record. Nebraska has had at least one interception in all 11 games this season, has had at least two picks in eight straight games and three or more interceptions five times this season, including each of the last three games.
The three takeaways against Kansas State marked the 11th straight game this season that Nebraska has had at least two turnovers gained. Nebraska’s 42 takeaways are tied for fourth-most in school history and are just five from the school record of 47 in 1971.
Senior linebacker Demorrio Williams had a career-high 16 tackles, running his season total to 113 tackles. Williams now has 73 unassisted tackles this season to establish a Husker season record, surpassing Jerry Murtaugh’s 71 solo stops in 1970.
Junior linebacker Barrett Ruud posted his sixth-straight game with 10 or more tackles, making 15 tackles. Ruud ran his season tackle total to 124 stops, the most by a Nebraska player since Mike Knox had 125 tackles in 1983. Ruud continued his climb on Nebraska’s career tackle list by moving up three spots to sixth with 264 career tackles.
Ruud and Williams became the first pair of Nebraska players to top the century mark in tackles in the same season since linebackers Steve Damkroger and Brent Evans both topped 100 in 1981.
Junior cornerback Lornell McPherson picked off his fourth pass of the season and now has six career interceptions.
Sophomore I-back Cory Ross made his first career start and responded with 87 yards on 16 carries. Ross’ yardage total was his second-best career effort, trailing only his 108 yards at Kansas the previous week. Ross had a season-long 16-yard run in the game and his 26-yard second quarter reception was the longest of his career.
Senior quarterback Jammal Lord accounted for 186 yards of total offense in the game, running his career total to 4,968 yards to move into fifth place on the Husker career total offense list. Lord attempted a career-high 26 passes in the contest and had a career-high 47 total offense attempts.
Senior Josh Davis had six kickoff returns for 120 yards in the game to run his season total to 532 yards in kickoff returns. Davis now has the top three single-season kickoff return yardage totals in school history and has amassed 2,201 career return yards.
Senior nose tackle Ryon Bingham tied his career high with 10 tackles in the game.
Colorado enters the regular-season finale with Nebraska with a 5-6 overall mark and a 3-4 record in Big 12 Conference action. A victory would make the Buffs bowl-eligible for the third consecutive season.
The Buffaloes have won their last two games after a 3-6 start, defeating Missouri, 21-16, in Boulder on Nov. 8, before a 44-10 victory at Iowa State last weekend. Colorado got off to a slow start against one of the nation’s most difficult schedules, with four of its six losses against nationally ranked opponents, including top-ranked Oklahoma.
Offensively, Colorado has relied on its passing attack throughout the season. The Buffs average 280.2 yards per game through the air to rank third in the Big 12 and 20th nationally in passing offense. Quarterback Joel Klatt ranks in the top 25 nationally in passing efficiency. He has completed better than 65 percent of his passes, and has 18 touchdown passes against eight interceptions. Klatt’s top receiving threat has been senior D.J. Hackett who has 69 receptions for 919 yards and five touchdowns. Fellow senior Derek McCoy has 60 catches for more than 800 yards and 10 touchdowns. Sophomore running back Brian Calhoun leads Colorado’s rushing attack with 761 yards and five touchdowns.
The Buff defense has played its best football of the season in the past month. After allowing 42 or more points in five straight games, Colorado has limited its last four opponents to an average of 21.5 points per game. In the past four games, Colorado’s defense has been very opportunistic during that stretch, forcing 16 turnovers. Last week, the Buffs limited Iowa State to 223 total yards, while forcing three Cyclone turnovers and producing four sacks.
Colorado’s top individual on defense has been senior defensive back Medford Moorer, who has more than 100 tackles this season, including four tackles for loss and five pass breakups. Moorer has also intercepted two passes. Sophomore Jeremy Bloom is one of the Big 12’s most dangerous return men, averaging 25.2 yards per kickoff return and 12.0 yards on punt returns.
Colorado Coach Gary Barnett
Colorado Coach Gary Barnett is in his fifth season in Boulder and has guided the Buffs to a 34-27 record. The Buffs represented the North Division in the Big 12 Championship Game in both 2001 and 2002, winning the league title in 2001. Barnett is 77-83-2 in 14 seasons overall as a collegiate head coach, serving as the head man at Northwestern before taking over the Colorado program. Barnett is 2-2 against Nebraska, 1-1 against NU in Boulder.
Nebraska-CU Series...NU leads 43-16-2
Nebraska has a 27-game advantage in the all-time series between the schools, including a commanding 20-9-2 edge in Boulder. The Huskers were defeated 62-36 in their last visit to Boulder, but had won each of the previous four games between the two schools at Folsom Field.
