Huskers Host Broncos in Season Opener

By NU Athletic Communications
Joe Ganz returns for his senior season after throwing for 1,399 yards over the final three games of 2007.
Joe Ganz returns for his senior season after throwing for 1,399 yards over the final three games of 2007.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Nebraska kicks off its 119th season of intercollegiate football with a Saturday evening matchup at Memorial Stadium against Western Michigan. Under first-year head coach Bo Pelini, Nebraska will look to rebound from a 5-7 campaign in 2007. The Broncos were also 5-7 in 2007 and finished in a third-place tie in the Mid-American Conference’s West division. WMU closed last season with victories over Iowa and Temple.

The Series
The matchup will mark the first meeting between Nebraska and Western Michigan. This marks the second straight season Nebraska has faced a MAC opponent after a 41-40 victory over Ball State last year in Lincoln. The Broncos played at Missouri during the 2007 season.

The Coaches
Nebraska: Bo Pelini (Ohio State ‘90) is in his first season with the Huskers. Pelini owns a 1-0 career record, having led Nebraska to a 17-3 victory over Michigan State in the 2003 Alamo Bowl while serving as interim head coach. Pelini has served as defensive coordinator at Nebraska, Oklahoma and most recently LSU over the past five seasons. Previously, he had stints as an NFL assistant with San Francisco, New England and Green Bay.

Western Michigan: Bill Cubit (Delaware ‘75) is 20-16 entering his fourth season as the Broncos head coach. He is in his 32nd season overall in the coaching profession.

Nebraska Football
Nebraska is 808-333-40 all-time, one of just four schools with 800 all-time victories. w Nebraska has won five national championships (1970, 1971, 1994, 1995, 1997). w The Cornhuskers have won 43 conference championships. w Nebraska’s 44 all-time bowl appearances rank fifth nationally. w Since 1970, Nebraska has 374 wins, 29 more than any other school in the country. w Nebraska’s 96 football Academic All-Americans leads the nation. w The Huskers have had 106 All-Americans in school history.

Western Michigan Contest Kicks off Difficult 2008 Schedule
Saturday night’s matchup with Western Michigan kicks off a difficult 2008 slate for the Huskers. The Huskers faced 10 bowl teams a year ago, along with four teams that finished in the top 10 and this year’s schedule figures to provide similar challenges.

  • Six of Nebraska’s 12 regular-season contests are against teams who participated in a bowl game following the 2007 campaign. Among the group are three teams that played in the Bowl Championship Series, including Virginia Tech (Orange), Oklahoma (Fiesta) and Kansas (Orange). Missouri (Cotton), Texas Tech (Gator) and Colorado (Independence) also played in a bowl game following last season.
  • Four of Nebraska’s 2008 opponents finished in the top 10 in the national polls last fall, including Missouri (4-AP, 5–Coaches), Kansas (7), Oklahoma (8) and Virginia Tech (9).
  • NU is one of just four teams in the country scheduled to play three 2007 BCS teams this fall, and one of two teams who will face four foes who were ranked in the final top 10.

Games Against 2007 Top 10 Teams
4–Nebraska, Colorado
3–Auburn, Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech

Games Against 2007 BCS Teams
3–Nebraska, Auburn, Cincinnati, Florida

Huskers Look to Continue Season-Opening Success
The Huskers have a history of success to start the season. Last year Nebraska defeated Nevada, 52-10, in the season opener for its nation-leading 22nd straight victory in a season opener. The Huskers will look to extend that streak to 23 against Western Michigan on Saturday night.

The Huskers have won each of their last 22 season openers by 10 or more points, and own an 87-26-5 all-time record in season openers. Nebraska has scored 40 or more points in the season opener in 15 of the past 22 seasons. In that same period, the Huskers have limited the opposition to 14 points or less 15 times. Nebraska’s 22-game win streak in season openers is four better than the 18 straight opening wins by Florida.

NU Hopes to Build on Opening Homestand
Nebraska will have the benefit of eight home games in 2008, including each of the Huskers’ first five games. The 2008 season marks just the sixth time in school history and the first time since 2002 that Nebraska has played eight home games. Nebraska also opened the 2005 campaign with five straight home games (4-1), but this year’s schedule is just the fifth time in NU history the Huskers have played five home games to open a season. Nebraska is the only Football Bowl Subdivision team to open 2008 with five home games.

Pelini Debuts at Nebraska on Aug. 30 for Second Time
Bo Pelini will take the field at Memorial Stadium as Nebraska’s head coach for the first time on Saturday night. The Aug. 30 matchup with Western Michigan comes exactly five years to the day (Aug. 30, 2003) after Pelini made his debut as NU’s defensive coordinator against Oklahoma State with an impressive defensive performance.

In the 2003 matchup, Pelini’s defense held the high-powered Cowboy offense to just 183 total yards in a 17-7 NU victory. OSU led 7-3 at halftime, but the Blackshirts took over in the second half. Oklahoma State had seven second-half drives, with six of those lasting four plays or fewer and resulting in four yards or less.

