Game 9–No. 12/9 Nebraska (7-1, 3-1) at No. 16/16 Texas (6-2, 3-1)
Date: Saturday, Nov. 1, 2003
Time: 11:10 a.m.(CDT)
Site: Austin, Texas
Stadium: Darrel K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium
Surface: Natural Grass
Nebraska Radio: 57-station Pinnacle Sports Network (Jim Rose–Play-by-Play; Adrian Fiala–Analyst; Gary Sharp–Sideline; Randy Lee-Booth, Pregame);
Internet: Live Radio on Huskers.com
TV: ABC, Split National (Gary Thorne-Play-by-Play; David Norrie-Color)
Lincoln -- Big 12 North Division leader Nebraska faces one of its toughest tests of the season this Saturday as the Huskers travel to Austin, Texas, to face the Texas Longhorns. Nebraska is 7-1 on the season, and 3-1 in the Big 12 Conference after a 28-0 shutout of Iowa State on Saturday in Lincoln. The shutout was Nebraska’s second in four games and helped NU to its 13th straight victory against Iowa State in Lincoln.
Nebraska rose in both of this week’s national polls, moving back into the top 10 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll at No. 9, while rising two spots to No. 12 in the Associated Press Poll. Nebraska’s 3-1 Big 12 Conference mark has it at the top of the league’s North Division, one game in front of Missouri, Kansas State and Kansas.
The Huskers will try to keep hold on their division lead this Saturday against the nationally ranked Longhorns. Texas enters the contest ranked 16th in both of this week’s polls. The ‘Horns are 6-2 overall this season and are a game behind Oklahoma in the South Division with a 3-1 conference record.
Both Nebraska and Texas have rebounded from their only conference losses on Oct. 11. Since Nebraska’s 41-24 loss at Missouri, the Huskers have outscored Texas A&M and Iowa State 76-12, and have not allowed an offensive touchdown. Texas has been just as impressive the past two weeks, dominating Iowa State and Baylor by a combined score of 96-19, including a 56-0 shutout of Baylor on Saturday night.
Saturday’s game marks the 10th all-time meeting between the two storied programs, with Texas holding a 5-4 edge in the series. The Longhorns have won four of the past five meetings between the two schools, including a 24-20 win in Austin in 1999, Nebraska’s only visit to Texas’ Memorial Stadium in the past 42 years.
The game will mark Nebraska’s second contest this season against a ranked opponent. In its season opener, Nebraska posted a 17-7 victory over then-No. 24 Oklahoma State. Kickoff on Saturday in Austin is set for 11:10 a.m. with the game televised to about half of the country on ABC.
Special Teams, Defense Key NU Shutout of Iowa State
Nebraska overwhelmed Iowa State with special teams and defense, as the Huskers improved to 7-1 on the season and 3-1 in the Big 12 North with a 28-0 victory over the Cyclones last Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
The Huskers, who clinched a 42nd consecutive winning regular season with the victory, blocked two Cyclone punts, including one that was returned for a score, and forced three turnovers to avenge a 36-14 setback to ISU in Ames last season. The Huskers struck early, converting two blocked punts into touchdowns en route to a 21-0 first-quarter lead in posting their 13th consecutive win over the Cyclones in Lincoln. It was the third straight year that NU blocked at least one Cyclone punt, while the two blocks on Saturday marked NU’s highest total since a two-block effort against Kansas last season.
Nebraska posted its second shutout of the year and has not allowed an offensive touchdown in eight quarters - dating back to the fourth quarter against Missouri on Oct. 11. At home, the Blackshirts have been even stingier, not allowing an offensive touchdown in its last 14 quarters, dating back to Sept. 13. NU allowed just 95 yards before halftime, as the Cyclones did not cross midfield until 1:48 remaining in the half, and allowed just 230 yards of total offense in posting their second shutout of the season.
Josh Bullocks, who entered the contest with a nation-leading seven interceptions, sparked the Huskers on special teams with his first career punt block, giving the Huskers possession at the 19-yard line. NU capitalized on the block, as Jammal Lord scored on a one-yard run on fourth-and-goal, giving the Huskers a 7-0 lead.
The Huskers showed their big-play potential on the next series, going 79 yards in three plays to extend the lead to 14-0. Lord, who didn’t play in the second half, broke open a 2nd-and-1 play for 31 yards to the ISU 39 before the Husker QB had a key block to spring wide receiver Isaiah Fluellen for a 39-yard scoring jaunt around left end.
Fluellen, who entered the game with 17 yards rushing on three carries, led Nebraska with 78 yards on five carries, as Nebraska totaled 282 yards on the ground. The Huskers were able to spread the wealth, as nine different players had at least one rushing attempt, while four NU players rushed for at least 40 yards.
Nebraska’s special teams struck again later in the first quarter, as Demorrio Williams blocked Tony Yelk’s punt which Bullocks scooped up and went 26 yards for his first career touchdown, giving NU a 21-0 advantage 14 minutes into the contest.
The opportunistic Blackshirts helped NU extend its lead to 28-0 on Josh Davis’ one-yard plunge with 8:46 remaining in the half. Trevor Johnson stripped Cyclone quarterback Austin Flynn, and Benard Thomas recovered at the ISU 21-yard line. Lord, who completed 2-of-3 passes for 19 yards and rushed for 46 yards on five carries, found Matt Herian for a 16-yard completion to the ISU 5-yard line before Davis capped the drive with runs of four yards and one yard, leaping over the pile for his second score of the season.