Colorado and Nebraska have met every year since 1948, but the 61-game series is the second-fewest games against a former Big Eight school, bettering only the 40 matchups with Oklahoma State. At least one of the two teams has been ranked in each of the last 22 meetings and 34 of the past 35 games, including 2003.
The Buffs posted their first victory in Lincoln in 12 seasons last year, using a strong second half to upend the Huskers 28-13. Nebraska held a 13-7 lead early in the third quarter, but Colorado ran off 21 unanswered points to secure the victory. Colorado’s powerful rushing attack wore down the Husker defense in the second half, finishing the day with 253 yards on the ground, led by 137 yards by Brian Calhoun and another 62 yards from Bobby Purify.
Nebraska totaled 334 yards of total offense, including 215 on the ground, but Colorado’s rushing attack allowed the Buffs to control the clock, holding the ball for more than 33 minutes and running 13 more offensive snaps than Nebraska in the contest. Linebacker Demorrio Williams led the Husker defense with 13 stops, while Barrett Ruud added 10 tackles in the game.
Nebraska Head Coach Frank Solich
Coach Frank Solich (Nebraska, 1966) is in his sixth season at the helm of the Husker program with a 57-19 school and career record (.750). 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 24-3 victory over Kansas gave Solich his 57th win in his first six years, two 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 joined 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.
Thanksgiving Tradition Continues
Nebraska will play on the Friday after Thanksgiving for the 14th straight year. The Huskers have met Colorado for post-Turkey Day festivities each of the last eight years (since the formation of the Big 12). Before 1996, Nebraska and Oklahoma met for six consecutive years on the day after Thanksgiving. Since 1990, Nebraska has an 11-3 mark on post-Thanksgiving Friday, losing only to Oklahoma in 1990 and Colorado each of the last two years.
Before 1990, Nebraska and Oklahoma also met on the Friday after Thanksgiving in 1973, 1976, 1977 and 1982 and squared off on Thanksgiving Day five times between 1965 and 1972.
Huskers and Buffs Have History of Folsom Field Fireworks
Whether you want to chalk it up to outstanding offense or blame it on the thin mountain air, the last four matchups between Nebraska and Colorado in Boulder have produced offensive firepower. Since 1995, Nebraska has outscored Colorado 140-137 in four meetings at CU’s Folsom Field, or an average score of 35-34.3. Included in that stretch are tight games in both 1997 and 1999, and a pair of decisive victories, a 44-21 NU win in 1995 and a 62-36 Colorado victory in 2001.
The two teams have also produced huge numbers on the stat sheet, with Nebraska averaging 465.3 yards of total offense in the last four meetings in Boulder, while Colorado has racked up 480.8 yards per contest. The two teams combined for more than 1,100 yards in the 2001 meeting.
Scanning the Polls
The Huskers are ranked 23rd in both of this week’s polls, down eight spots in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll and five rungs in the Associated Press poll. Nebraska is one of five Big 12 teams ranked this week, joining Oklahoma (1 AP/1 Coaches), Texas (7/7), Kansas State (19/18) and Oklahoma State (24/24). Missouri and Texas Tech are 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 12 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 534 of 549 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.
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 42 turnovers in 11 games, an average of 3.8 per game. Nebraska leads the nation in takeaways and interceptions (27), setting the pace for a team that also leads the nation in turnover margin at +1.64 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’ 42 turnovers into 131 points. Nebraska scored 48 points off turnovers in 14 games in 2002.
Nebraska has forced four or more turnovers five times this season, most recently four in a 24-3 victory at Kansas. The Blackshirts have forced at least two turnovers in all 11 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. 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.
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 24 turnovers this season, including four vs. K-State (21 points).
Nebraska’s 42 takeaways this season are the fourth-most in school history and the most since also forcing 42 turnovers in 1981.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.
NU has had at least one interception in all 11 games and two or more interceptions in eight straight games. Nebraska’s 27 picks this season are its most since 1971 and tied for the second-most in school history, trailing only 30 in 1970 and tied with 27 in 1971.
Nebraska’s 15 fumble recoveries this season match its total from the 2001 and 2002 seasons combined.
Among the individual stalwarts in the turnover department are...
Sophomore free safety Josh Bullocks has 10 interceptions, an average of 0.91 per game to lead the nation in that category. Bullocks’ nine interceptions are a Nebraska season record, surpassing the seven interceptions by Larry Wachholtz (1966), Dana Stephenson (1969) and Bill Kosch (1970). Bullocks also holds the Big 12 single-season record, surpassing the eight interceptions by Oklahoma’s J.T. Thatcher in 2000. Nebraska has converted Bullocks’ interceptions into 42 points this season.
