Lincoln - With an efficient offense, an aggressive defense and an impressive kicking game at his disposal, Bo Pelini's first game at Memorial Stadium as Nebraska's head coach produced the same final result as his first game as NU's leader in the 2003 Alamo Bowl - a solid victory.
Pelini, who led NU to a 17-3 win over Michigan State in the 2003 Alamo Bowl, improved to 2-0 all-time as a head coach and 2-0 against teams from the state of Michigan, as the 2008 Huskers cruised to a 47-24 win over the visitors from Western Michigan in front of 84,485 fans in the NCAA record 290th consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium.
It was Nebraska's 23rd consecutive season-opening victory, but the first with Pelini as the Huskers' head coach.
Quarterback Joe Ganz led a high-octane Nebraska offense throughout the night, producing his fourth consecutive 300-plus yard passing game in his fourth consecutive career start. Along with way, he became the first NU quarterback to throw for 300 or more yards four times in his career.
Ganz finished the first game of his senior season by completing 20-of-36 passes for 345 yards and four touchdowns. The native of Palos Heights, Ill., had the high-powered Husker offense firing on all cylinders in the first half, completing 16-of-23 passes for 230 yards and three scores to give NU a 34-10 halftime lead. Ganz guided the Huskers to scores on each of their final six drives of the first half, after NU was forced to punt on its opening drive.
On the night, Nebraska led the Huskers to 483 yards of total offense, including 138 yards rushing. Ganz connected with seven different receivers on the night, including a big game from senior receiver Nate Swift, who hauled in five catches for 121 yards with two touchdowns. It was Swift's fifth career 100-yard receiving game. Menelik Holt added five catches for 59 yards, while Quentin Castille and Todd Peterson each added three receptions.
Ganz, a multi-talented playmaker added 34 yards rushing in the opening half, including a career-long 32-yard run on the opening play of NU's second possession. Ganz's run marked the longest rush by an NU quarterback since Jammal Lord galloped 66 yards against Michigan State in the 2003 Alamo Bowl - Pelini's other appearance as the Husker head coach.
Ganz's big run fueled Nebraska's first scoring drive, capped by senior I-back Marlon Lucky's 14-yard scoring run to give NU a 7-0 lead with 8:06 to play in the opening quarter. After the second stop by a spirited Blackshirt defense, Ganz drove the Huskers 62 yards on eight plays capped with his three-yard scoring pass to McNeill - his first career receiving touchdown - to give NU a 14-0 lead with 55 seconds left in first quarter.
On Western Michigan's ensuing drive, Cody Glenn forced a fumble that was recovered by Eric Hagg. In his first career game as a linebacker, Glenn made a strong opening impression. On WMU's first play from scrimmage, Glenn notched a two-yard tackle for loss. Then after a short gain for the Broncos on second down, Glenn ended Western Michigan's first drive with his first career pass breakup. He ended the first quarter with a team-leading three tackles, including a TFL, a pass breakup and a fumble caused. Glenn finished the night with a team-high 12 tackles, including three tackles for loss and three pass breakups in a huge defensive debut.
Glenn and the Huskers held the Broncos to just eight yards rushing on 25 carries, but Tim Hiller and the WMU offense heated up in the second half, finishing with 350 yards on 49 attempts through the air. Nebraska's defense did finish with seven tackles for loss, including four sacks against the Broncose.
Glenn's forced fumble late in the first quarter eventually set up sophomore place-kicker Alex Henery's 44-yard field goal just 10 seconds into the second half. Henery, who remained perfect on all kicks in his career, was helped by a remarkable hold from Jake Wesch, who had to stand up to catch a high snap and place the ball on the FieldTurf from a half-standing position.
It was the first of four 44-yard field goals by Henery on the night, providing one of the strangest statistical anamoly's in Husker football history. The sophomore place-kicker from Omaha also tied the Memorial Stadium record with four field goals by a Husker, most recently accomplished by Jordan Congdon against Maine in 2005.
With NU leading 17-0 early in the second quarter, Western Michigan finally broke through the NU defense with a 10-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by Hiller's three-yard pass to tight end Branden Ledbetter with 11:07 left in the half. The Blackshirts appeared to have the Broncos stopped early in the drive when Matt O'Hanlon picked off a Hiller pass and returned it 69 yards. But pass interference was whistled on Nebraska's Anthony West to give the Broncos new life.
Although the Broncos cut NU's lead to 17-7, the Huskers needed less than a minute to push the lead back to 17 points, as Ganz hooked up with Swift for a career-long 61-yard touchdown reception with 10:14 remaining in the half.
The Huskers then pushed the lead to 20 points on another 44-yard field goal by Henery, who improved to 10-for-10 in his career on field goal attempts to give NU a 27-7 lead with 4:27 left in the half. The Broncos cut the lead back to 17 with a 19-yard field goal from John Potter with 1:14 left in the half, but a short kickoff and solid return by Curenski Gilleylen set NU up at its own 41 with 1:09 left. Four plays later, Ganz hooked up with Swift for their second touchdown of the night, a two-yard connection with 32 seconds left, to send NU to the locker room with a 34-10 lead.
Henery pushed NU's lead to 37-10 on the Huskers' opening drive of the second half with his third 44-yard field goal of the night with 8:23 left in the game. Following Henery's field goal, the Broncos continued to keep it interesting by marching 80 yards capped by Brandon West's one-yard touchdown run to make in 37-17 NU with 6:11 left in the third quarter.
Ganz and the Husker offense answered quickly again, flying 74 yards in just two plays, capped by Ganz's 19-yard scoring strike to Lucky, which was set up by a brilliant 55-yard pass and catch from Ganz to tight end Dreu Young.
Although the Huskers led 44-17, the Broncos refused to be broken, marching 80 yards in eight plays in 2:05, capped by Hiller's nine-yard touchdown pass to Juan Nunez with 14:43 left in the game to trim NU's lead to 44-24.
Henery booted his fourth 44-yard field goal of the day with 5:22 left in the fourth quarter to improve to a perfect 12-for-12 on field goal attempts in his NU career. Through 13 career games, Henery has never missed a field goal or an extra point.
Nebraska continues its five-game season-opening homestand next Saturday, when the Huskers play host to San Jose State. Kickoff at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 6, is set for 11:30 a.m. with a live pay-per-view telecast. Husker fans can visit Huskers.com throughout the week for updated pay-per-view provider information from Fox Sports.
Scoring (Nebraska 47, Western Michigan 24)
Saturday, Aug. 30, 2008
Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, Neb.)
First Quarter (Nebraska 14, Western Michigan 0)
NU - Marlon Lucky 14 run (Henery kick), 8:06
NU - Mike McNeill 3 pass from Joe Ganz (Henery kick), 0:55
Second Quarter (Nebraska 34, Western Michigan 10)
NU - Henery 44 FG, 14:50
WMU - Branden Ledbetter 3 pass from Tim Hiller (John Potter kick), 11:07
NU - Nate Swift 61 pass from Ganz (Henery kick), 10:14
NU - Henery 44 FG, 4:27
WMU - Potter 19 FG, 1:15
NU - Swift 2 pass from Ganz (Henery kick), 0:32
Third Quarter (Nebraska 44, Western Michigan 17)
NU - Henery 44 FG, 8:23
WMU - Brandon West 1 run (Potter kick), 6:11
NU - Lucky 19 pass from Ganz (Henery kick), 1:48
Fourth Quarter (Nebraska 47, Western Michigan 24)
WMU - Juan Nunez 9 pass from Hiller (Potter kick), 14:43
NU - Henery 44 FG, 1:46