Recapping Game Eight...Nebraska 28, Iowa State 0
Nebraska Head Coach Frank Solich posted his 56th win and broke the record for most wins by a Nebraska head coach in the first six seasons, surpassing Tom Osborne’s 55 wins from 1973 to 1978. Solich improved to 5-1 against ISU, including 3-0 in Lincoln.
The Huskers’ seventh victory of the season ensured Nebraska of a 42nd consecutive winning regular season and NU’s 41st winning season in the last 42 years.
Nebraska improved to 6-0 at home this season and 101-5 at Memorial Stadium in the last 16 seasons with its 13th straight win over Iowa State in Lincoln.
Nebraska’s shutout was its second of the season and sixth under Head Coach Frank Solich. The shutout marked Nebraska’s first against Iowa State since 1985, and gave NU two shutouts in a season for the first time since 1999. Nebraska has not allowed an offensive touchdown in eight quarters and has not allowed an offensive touchdown in its last 14 quarters at home.
Nebraska increased its nation-leading takeaway total to 32 with three against Iowa State. NU’s three turnovers gained led to seven points, giving 103 points off turnovers this season. Nebraska’s two blocked punts led to 14 points.
Nebraska has blocked at least one punt each of the last three years vs. the Cyclones. The last time Nebraska blocked two points in a game was last season against Kansas when Lannie Hopkins blocked two punts, including one returned for a touchdown.
Nebraska senior defensive end Trevor Johnson tied for the team lead with a career-high 12 tackles, including his 20th career tackle for loss, and also caused a fumble.
Junior linebacker Barrett Ruud tied Johnson for the team lead with 12 tackles, to tie his career high. It marked the fifth time this season Ruud has totaled double figures in tackles, including each of the last three games.
Nebraska was led in rushing by wide receiver Isaiah Fluellen who had 78 yards on five carries. It was the most rushing yards by an NU receiver since Dana Brinson had 83 yards on four carries vs. Missouri in 1986. It also marked the first time a receiver has led Nebraska in rushing since Kenny Brown had eight carries for 111 yards on Oct. 20, 1979, against Oklahoma State. Fluellen scored on a 39-yard reverse in the first quarter and has scored touchdowns on three of his 11 offensive touches this season.
Nebraska quarterback Jammal Lord saw limited action vs. Iowa State, but did carry five times for 46 yards and a touchdown. He has now rushed for nine touchdowns this season, including at least one rushing TD in each of Nebraska’s last seven games.
Sophomore cornerback Fabian Washington broke up two passes to give him eight this season and 21 in his career. Washington is tied for fifth on the NU career pass breakups list.
Nebraska had two interceptions in the game, marking the fifth straight game NU has had at least two picks. NU has caused at least two turnovers in every game this season. Josh Bullocks’ streak of four games with at least one interception ended, but he scored his first career TD on a blocked punt return in the first quarter.
I-back Cory Ross tied his career high with nine carries and had a career-best 54 yards rushing.
Texas enters Saturday’s game with a 6-2 record, including a 3-1 mark in the Big 12 Conference. The Longhorns are ranked 16th in both of this week’s polls. Texas had a long home winning streak snapped earlier this season by Arkansas, 38-28, before winning three straight games, and losing to top-ranked Oklahoma. The Longhorns have posted lopsided road victories each of the past two weeks, winning 40-19 at Iowa State and 56-0 at Baylor on Saturday night.
The Longhorns feature a high-powered offense that ranks third nationally in scoring offense at 42.3 points per game. Texas has scored more than 40 points five times this season, including two scoring outbursts of 60 points or more. Texas’ running game averages 205.1 yards per game to rank 16th in the nation and fifth in the Big 12. Tailback Cedric Benson paces the rushing attack with 498 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Benson rushed for more than 1,000 yards in both of his first two seasons in a Longhorn uniform.
Texas has alternated quarterbacks throughout the season, with junior Chance Mock and redshirt freshman Vince Young both seeing extensive playing time. Young has started the past two games and has completed 59 percent of his passes this season, while also rushing for 550 yards and eight touchdowns. He averages better than eight yards per carry. Mock has 14 touchdown passes with just one interception. Senior Roy Williams is Texas’ top receiver and one of the nation’s best at his position. Williams has 40 receptions for 636 yards this season, and has caught seven touchdown passes. Williams had 13 catches last season against Nebraska.
Defensively, Texas is allowing 323.0 yards per game to rank fourth in the Big 12 and is among the nation’s best units against the pass, allowing just 156.8 yards per game through the air. The Longhorn defense is led by junior linebacker Derrick Johnson who has 79 tackles, including nine tackles for loss, and he has also added three interceptions to tie cornerback Nathan Vasher for the team lead. Strong safety Phillip Geiggar has added 55 tackles for the ‘Horns, while defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs has 55 tackles, including eight tackles for loss, and has added 17 QB pressures.
The Longhorns have excellent return threats in the special teams, with Vasher averaging 14.7 yards per punt return, while Selvin Young is averaging 26.9 yards on kickoff returns. Place-kicker Dusty Mangum has connected on all four of his field goal attempts and 36-of-37 of his extra points.
Texas Coach Mack Brown
Mack Brown is in his sixth season as the Longhorns’ head coach and owns a 55-17 record during his stay in Austin. Brown is in his 20th season overall as a collegiate head coach and has posted a 141-91-1 record. Before taking over the reins of the Longhorn program, Brown had head coaching stops at North Carolina, Tulane, and Appalachian State. Brown has guided Texas to at least nine wins and bowl games in each of his first five seasons in Austin. Brown is 3-1 against Nebraska and Frank Solich, 1-0 vs. the Huskers in Austin.
