Nebraska meets its second straight opponent from the Western Athletic Conference Saturday evening when New Mexico State visits Memorial Stadium. Nebraska stands 2-0 on the young season following a 35-12 victory over San Jose State last Saturday. The Huskers used touchdowns by the special teams and defense to pull away from the Spartans with a 21-point fourth quarter.
While the majority of teams have two games under their belt, New Mexico State will open its season in Lincoln this Saturday. The Aggies did not play on Aug. 30 and had their scheduled Sept. 4 game with Nicholls State canceled as a result of Hurricane Gustav.
The matchup will mark the third all-time meeting between Nebraska and New Mexico State. The Huskers defeated NMSU 57-0 in 1979 in Lincoln and blanked the Aggies, 68-0, in 1982.
Nebraska: Bo Pelini (Ohio State ‘90) is in his first season with the Huskers. Pelini owns a 3-0 career record. In addition to 2008 wins over Western Michigan and San Jose State, Pelini led Nebraska to a victory as interim head coach in the 2003 Alamo Bowl. 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.
New Mexico State: Hal Mumme (Tarleton State, ‘75) is 8-29 entering his fourth season as the head coach at New Mexico State. He is 105-93-1 in 19 seasons overall as a collegiate head coach. Mumme previously served as head coach at Iowa Wesleyan, Valdosta State, Kentucky and Southeast Louisiana. This is his first meeting with Nebraska.
Husker Offense Looking to Pile up Big Numbers
Nebraska had one of the nation’s most explosive offenses in the second half of the 2007 season and many of the key players in that effort have returned to the 2008 offense. Nebraska opened the season in strong fashion by piling up 483 total yards in a 47-24 victory over Western Michigan, including 345 yards through the air. Nebraska enters this week’s matchup with New Mexico State averaging 399.0 yards per game, including 280.5 passing yards per game.
NU finished last 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.
Despite gaining only 315 yards in the win over San Jose State, Nebraska boasts impressive numbers over the past several games dating back to last season.
Nebraska has gained 400 total yards or more in six of the past seven games.
The Huskers have passed for at least 200 yards in seven straight games, with five 300-yard games in that stretch.
The Huskers are averaging 518.8 yards per game over their past five games, including 393.8 yards per game through the air. Nebraska is averaging 49.0 points over its past five games.
Among Nebraska’s offensive explosion to finish last year was a 702-yard day against Kansas State, the 10th-best output in school history and the best since 1995.
Huskers Continuing to Light up the Scoreboard
Nebraska has scored at least 35 points in each of its last five games dating back to last season. If the Huskers score at least 35 points against New Mexico State, it will rank as the third-longest streak in school history. The 1989 Huskers scored at least 35 points in eight straight games, while the school record is 13 straight games, which covered the entire 1995 season and the first game of the 1996 campaign.
Nebraska has scored five touchdowns in each of its first two games and has scored five or more touchdowns in each of its last five games.
The last time Nebraska scored at least five touchdowns in five straight games was during the 2001 season, when the offense was directed by Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch. The Huskers’ current streak includes Joe Ganz’s first five career starts.
During the current streak, Nebraska has scored 32 touchdowns, averaging more than six touchdowns per game. That marks the Huskers’ best production since NU scored 35 touchdowns in a five-game stretch in 2000.
Ganz Making Rapid Ascension in NU Record Books
Senior quarterback Joe Ganz has been the man directing the high-octance Husker offense. Ganz started the final three games of the 2007 season and is firmly entrenched as NU’s starter this fall. The Palos Heights, Ill., native has been nothing short of exceptional since taking over the quarterback role.
Ganz has thrown for at least 345 yards in four of his five career starts. He is the only quarterback in school history with four 300-yard passing games. He also produced three of the five 400-yard passing days in school history in his three starts last season and the top two passing games in NU history – 510 yards against Kansas State and 484 yards at Colorado. He also posted the top two total offense games in NU history with 528 yards against KSU and 521 vs. Colorado.
Against San Jose State, Ganz threw for 216 yards. In the process he pushed his career passing total to 2,118 career yards and became the 16th player in school history with 2,000 career passing yards.
Swift Off to Quick Start to Senior Season
Wide receiver Nate Swift has been a key component in the Husker passing game since 2005, and it appears he will be Joe Ganz’s No. 1 target in 2008. Arguably Nebraska’s most experienced player, Swift has played in 40 games with 18 career starts. He opened his senior year with five catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Western Michigan. Against San Jose State, Swift added a team-high six catches for 70 yards.
