Lincoln - Nebraska's offense did not put up big numbers, but defense and special teams made huge plays to propel the Cornhuskers to a 35-12 victory over San Jose State on Saturday afternoon.
Playing in front of the NCAA record 291st consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium and a Fox Sports pay-per-view television audience, the Huskers improved to 2-0 on the season despite mustering just 315 yards against a stingy Spartan defense. SJSU slipped to 1-1 on the year.
San Jose State's inspired defensive play kept their offense within striking distance into the fourth quarter, when Jared Strubeck kicked a 27-yard field goal with 12:17 left to pull within 14-12 of the Huskers.
But sophomore Niles Paul electrified the 84,145 fans that packed Memorial Stadium just seconds later, exploding down the Husker sideline for an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to put Nebraska on top 21-12.
The spectacular special teams sprint inspired an already focused Blackshirt defense on the next SJSU possession. On the Spartans' first play, Zach Potter and Philip Dillard met each other on top of SJSU quarterback Kyle Reed for a sack. Reed left the game with a concussion, and reserve quarterback Myles Edens misfired on two pass attempts to force a punt. Philip Zavala then uncorked a short 27-yard punt to give NU possession at the SJSU 35.
Five plays later, Roy Helu Jr., put the Spartans away with a 14-yard touchdown run to give NU a 28-12 lead with 9:05 left in the game.
On San Jose State's next drive, Potter made his third game-changing defensive play of the day by bursting through the Spartan line and intercepting a dart that Edens fired right into his numbers to stop an SJSU threat. Potter's second career interception stopped the Spartans' final offensive threat of the game.
Early in the game, Potter had a hand in an interception by a Husker defensive lineman when he batted down a Reed pass attempt near midfield. NU defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh grabbed the ball out of the air and rumbled 49 yards for a touchdown to give the Huskers a 14-6 lead. It was Suh's second career interception and the first touchdown by the Nebraska defensive player since Bo Ruud's interception return against Iowa State at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 29, 2007.
Despite the lopsided final score, the Spartans showed from the start that they planned to be in the game for four quarters. SJSU struck first by marching 59 yards on five plays on their opening drive, capped by Reed's 12-yard touchdown run with 9:48 left in the opening quarter. However, Louis Schuman's extra-point attempt failed and SJSU settled for an early 6-0 lead.
Schuman's missed kick marked the beginning of a miserable special teams day for the Spartans. Overall, SJSU missed an extra point, two field goals, allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown, and shanked a 27-yard punt to set up NU's fourth score of the game.
Nebraska answered San Jose State's first score on NU's second drive with a nine-play, 86-yard march that culminated with Quentin Castille's three-yard touchdown plunge. Alex Henery's extra point gave the Huskers their first lead of the day at 7-6 with 5:16 left in the first quarter. Helu played a major role on the drive, producing the biggest play with his 27-yard reception to move the Huskers to the SJSU 26. On the next play, Helu erupted up the middle on 17-yard run to put NU on the Spartan 9.
Suh's interception return for a touchdown with 3:09 left in the opening quarter put NU up 14-6, but San Jose State pulled closer midway through the second quarter on Schuman's 41-yard field with 7:09 left. Schuman's kick capped a nine-play, 50-yard drive by the Spartans to pull SJSU within 14-9.
After a scoreless third quarter, San Jose State inched closer with Strubeck's 27-yard field goal to trim NU's lead to 14-12 with 12:17 left. The Spartans were able to pull within two points after Castille fumbled a pitch from quarterback Joe Ganz near midfield to set up SJSU with a short field.
It was all Huskers the rest of the way, as Paul's kickoff return preceded Helu's score to give NU a 28-12 lead with 9:05 left. Potter's interception then set up Nebraska's final score, a two-yard scoring run by senior Marlon Lucky with 3:03 left to produce the final margin.
Ganz led the NU offense by completing 17-of-25 passes for 216 yards on the afternoon. He went without a touchdown pass for the first time in his five career starts, and he did throw one interception. Helu led the Husker rushing game with 59 yards and a touchdown on nine carries, while Lucky added 23 yards and a score on seven totes.
Nebraska senior wide receivers Nate Swift (6 rec., 70 yards) and Todd Peterson (4 rec., 59 yards) combined for 10 catches on the afternoon to help the Husker offense.
In addition to the big defensive plays from Potter and Suh, fellow defensive lineman Pierre Allen had a huge day with a team-leading 10 tackles, including two for losses and a pass breakup. Armando Murillo and Dillard each added eight stops, including single tackles for loss.
Reed completed 18-of-26 passes for 161 yards and an interception to lead a Spartan offense that finished with 353 total yards. Yonus Davis led the SJSU running game with seven carries for 58 yards, while David Richmond hauled in five catches for 59 yards. Kevin Jurovich pitched in four receptions for a team-high 84 yards on the afternoon. Travis Jones and Justil Cole each noched eight tackles to lead the Spartan defense.
Nebraska continues its five-game season-opening homestand next Saturday, when the Huskers play host to New Mexico State. Kickoff at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 13, is set for 6 p.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 35, San Jose State 12)
Saturday, Sept. 6, 2008
Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, Neb.)
First Quarter (Nebraska 14, San Jose State 6)
SJSU - Kyle Reed 12 run (Louis Schuman kick failed), 9:48
NU - Quentin Castille 3 run (Alex Henery kick), 5:16
NU - Ndamukong Suh 49 interception return (Henery kick), 3:09
Second Quarter (Nebraska 14, San Jose State 9)
SJSU - Will Johnson 41 FG, 7:09
Third Quarter (Nebraska 14, San Jose State 9)
Fourth Quarter (Nebraska 35, San Jose State 12)
SJSU - Jared Strubeck 27 FG, 12:17
NU - Niles Paul 85 kickoff return (Henery kick), 12:07
NU - Roy Helu Jr. 14 run (Henery kick), 9:05
NU - Marlon Lucky 2 run (Henery kick), 3:03