Nebraska-Texas Series...UT leads 5-4
Texas holds a 5-4 edge in the nine-game series between the two schools and has won four of the five meetings since the formation of the Big 12 Conference, including all three regular-season matchups. The teams have met twice in the Big 12 Championship Game with the Longhorns upsetting No. 3 Nebraska, 37-27, in the inaugural league title game in 1996, before the Huskers gained revenge with a 22-6 victory in the 1999 championship contest. Brief recaps of the five most recent meetings can be found on page 5.
Saturday’s game marks just the third time the schools have met in Austin. Nebraska posted a 14-13 upset of fourth-ranked Texas in 1960 in its first visit to Austin, while the ‘Horns defeated No. 3 Nebraska, 24-20, in 1999, marking the Huskers’ only loss that season. Texas owns a 3-1 record in Lincoln, while Nebraska holds a 2-1 advantage at neutral sites, including a 19-3 victory in the 1974 Cotton Bowl.
The Longhorns ended Nebraska’s 26-game home winning streak last year, holding on for a 27-24 victory. Texas used a ball-control passing attack to key the victory. Quarterback Chris Simms threw for a career-high 419 yards and two touchdown in the game. Wideout Roy Williams was on the receiving end of both of Simms’ TD passes, part of his 13-catch evening. Nebraska quarterback Jammal Lord had a record-setting game of his own, rushing 23 times for a Nebraska quarterback record 234 yards. He also threw for 98 yards, but was intercepted twice, including a pick with 10 seconds remaining that ended NU’s upset bid.
NU-Texas Series Notes
Texas is one of only two teams to win in Lincoln since 1991, ending Nebraska’s 47-game home winning streak in 1998, and stopping NU’s 26-game run last season.
At least one team has been ranked in nine of the 10 all-time meetings between the two schools, with both teams ranked in four meetings, including 2003.
The 2003 game marks the first time in the past eight meetings that one of the teams has not been ranked in the top 10 according to the Associated Press.
Only three times in series history has the higher-ranked team won, while three times an unranked team has defeated a top-10 team.
The two previous meetings in Austin have been decided by a total of five points, and four games in the series have been decided by four points or less.
Huskers from Texas
Nebraska has 14 players on its roster from the state of Texas, the most of any state other than Nebraska. Three starters hail from the Lone Star State–linebackers Demorrio Williams (Beckville) and T.J. Hollowell (Copperas Cove), and place-kicker David Dyches (Spring). Other players from Texas who could see action include offensive guard Greg Austin (Cypress), offensive tackle Nick Povendo (Keller), cornerback Willie Amos (Sweetwater) and wide receiver Grant Mulkey (Arlington).
Recent NU-Texas Matchups
Texas holds a 5-4 edge in the all-time series between the two schools, and has won four of the five meetings between the two schools since the inception of the Big 12 Conference. Four of those five games have not been decided until the game’s final minutes. A brief recap of the past five meetings between the two schools is below.
Dec. 7, 1996, St. Louis, Mo., Big 12 Championship Game (AP gametime rank)
Nebraska (3) 27; Texas 37
Texas ended Nebraska’s hopes for a third consecutive national championship with a 37-27 upset in the first Big 12 Championship Game at the TWA Dome in St. Louis. The Huskers took a 27-23 lead early in the fourth quarter of a see-saw affair, before Texas jumped in front 30-27 with less than nine minutes remaining. The Longhorns iced the game with a touchdown with less than two minutes remaining after converting a 4th-and-inches play from deep in their own territory. Texas rolled up 503 yards of total offense, and ended NU’s 31-game win streak against conference opponents.
Oct. 31, 1998, Lincoln, Neb.
Texas 20; Nebraska (7) 16
Texas again snapped a long Husker streak, this time ending Nebraska’s school-record home win streak at 47 games. Texas jumped to a 10-0 first-half lead, before Nebraska rallied to take a 13-10 lead in the third quarter. The teams traded field goals early in the fourth period, before Texas pulled out the victory with a touchdown with less than three minutes remaining. Heisman winner Ricky Williams rushed 37 times for 150 yards, while future Heisman winner Eric Crouch carried 17 times for 108 yards and a touchdown.
Oct. 23, 1999, Austin, Texas
Nebraska (3) 20; Texas (18) 24
Texas rallied from a 13-3 halftime deficit to knock off a top-10 Husker team for the third time in four seasons. UT took a 17-13 edge in the third quarter, before Nebraska responded with an Eric Crouch touchdown midway through the fourth quarter for a 20-17 lead. Texas pulled out the win with a touchdown pass in the final six minutes and held on to win. Nebraska outgained Texas 429 to 275 in the game, but fumbled three times, including twice inside the Longhorn 20, and did not force a Texas turnover.
Dec. 4, 1999, San Antonio, Texas, Big 12 Championship Game
Texas (12) 6; Nebraska (3) 22
Nebraska avenged its only defeat of the season with a 22-6 defeat of Texas in the Big 12 title game in San Antonio, giving the Huskers their second Big 12 crown in three seasons, and first under Frank Solich. The Blackshirt defense dominated the contest, holding Texas to just 178 yards of total offense and sacking the quarterback seven times, while forcing four turnovers. The Longhorns rushed for just nine yards and did not score an offensive touchdown in the game.
Nov. 2, 2002, Lincoln, Neb.