In the opener vs. WMU, Swift had a career-long 61-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter, bettering a 49-yard reception against Troy in 2006. He added a two-yard TD reception late in the second quarter, giving Nebraska a 34-10 halftime edge.
The two-touchdown effort was the fourth of Swift’s career and pushed his career TD total to 14, good for a tie for fourth on the Nebraska career chart. Swift also tallied his fifth career 100-yard receiving effort, tying him with Irving Fryar for second on that Nebraska career list. Only Johnny Rodgers stands in front of Swift with 10 career 100-yard games.
Swift also has Rodgers’ school record total of 143 career receptions in his sights. Swift enters the New Mexico State game with 114 career catches, good for third on the list. Swift has caught a pass in 34 of 40 career games and has had at least two catches in seven straight games. His six-catch effort against San Jose State marked the eighth time in Swift’s career he had caught at least five passes.
Swift burst onto the scene in 2005, when he caught a Nebraska freshman record 45 passes, including seven touchdown grabs. He added 22 catches as a sophomore. Swift caught 36 passes for 520 yards and three touchdowns as a junior, helping Nebraska to a No. 7 national ranking in passing offense.
Henery Continues Perfect Husker Career
Sophomore place-kicker Alex Henery tied a Memorial Stadium record against Western Michigan, as he booted four field goals in the Huskers’ win. The four field goals, each of which came from 44 yards, not only tied the Memorial Stadium record, but ranked second all-time at Nebraska for most field goals in a game. It also marked just the second time in school history that a kicker has connected on four field goals of 40 yards or more (NCAA record is 5).
The strong performance to open 2008 came on the heels of Henery’s perfect kicking season in 2007. A year ago, he made all eight of his field-goal attempts, while connecting on 45-of-45 PATs.
Henery’s 12 consecutive made field goals is five off the Nebraska and Big 12 record of 17 straight by Kris Brown spanning the 1997 and 1998 seasons.
Henery is 10-of-10 on extra points this season and a perfect 55-of-55 in his career.
Special Teams Makes Statement Early in Season
In addition to Alex Henery’s strong kicking effort to open the season, Nebraska has had several other outstanding efforts on special teams.
Fellow sophomore place-kicker Adi Kunalic has booted nine of 16 kickoffs for touchbacks in 2008. The nine touchbacks are the third-most of any school in the country. Last year, Kunalic delivered 28 touchbacks in 66 attempts and his 42.4 percent touchback rate was the best of any kicker in the country. In his two-year career, Kunalic has produced touchbacks on 37 of 82 kickoffs (45 percent).
In addition to Henery’s 12 field goals and 55 PATs, Kunalic has made the only PAT and field goal attempts of his career. Overall, Nebraska kickers have made 87 consecutive kicks dating back to 2006, including 15 straight field goals and 72 consecutive PATs.
Sophomore Niles Paul provided a spark in Nebraska’s 35-12 win over San Jose State with an 85-yard kickoff return for a TD to give NU a 21-12 lead early in the fourth quarter. Paul’s kickoff return for a touchdown marked the second kickoff return for a score by Nebraska in its last four games (also Cortney Grixby vs. Kansas State in 2007). Before the two recent kickoff returns for touchdowns, Nebraska had not returned a kickoff for a touchdown since 1998. Paul ranks fifth nationally in kickoff returns, averaging 40.0 yards per return. Paul’s performance against San Jose State earned him Big 12 Special Teams Player-of-the-Week honors.
Paul is averaging 13.3 yards per punt return to rank sixth in the Big 12 and 28th nationally.
Three Things To Know About New Mexico State
New Mexico State is making its first appearance of the 2008 season when it faces the Huskers on Saturday. NMSU was originally scheduled to open the season last weekend against Nicholls State at home, but the Colonels opted to cancel the game while preparing for Hurricane Gustav coming through the state of Louisiana. Saturday’s season opener is the latest for the Aggies since opening against Texas-El Paso on Sept. 14, 1991.
The Aggie offense returns eight starters from last year, including one of the nation’s most prolific passers in quarterback Chase Holbrook, who owns three 500-plus yard passing games in his career. Holbrook has passed for more than 3,800 yards each of the past two years and with 3,000 yards this season, he would tie the NCAA record with three 3,000-plus passing yard seasons.
The NMSU program has ties to several current Huskers, including senior long snapper T.J. O'Leary, who began his playing career at New Mexico State before transferring to Nebraska. Offensive line coach Barney Cotton, secondary coach Marvin Sanders and Director of Football Operations Jeff Jamrog all also served as assistant coaches for the Aggies under former NMSU head coach Tony Samuel.