Nebraska also forced four second-half turnovers, including a Barrett Ruud fumble return for a touchdown to give the Huskers a 10-7 lead. Another NU fumble recovery in the third quarter set up the Huskers’ second touchdown for a 17-7 lead. Overall, Nebraska gave up just 47 yards after halftime, including just 21 in the fourth quarter. Nebraska forced five turnovers in the game, one of 10 games in 2003 in which Pelini’s defense forced three or more turnovers.

Huskers Look to Continue Magic Under Memorial Stadium Lights
Nebraska has had great success when playing under the lights at Memorial Stadium. Since the first night game in Lincoln in 1986, Nebraska has posted a 24-3 record under the lights at home. Nebraska’s lone setbacks under the Memorial Stadium lights were a 36-21 loss to No. 4 Washington in 1991, a 27-24 loss against No. 7 Texas in 2002 and a 49-31 loss to No. 1 USC in 2007.

The Huskers’ dominance at night in Lincoln has been impressive, as 21 of the 24 home night wins have been decided by 13 points or more. Nebraska is 13-2 in home night games against non-conference opponents, and 4-3 against ranked opponents at night in Lincoln.

Huskers Hope to Continue Offensive Success in 2008
Nebraska will look to build on the offensive momentum it established late in the 2007 season. The Huskers welcome back a core of players who served key roles in Nebraska’s 2007 offensive success. NU finished the year ranked ninth nationally in total offense at 468.3 yards per game, and seventh in passing at 323.8 yards per game. The passing average was a school record, while the total offensive average was Nebraska’s best in a decade.

The offensive numbers peaked after an explosive month of November. Nebraska averaged a gaudy 598.7 total yards, 469.3 yards passing yards and 53.3 points per game over the season’s final three contests. Nebraska rolled up 702 yards of total offense against Kansas State, the No. 10 offensive total in school history and the best since 1995.

Nebraska-Western Michigan Series History:
The 2008 meeting between Nebraska and Western Michigan will be the first in program history.

Nebraska-Western Michigan Notes

  • Despite not having any players from the state of Nebraska on its roster, at least two members of the 2008 Western Michigan Broncos have ties to the Cornhuskers. Assistant coach Mike Grant played for and was a graduate assistant coach at his alma mater Nebraska (1992) and now is in his first season as wide receivers coach at WMU. Previously he coached against the Huskers when he was an assistant at Iowa State from 1998 to 2006. Along with Grant, senior cornerback Londen Fryar is tied to the Nebraska program, as he is the son of former NFL No. 1 draft pick and Cornhusker great Irving Fryar.
  • Western Michigan owns a 1-3 all-time record against Big 12 Conference teams, with a 1-1 mark against Iowa State and an 0-2 record against Missouri. The Bronco’s last meeting with a Big 12 school came last year when WMU fell to Missouri 52-24. The lone win against a Big 12 team came with a 23-19 win over Iowa State in 1994.

Three Things To Know About Western Michigan
1) Western Michigan returns 19 players who made at least three starts last year, including 11 who started at least 11 games (7, defense; 4, offense). On special teams, WMU will be breaking in a new place-kicker and new punter.

2) Despite finishing with a 5-7 record last year, the Broncos ended on a strong note as they won at Iowa, 28-19, and at home against Temple, 16-3. WMU will try to use that momentum to snap a string of six straight losses in season openers away from Kalamazoo, Mich. The last time WMU won a season opener on the road was 1994 when it defeated Miami (Ohio).

3) The Broncos have had a pair of second-round NFL picks in the past three years under head coach Bill Cubit. In the 2006 NFL Draft, Greg Jennings was selected in the second round (52nd overall) by Green Bay while tight end Tony Scheffler was also a second-round pick (61st) by Denver.

Breaking Down the Broncos
Western Michigan returns 13 letterwinners on offense, including quarterback Tim Hiller, who came back from injury to post 3,021 passing yards and 20 touchdowns last season. Hiller’s favorite target, wide receiver Jamarko Simmons, returns after hauling in 84 catches for 980 yards and six TDs in 2007. Also back this year is running back Brandon West, who ran for 848 yards on 183 carries as a sophomore.

The WMU defense will be a strength as it returns 11 of its top 12 tacklers from last fall. Leading the way, senior linebacker Boston McCornell posted 99 tackles with eight tackles for loss last year. Up front, defensive ends Zach Davidson and Greg Marshall each notched 6.5 sacks last year and combined for more than 90 tackles. The secondary will again be led by Londen Fryar, a senior cornerback who had 63 tackles and led the squad with 16 pass breakups in 2007.

Special Teams
The Broncos will have a large hole to fill as they have to replace last year’s starting punter and place-kicker. Punter Jim Laney averaged 43.9 yards per punt last fall while kicker Mike Jones hit 11-of-15 field-goal attempts and was 31-of-36 on PATs.


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