Texas (7) 27; Nebraska 24
Nebraska again saw a long home winning streak end at the hands of Texas, as the Longhorns stopped a late Husker rally to hold on for a 27-24 victory in Lincoln. Texas appeared to put the game away with 3:24 remaining on a Cedric Benson TD run that gave UT a 27-17 advantage. However, Nebraska quickly scored to cut the lead to 27-24, and after a defensive stop, Husker punt returner DeJuan Groce set up the Huskers inside the UT 20 yard line. The NU comeback fell short, however, when a Jammal Lord pass was intercepted by UT’s Nathan Vasher with 10 seconds remaining. Lord rushed for 234 yards in the game.
Huskers-’Horns Matchups Tight on Scoreboard and Stat Sheet
The last five meetings between Nebraska and Texas have produced a series of heart-stopping fourth quarter finishes. Although Texas holds a 4-1 edge in those games, a statistical breakdown of those five games reveals exactly how tight the series has been.
Texas has outscored NU 114-109 in the five games, or an average score of 22.8-21.8, with three of the five games decided by five points or less.
NU has averaged 369.0 yards of total offense in the last five games with Texas, while the ‘Horns have a slight edge averaging 370.4 yards per game.
Nebraska holds a significant edge on the ground, averaging 236.6 yards per game to Texas’ 85.2 rushing yards per contest. Nebraska has held Texas to less than 80 yards rushing in each of the last three meetings, while the Huskers have had an individual rush for more than 100 yards in all five recent meetings with Texas.
Nebraska, Texas Share Rich History
Nebraska and Texas both once again find themselves in the national rankings this season. The programs are two of college football’s most successful, as they rank third and fourth, respectively, in all-time victories. Nebraska and Texas have won a combined eight national championships, including 1970 when Nebraska captured the AP title, while Texas was awarded the UPI crown. The schools have combined for 69 conference championships, and three of the first seven Big 12 crowns. The teams met in two of the league’s first four title games, and have each made three Big 12 Championship Game appearances, more than any other league school.
Nebraska Head Coach Frank Solich
Coach Frank Solich (Nebraska, 1966) is in his sixth season at the helm of the Husker program with a 56-17 school and career record (.767). Solich ranks fifth 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 28-0 shutout of Iowa State gave Solich 56 wins in his first six seasons, the most by an NU head coach in his first six years, one 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.
Fresh Faces on Husker Sidelines for 2003 Season
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 join 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.
Huskers Rank Among Nation’s Best in Solich Tenure
Nebraska and Texas not only rank as two of the top programs in college football history, but also rank high among the nation’s best teams since Frank Solich and Mack Brown took over the two programs in 1998. The Huskers are 56-17 under Solich, while Brown has compiled a 55-17 record during his tenure in Austin. Nebraska and Texas are two of four Big 12 programs that rank among the nation’s top 10 by record since the start of the 1998 season. The Huskers are tied for eighth on the list with Big 12 North rival Kansas State, while Texas is just behind in 10th place on the chart.
Scanning the Polls
The Huskers are ranked ninth in this week’s ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, up two spots from last week and are 12th in the AP poll, a two-spot promotion. Nebraska is one of five Big 12 teams ranked this week, joining Oklahoma (1 AP/1 Coaches), Oklahoma State (14/15), Texas (16/16) and Missouri (21/24). Meanwhile, Kansas State is 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 they continued to rise until a 41-24 setback at Missouri.
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 531 of 546 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 three weeks ago 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.
Shutout of Iowa State Latest Show of Dominance by NU Defense
Nebraska’s 28-0 whitewash of Iowa State added to an impressive resume for the 2003 defense that is establishing itself as one of the finest in school history. The shutout was Nebraska’s second in four games, with the Huskers also blanking Troy State 30-0 on Oct. 4. This season marks the first time since 1999 that Nebraska has posted two shutouts in a season, and the Huskers have now posted six shutouts in Solich’s six seasons as head coach.
Troy State never seriously threatened to put points on the scoreboard in NU’s first shutout of the season, and Iowa State’s only scoring threat was on its final possession of the game against NU reserves. Nebraska has not allowed an offensive touchdown in three of the last four games, as Texas A&M reached the end zone only on a kickoff return.
The shutout against Troy State was the first by Nebraska since a 59-0 win over Baylor on Oct. 21, 2000, a span of 37 games. The 2003 Blackshirts became just the fifth NU defense in the Osborne-Solich era to hold opponents to 14 points or less in each of the first five games. The Huskers have now accomplished the feat three times in six seasons under Solich (also 1999, 2001) and also held the first five opponents to less than 14 points in 1990 and 1976 under Tom Osborne.
Troy State Coach Larry Blakeney left impressed after Nebraska’s shutout.
"We faced a very good defense, a defense to be reckoned with. They might be good enough to take that team to pretty good heights."
Iowa State Coach Dan McCarney echoed Blakeney’s thoughts on the Husker Blackshirts.
"They are tough, fundamentally sound, playing with confidence and going after the ball in an attacking style. It’s a defense that they should be really proud of."
Record Effort Against A&M Adds to NU Turnover Margin
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 32 turnovers in eight games, an average of 4.0 per game, and leads the nation in takeaways, while ranking in a tie for first with Washington State in interceptions (18). The Huskers are tied for first nationally in turnover margin at +1.88 per game thanks in large part to a record effort against Texas A&M. The Blackshirts forced eight Aggie turnovers in a 48-12 win, 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’ 32 turnovers into 103 points, 12 more points than the NU defense has allowed all season. Nebraska scored 48 points off turnovers in 14 games in 2002.
The eight turnovers against Texas A&M marked the third time the Huskers have forced five or more turnovers in a game this season, and the Blackshirts have forced at least two turnovers in all eight games.