Senior Will linebacker Demorrio Williams has created headaches for the opposition all season, including recovering an NU linebacker-record four fumbles, while forcing two 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.
Junior linebacker Barrett Ruud has three fumble recoveries, tying the previous NU season record for fumble recoveries by a linebacker. He returned a fumble 15 yards for a touchdown against Oklahoma State and his three fumble recoveries tie his father, Tom (1974), for the second most by a linebacker in school history, one behind Williams. Ruud has also forced a team-leading four fumbles this season, including one against Kansas. Ruud returned his first career interception 27 yards for a touchdown against Texas A&M.
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 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.
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.
Junior cornerback Lornell McPherson has made four interceptions while serving as NU’s starting nickel back. McPherson’s four interceptions would have led Nebraska or tied for the team lead in 23 of the 31 previous seasons.
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 in 2003...
NU ranks in the top 15 nationally in four of five major defensive categories, including ranking second in the nation in pass efficiency defense with a rating of 86.07, just behind Oklahoma. The Huskers are fifth nationally in scoring defense (14.8 ppg) and 14th in total defense (305.1 ypg).
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 42 turnovers in 11 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 +1.64 turnover margin ranks first in the nation, ahead of West Virginia, Miami (Ohio) and Southern California who are tied for second (+1.50).
Nebraska has limited six opponents to less than 100 yards rushing this season, including a season-low 44 yards on the ground by Penn State. The Nittany Lions rushed for 217 yards against Nebraska in 2002.
Nebraska’s defense has allowed just 11 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. Twenty-three 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 did not allow a third-quarter touchdown in the first 10 games this season and has allowed just 16 points in the third quarter all year. The Huskers hold a 95-16 scoring advantage in that period. By comparison, NU opponents outscored the Huskers 110-97 in the third quarter in 2002.
Nebraska has not allowed an offensive touchdown in four of its last seven games, including shutouts of Troy State and Iowa State. Texas A&M reached the end zone on a kickoff return in the game’s waning minutes and Kansas managed only a field goal.
Nebraska has allowed 26 drives to enter its red zone in 11 games, including only five in the season’s first five games. Ten of the drives that have reached Nebraska’s red zone have started inside the Nebraska 36-yard line. Opponents have penetrated the red zone on just 16 of the other 141 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. Missouri, Texas and Kansas State were a combined 11-of-14 in Nebraska’s red zone, while the other opponents are 7-of-12.
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).
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 Continues to Build All-America Credentials
Nebraska senior Will linebacker Demorrio Williams continues to put together an All-America season in 2003. While he was not one of three linebackers selected as a Butkus finalist, his numbers measure up favorably with any of the nation’s top linebackers.
Williams started out the season strong, but his finest play of his senior season may have come in the past two weeks. He had a monster game in Nebraska’s 24-3 victory over Kansas two weeks ago that earned him Big 12 Defensive Player-of-the-Week honors for a second time in 2003. He followed that up with a career-high 16 tackles, including a pair of tackles for loss against Kansas State.
Williams made 14 tackles at Kansas, and was all over the field against the Jayhawks. Williams had four tackles for loss at Kansas, including 1.5 sacks for 15 yards. He also recovered his fourth fumble of the season, had two quarterback hurries, one of which caused an interception, and added a pass breakup.
Williams’ career-best 16 tackles against Kansas State was his fifth game of the season with 10 or more tackles. Williams had three straight double-figure tackle efforts against Southern Miss, Troy State and Missouri.
His fourth fumble recovery of the year at Kansas set a new Nebraska season record for linebackers. He contributed to NU’s record-setting takeaway day against Texas A&M with a fumble recovery and also covered opponent miscues against Utah State and Southern Miss.
The Beckville, Texas, native is second on the team with 113 tackles, including 73 solo stops, a Husker season record for unassisted tackles, surpassing Jerry Murtaugh’s 71 in 1970. Williams’ 113 tackles are ninth on the Husker single-season list, and he has moved into the top 25 on the Husker career tackle chart with 205 career stops. Williams has also made a dent in the linebacker record book, setting season position records for sacks (8), tackles for loss (16) and fumble recoveries (4), all team-leading totals.
Williams also leads the Huskers with 12 quarterback hurries, with three of his hurries directly leading to Nebraska interceptions, most recently at Kansas. Williams has also broken up four passes, forced a pair of fumbles and made his first career interception at Missouri.
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.
In addition to being selected as a Butkus semifinalist, Williams was also named to a pair of midseason All-America teams, earning recognition from both SI.com and CollegeFootballNews.com. His selection as Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week after the Kansas game was his second of the season (Utah State), and the fourth time in 2003 he was nominated for the award.
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 has drawn rave reviews from both Husker opponents and the NU coaching staff.