The Texas A&M effort came on the heels of a 41-24 loss at Missouri, a game in which the Huskers committed five turnovers of their own and were a minus-three in the turnover department. The Tigers converted NU’s miscues directly into 21 points. The Nebraska offense has committed 17 turnovers this season, but has committed just two in the past two games.
Nebraska’s 32 takeaways this season are its most since 1999, when the Huskers forced 35 turnovers in a 12-1 season. 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. 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 in eight games.
NU has had at least one interception in all eight games this season and two or more interceptions in five straight games.
Among the individual stalwarts in the turnover department are...
Sophomore free safety Josh Bullocks has seven interceptions in eight games, an average of 0.88 per game to rank second nationally in interceptions per game. Bullocks’ seven interceptions tie the Nebraska school season record, also held by Larry Wachholtz (1966), Dana Stephenson (1969) and Bill Kosch (1970). Last season Fabian Washington and DeJuan Groce tied for the season interception lead with four in 14 games.
Junior linebacker Barrett Ruud has tied the NU season record for fumble recoveries by a linebacker with three, including a 15-yard return for a touchdown against Oklahoma State. Ruud’s three recoveries tie his father, Tom (1974), for the position record. Ruud has also forced three fumbles this season, including one against Texas A&M and returned his first career interception 27 yards for a touchdown against the Aggies.
Senior Will linebacker Demorrio Williams has created headaches for opposing offenses all season, including forcing two fumbles and recovering three 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.
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 cornerback Fabian Washington has picked off three passes this season, and has seven picks in his career. He also recovered a fumble against Troy State.
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.
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 nearly every statistical category. Here are a few notes regarding the performance of NU’s defense through eight games...
NU ranks in the top 20 nationally in all major defensive categories and turnover margin, including No. 3 in total defense at 252.4 yards per game and first in pass efficiency defense with a rating of 78.9 points.
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 32 turnovers in eight 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 +1.88 turnover margin is tied with Michigan State for first in the nation.
Nebraska held each of its first five opponents to 108 or fewer yards on the ground, and the opposition is averaging just 97.5 yards rushing per game to rank first in the Big 12 and 18th in the nation. NU held Penn State to just 44 yards, after the Nittany Lions rushed for 217 yards against Nebraska in 2002.
Nebraska’s defense has allowed just six 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. Only 12 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 has allowed just three points in the third quarter this season (FG by A&M), and the Huskers hold an 88-3 scoring advantage in that period. By comparison, NU opponents outscored the Huskers 110-97 in the third quarter in 2002. The Blackshirts allowed just seven points in the second half through the first five games, before Missouri exploded for 27 fourth-quarter points in a 41-24 NU loss.
Nebraska has allowed just 14 drives to enter its red zone in eight games, including only five in the season’s first five games. Eight of the drives that have reached Nebraska’s red zone have started inside the Nebraska 36-yard line, including all five by Missouri (three inside NU 10). Opponents have penetrated the red zone on just six of the other 109 drives against the Husker defense this season. Utah State, Troy State and Iowa State have all failed to reach the red zone against NU’s defense. Southern Miss reached the NU red zone twice in the second half, marking the first second-half red zone trips by opponents this season.
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). The Cowboys are averaging 482 yards per game since their loss at Nebraska.
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 Setting Tone for Blackshirts
Nebraska’s defensive effort in 2003 has been truly a team effort. However, it is hard not to notice the play of senior Will linebacker Demorrio Williams. The Beckville, Texas, native is second on the team with 75 tackles, including 47 solo stops. He tied his career high with 13 tackles against Troy State, including seven solo stops, a pair of tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Williams recorded his third consecutive double-figure tackle game, and added a sack and his first career interception against Missouri. In Nebraska’s record-setting takeaway day against Texas A&M, Williams recovered his third fumble of the season.
The senior was recently one of 11 players named Butkus semifinalists, Nebraska’s first semifinalist for the award in three seasons. He was also named to a pair of midseason All-America teams, earning recognition from both SI.com and CollegeFootballNews.com
Williams has 10 tackles for loss (45 yards) and 6.5 sacks (40 yards) both team-leading totals. He has also forced two fumbles, recovered three fumbles, hurried opposing quarterbacks a team-high nine times, broke up a pair of passes and intercepted a pass. Williams contributed a huge special teams play against Iowa State, blocking a first-quarter punt that was returned for a touchdown by Josh Bullocks.
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 against the Aggies earned him Big 12 Defensive Player-of-the-Week honors. Williams made another strong statement in front of a national stage on ESPN at Southern Miss, recording 12 tackles, the third-most of his Husker career. He has been Nebraska’s nominee for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week after three of NU’s first eight games.
The Lombardi Award committee has noticed the play of the 6-1, 215-pound senior by adding him to its watch list. Williams’ play has also drawn rave reviews from both Husker opponents and the NU coaching staff.
"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
Bullocks Nebraska’s Top Pass Thief
Sophomore free safety Josh Bullocks is challenging Williams for headline-grabbing play this season. Bullocks is one of only two players in the nation with seven interceptions (Janssen Patton, Bowling Green) and ranks tied for second nationally in interceptions per game at 0.88 per contest.
Bullocks picked off his seventh pass in Nebraska’s 48-12 dismantling of Texas A&M on Oct. 18, tying him for the Husker single-season interception record. Bullocks picked off a pair of passes in Nebraska’s season opener against Oklahoma State, and has since picked off a pass in five of the last seven games, including four straight contests (Southern Miss-Texas A&M).
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 eight career interceptions, just one pick off the Nebraska career top 10.
The 6-0, 195-pound Bullocks has routinely earned praise from his own coaches this season, and recently he picked up national recognition, joining Williams on SI.com’s Midseason All-America Team. In addition to his seven interceptions, Bullocks has 29 tackles and four pass breakups this fall.
In addition to his defensive prowess, Bullocks is also a key on NU 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 (Demorrio Williams) 26 yards for a touchdown to give NU a 21-0 lead late in the first quarter.
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 a high level throughout the season. The Lincoln native leads the team in tackles with 78, including five double-figure tackle games (12 vs. Missouri, 11 vs. Utah State, 10 vs. Southern Miss, 10 vs. Texas A&M, 12 vs. Iowa State).
Ruud has also been a key part of the Nebraska defense ranking first in the nation in turnover margin at +1.88 per game. Ruud has recovered three fumbles this season to tie his father’s Nebraska linebacker record for fumble recoveries in a season, and is tied for the team lead with 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 three fumbles this fall, most recently on a sack of Texas A&M quarterback Reggie McNeal in Nebraska’s 48-12 victory.
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 team-high 12 tackles against Iowa State tied his career high and pushed Ruud’s career total to 218 tackles to rank in 18th 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’s performance this fall has not come as a surprise to NU coaches. Head Coach Frank Solich expected big things from the junior and pointed that out after the season opener.–"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."
Entire Defensive Unit Helping Dominate Opponents
The linebacking duo of Williams and Ruud, and 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 fifth on the team in tackles with 38 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 21 career pass breakups, tied for 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. Pelini has been impressed with the work of NU’s left corner– "He was all over the place (against Oklahoma State). 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."
Defensive Backs Coach Marvin Sanders echoed Pelini’s feelings on Washington after his standout performance against Penn State – "He’s showed he is a very special player. Fabian has been a very consistent player, and he is getting better every week. I think, right now, he’s definitely playing at an All-Big 12 level."
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 47 tackles this season to rank third on the team, including seven each against Utah State, Southern Miss and Missouri, and eight against Texas A&M. The Husker linebackers combined for 29 tackles against Troy State, and as a group have posted 25 or more tackles six 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.
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. Johnson helped NU to its second shutout in four weeks with a tackle for loss, two quarterback hurries, a pass breakup and a fumble caused against the Cyclones. Johnson has 43 total tackles this season, the most among Husker defensive linemen and fourth overall on the team. He is third on the team with seven tackles for loss, including a pair of sacks, and his TFL against ISU gave him 20 career tackles for loss.
Power Husker Running Game Controlling Football
Nebraska’s offense has not consistently hit on all cylinders in 2003, but a powerful ball-control Husker running attack, combined with great defense, has kept opponent offenses off the field this season. Nebraska has snapped the ball a total of 573 times (71.6 per game) in the first eight games, 57 more plays than its opponents have run.
The discrepency in offensive snaps has led to a huge Husker advantage in time of possession.
Through eight games, Nebraska has held the ball an average of 33:53 to just 26:07 for the opposition.
Against Penn State, Nebraska’s advantage was 19:30 (39:45-20:15). The Huskers’ 8:12 drive to open the third quarter represented more possession time than the Nittany Lions had in the entire second half (7:33). The 19 1/2-minute time of possession advantage against Penn State was Nebraska’s greatest since Nebraska held the ball for 39:47 in a 41-0 shutout against Kansas in 1998.
Nebraska has held a time of possession advantage in six of eight games this season, with only Southern Miss and Troy State controlling the ball for more than 30 minutes against NU this season.
Nebraska Looks to Make Most of Red Zone Opportunities
The Husker offense has struggled at times this season to cross the goal line once it has moved inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, scoring 15 touchdowns in 35 red zone opportunities, with another 10 of those drives ending in field goals. While Nebraska’s ability to finish drives with touchdowns has been a concern, the offense’s ability to march into the red zone this season has been a drastic improvement from 2002.
This season, NU is averaging 4.4 trips per game into the red zone, while last year Nebraska moved inside the 20 just 43 times in 14 games, or an average of 3.1 trips per outing. On the flip side, NU opponents have moved inside the Husker 20 just 14 times in the first eight games, after averaging 3.4 red zone opportunities in 2002.
Huskers Winning Field Position Battle
Nebraska’s offense continues to improve in 2003, but Nebraska has leaned on excellent defense and solid special teams throughout the year. While the defense has carried Nebraska by dominating opponents and forcing turnovers, and the offense has controlled the clock, the Husker special teams have quietly done their part to give NU a huge advantage in field position.
The tables were turned on Nebraska at Missouri, as the Tigers held a 13-yard advantage in starting field position, but Nebraska quickly returned to form against Texas A&M, forcing eight turnovers to key an 18-yard advantage in starting field position. Nebraska continued that trend against Iowa State, holding an amazing 25.4-yard advantage in starting field position. The Huskers began their average drive at their own 47.9-yard line, while Iowa State was backed up to its own 22.4 for its average drive start.
Through eight games, Nebraska holds a 13.2-yard advantage in starting field position, beginning its average drive on its own 41.9, while opponents have started on average at their own 28.7.
Against Iowa State, Nebraska started eight drives on Iowa State’s side of the field, while beginning just two inside its own 20. Iowa State did not begin on Nebraska’s side of the field all day. In the first half of the shutout victory, the Huskers snapped the ball seven times in their own territory, while initiating 20 plays in Cyclone territory.