He’s done it all for us. You don’t come across very many guys who are able to play back as a linebacker and play down as a defensive end with equal success. He’s got great ability. He has a unique way of avoiding blocks from all angles and making big plays. He makes big hits to force turnovers if he’s the first guy there, and he’s got a great feel for the game to find the ball whether it’s on the ground or in the air to get you a turnover. He’s just a very special player."
–Nebraska Head Coach Frank Solich
"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 124, the most by a Husker in 20 seasons. Ruud has eight double-figure tackle games this season, including each of the last six games. He has posted the three highest tackle totals of his three-year NU career in the past three weeks, including a career-high 17 stops at Texas on Nov. 1.
Ruud has also been a key part of the Nebraska defense ranking first in the nation in turnover margin at +1.64 per game. Ruud has recovered three fumbles this season, second on the team behind 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 a team-high four fumbles this fall, most recently in the fourth quarter against Kansas.
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 15 tackles against Kansas State pushed his career total to 264 tackles, good for sixth 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 moved from ninth to sixth on the career tackle list against Kansas State, and in doing so passed Ed Stewart, Jim Wightman and Marc Munford on the list.
Ruud is just five tackles from the top five on NU’s career tackles list and with two games remaining could move as high as second by season’s end, as he sits 23 tackles behind former All-American Mike Brown. With another season to play, Ruud stands 78 tackles behind NU’s all-time leading tackler Jerry Murtaugh (342, 1968-70).
With two games to play in 2003, Ruud is just 15 tackles shy of Lee Kunz’s single-season record of 141 tackles, set in 1977. Ruud’s 124 tackles ranks sixth on the list.
Ruud’s 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’s performance this fall has not come as a surprise to NU coaches.
"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." –Nebraska Head Coach Frank Solich following season opener
"The guy is a heck of a football player. I feel fortunate to have him as our middle linebacker." –Nebraska defensive coordinator Bo Pelini
Thorpe Semifinalist Bullocks is 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 10th interception of the season against Kansas State, and tied his career-long return of 41 yards. Bullocks’ interception against the Wildcats extended his school and Big 12 record for interceptions in a season. He leads the nation in both total interceptions and interceptions per game (0.91 per contest).
Bullocks’ 10 interceptions have shattered the old Husker season record of seven, held by three players, most recently by Bill Kosch 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 eight of the last 10 games, including four straight contests at one point (Southern Miss-Texas A&M). He has had an interception in each of the last three games.
The 10 interceptions are two better than the previous Big 12 record of eight interceptions by Oklahoma’s J.T. Thatcher in 2000. Among all Big 12 schools only Baylor’s Bob Reid (11 in 1951) has had more interceptions in a season than Bullocks. The Big Eight Conference record for interceptions in a season was nine by Iowa State’s Barry Hill in 1974. The NCAA record for interceptions in a season is 14 by Washington’s Al Worley in 1968.
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 11 career interceptions to rank in a tie for third place at Nebraska. Just a sophomore, he is just three interceptions away from Dana Stephenson’s NU career record of 14 interceptions. The Big 12 record (1996-present) for career interceptions is held by Kansas State’s Dyshod Carter, who had 13 picks from 1997 to 2000.
The 6-0, 195-pound Bullocks has routinely earned praise from his own coaches this season.
"I’ve seen a lot of good safeties and a lot of guys who can play the football. But I don’t know of anyone who has a knack for finding the football like Josh Bullocks has." –Nebraska Defensive Backs Coach Marvin Sanders
The recogntion has reached the national level as well. Bullocks was recently one of 12 players named as a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to the nation’s top defensive back. Bullocks is the only sophomore selected to the list. He also joined linebacker Demorrio Williams on SI.com’s Midseason All-America Team.
In addition to his 10 interceptions, Bullocks has 43 tackles and five pass breakups this fall. Along with his defensive prowess, Bullocks is also a key on NU’s 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 NU’s starting strong safety and has made a strong impression this fall. Daniel Bullocks is fourth on the team with 62 tackles, including 38 solo stops. He made 15 tackles at Texas, tying the most tackles by a Husker defensive back in five years. He nabbed his first career interception at Kansas two weeks ago.
Entire Defensive Unit Helping Blackshirts’ Success
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 51 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 22 career pass breakups, 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.
NU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini has been impressed with the work of NU’s left corner– "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."
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 66 tackles this season to rank third on the team, including eight each against Texas A&M and Kansas. The Husker linebackers combined for a season-high 36 tackles against Kansas, and as a group have posted 25 or more tackles nine 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 59 total tackles this season, the most among Husker defensive linemen and fifth overall on the team. He is tied for third on the team with seven tackles for loss. He also blocked a field goal against Texas.