Nebraska held a 17.8-yard field position advantage against Texas A&M two weeks ago. Overall, the Huskers have had double-figure starting field position edges in seven of eight games this season.
Nebraska has started eight drives inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, while beginning just 14 inside its own 20. Opponents have started 24 drives inside their own 20 and only 11 in Nebraska territory.
Nebraska has a 1,380-yard advantage in cumulative starting field position, an average of better than 170 yards per game in field position differential.
Larson Keys Husker Punting Team
Nebraska’s special teams have a tradition of being exactly that–"special". Along with senior kickoff and punt return man Josh Davis, senior punter Kyle Larson headlines the NU special teams this fall. Larson is in his third season as a starter for the Huskers. He has been one of the nation’s top punters each of the past two seasons and his statistics rank near the top of Nebraska’s career charts.
Larson has been strong again in 2003, and posted one of the top games of his career on Oct. 18 against Texas A&M. Larson punted nine times against the Aggies, and averaged 49.6 yards per boot, and pinned A&M inside its own 20 four times. Seven of Larson’s nine punts in the game were 45 yards or longer, while the two that were not were both downed inside the Aggie 20.
For the season, Larson is averaging 43.7 yards to rank 22nd nationally, with 41 percent (16-of-39) of his punts leaving the opposition inside its own 20 yard-line. All three of Larson’s punts against Troy State were downed inside the 20, including a 71-yard boot that tied his career long. Larson has uncorked five punts of 63 yards or longer in the past five weeks. Against Southern Mississippi, Larson averaged 47.6 yards on seven punts, including boots of 63 and 67 yards. His effort against the Golden Eagles earned him Big 12 Special Teams Player-of-the-Week honors, marking the third time in his career Larson has captured that award.
Larson averaged 43.2 yards per punt last season and keyed a Husker punting unit that ranked second in the Big 12 and fifth nationally in net punting. The Funk, Neb., native had 21 punts of 50 yards or longer last season and pinned the opposition inside its own 20 on 23 occasions. Larson was a second-team All-Big 12 selection by the league’s coaches last season and was one of 10 semifinalists for the Ray Guy Award. His 43.07 career punting average ranks second on the Husker career charts, behind only his predecessor Dan Hadenfeldt (1999-2000).
Nebraska Head Coach Frank Solich lauded Larson’s effort following the Texas A&M contest. "I don’t know if there is a better punter around. There might be in terms of average, but when the pressure is on and you need a kick, he steps up and does it."
Versatile Lord Continuing Move in NU Record Books
Nebraska senior quarterback Jammal Lord made a large dent in the Husker record book a year ago and continues to do so in 2003. The Bayonne, N.J., native set NU game and season records for total offense and rushing yards by a quarterback in 2002. Lord finished the season with 1,412 rushing yards, the third-most ever by a Division I-A quarterback and amassed 2,774 yards of total offense. In the process, he also became one of only 19 Division I-A players to both rush and pass for more than 1,000 yards in the same season. He was the third Husker signal caller in six seasons to reach that plateau, joining Scott Frost (1997) and Eric Crouch (2001).
In addition, Lord was Nebraska’s most consistent big-play threat a year ago. He had a hand in a remarkable 41 plays of 20 yards or more in 2002, including 21 runs and 20 passes. Despite his gaudy numbers last season, the 6-2, 220-pound Lord worked hard in the off-season to become a more efficient quarterback in 2003, most notably through the air. Last season Lord completed just under 47 percent of his passes and threw for 12 touchdowns against 12 interceptions.
The off-season work has produced results for Lord, who has completed 55.7 percent of his passes this season. He has thrown for three touchdowns and been picked off four times. His passing percentage improvement of nearly nine points is the most drastic among recent NU quarterbacks in their second year.
Nebraska dominated on the ground against Texas A&M, and Lord saw limited work against Iowa State, but in the three previous weeks, he showed the ability to be extremely productive through the air.
At Southern Miss he hit on 6-of-14 passes for 124 yards, including scoring strikes of 44 and 43 yards to Ross Pilkington and Isaiah Fluellen, respectively.
In Nebraska’s 30-0 win over Troy State, Lord connected on seven of his 12 attempts, including a season-long 77-yard pass to tight end Matt Herian.
Lord threw for a season-high 146 yards at Missouri by completing 12-of-18 passes in the game, including a 55-yard touchdown pass to Mark LeFlore. His 146 yards passing at Missouri were just five yards short of his career-best 151 yards last season against McNeese State and tied the most accurate passing effort of Lord’s career (also 12-of-18 vs. McNeese State, 2002).
Lord continues to be NU’s leading rusher, despite being keyed on by opposing defenses. Lord has rushed for 606 yards on 129 carries and scored nine touchdowns this season, bettering his total of eight in 2002. Lord has scored at least one rushing touchdown in each of Nebraska’s last seven games.
Lord posted his second consecutive 100-yard rushing day with 109 yards and two scores on 15 carries against Texas A&M, marking his third 100-yard game of the season and eighth of his career. Lord rushed for a season-high 111 yards on 19 carries at Missouri and had 100 yards in NU’s win over Penn State. Only 2001 Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch (17) has more career 100-yard rushing games than Lord from the quarterback position.
Lord passed two milestones in his 257-yard total offense performance at Missouri. He became the ninth Husker to pass 4,000 yards of career total offense early in the first quarter and later in the game became the 22nd Husker and third NU quarterback to reach 2,000 career rushing yards. Lord now has 4,443 yards of total offense to rank eighth in Nebraska history, 191 yards behind his position coach Turner Gill who is seventh at 4,634 yards. Lord is within striking distance of second place on the career list, held by Tommie Frazier at 5,476 career yards. Lord has 2,231 career rushing yards, 16th on the NU career list and second among quarterbacks. Lord recently became Nebraska’s 12th career 2,000-yard passer and now ranks 11th on that list with 2,212 yards.
Recent Nebraska history indicates that Lord could continue to make significant improvement this fall. Husker quarterbacks in their second seasons as starters have enjoyed much greater success in year two at the helm versus their first season as a starter. Most recently, Crouch improved his completion percentage from 48.5 percent as a freshman to 51.9 percent as a sophomore. Crouch also improved his average yards per total offense attempt by nearly a yard. The graphic below examines several Nebraska quarterbacks’ statistics in their first seasons as starters versus their second years.
Davis Moves to Top of Big 12 Kickoff Return Record Books
Senior Josh Davis is in his third season as Nebraska’s starting kickoff return man and his work has earned him a place in the Nebraska and Big 12 Conference record books. Davis had three kickoff returns for 97 yards at Missouri, pushing his career total to 1,887 yards on kickoff returns, bettering the previous Big 12 career record of 1,798 yards, set by Colorado’s Ben Kelly from 1997 to 1999. Davis also holds the Big 12 career record for kickoff returns (76) and kickoff return yards in a season (994 in 2002).
Davis has added 95 yards on four kickoff returns in the past two weeks and is now just 18 yards from becoming the first Nebraska and Big 12 player to reach 2,000 career kickoff return yards. He is averaging 28.4 yards per return this season to rank eighth nationally and second in the Big 12 in that category.
Davis should be sleeping well on Saturday nights. In addition to his kickoff return duties, the 5-11, 200-pound Davis has taken over Nebraska’s top punt return duties. Davis has returned 23 punts for 214 yards, an average of 9.3 yards per return.
Davis is also at the top of the depth chart at I-back and is a key part of a Husker rushing attack that ranks fourth nationally in rushing offense. Davis is averaging 63.2 yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry. Against Penn State, Davis was a workhorse, setting career highs for carries (32) and rushing yards (179), including a career-long 42-yard run in the second quarter. His tough running style has allowed him to be thrown for only 24 yards in losses in 116 carries this season. Davis has also caught four passes out of the backfield.
The running style of Davis reminds many of his father, Tony, who played at Nebraska from 1973 to 1975 and earned the nickname "Tough Tony." Josh’s 179-yard effort against Penn State was the first 100-yard day of his career and made the Davis family the first to have a father-son combination both record 100-yard rushing games at Nebraska. Tony had seven 100-yard games in his Nebraska career.
Josh Davis’ multi-purpose role with the Huskers has put him among the nation’s leaders in all-purpose running. Davis averages 131.8 all-purpose yards per game, good for 27th nationally. Davis had 237 all-purpose yards in the win over Penn State.
NU Strives for Offensive Efficiency
Nebraska entered the season with a desire to become a more balanced, efficient offense. Through eight games, Nebraska has primarily relied on its punishing running game to control the clock and keep opponents off the field. As a result, the Huskers have run the ball on 469 of 573 offensive snaps, allowing NU to control the ball for an average of nearly 34 minutes per game.
Solich and offensive coordinator Barney Cotton have regularly talked about increasing the Huskers’ completion rate into the 55 to 60 percent area and through eight games results are good, with NU connecting on 55.8 percent of its pass attemtps. Despite the run-oriented attack most of the season, this year’s Husker offense has shown at times the ability to possess a balanced attack.
Last season Nebraska generated 72 percent of its offense on the ground, and in the first five seasons under Solich the Huskers have accounted for just over 70 percent of their offense via the run. This season, Nebraska has gained 72.5 percent of its yards on the ground. By comparison, Tom Osborne’s last five Husker teams (1993-97) picked up 71.5 percent of their offense via the run.
Solich’s most balanced offensive attack came in his first season in 1998, when NU gained 65.9 percent of its offense on the ground (34.1 percent passing). In fact, that season marks Nebraska’s most pass-oriented offense in the past 26 years. Nebraska has not picked up more than 35 percent of its offensive yardage via the pass since the 1976 season. In that campaign, Vince Ferragamo guided an NU passing attack that led the Big Eight Conference at 188.0 yards per game and accounted for 46.1 percent of Nebraska’s offense. Each of Osborne’s first four NU teams (1973-76) picked up at least 37 percent of their offense by passing.
Youthful Receiving Corps Starting to Make Large Impact
Nebraska graduated all three starters and eight lettermen at its three receiving positions from the 2002 team. Heading into the season, NU coaches knew the receiving corps would be extremely youthful and relatively untested, but also knew that the group possessed a great deal of talent and athleticism. That ability has shown in recent weeks.
Among Nebraska’s two-deep at the two receiver positions and tight end, four of the six players are either sophomores or redshirt freshmen, including....
Sophomore tight end Matt Herian who averaged a remarkable 43.0 yards on seven receptions last season, including four touchdowns. Herian has shown the same big-play ability this season, averaging 19.5 yards on a team-high 15 receptions, including a 77-yard catch from Jammal Lord against Troy State. He also caught his first TD pass of the season against the Trojans, a 21-yard reception from freshman Joe Dailey.
Herian finished the Troy State game with three receptions for 110 yards, the first NU 100-yard receiving game since Wilson Thomas at Colorado in 2001. It also marked the most receiving yards by an NU tight end since Tracey Wistrom had four catches for 116 yards against Oklahoma State in 1999. Herian and Lord have connected for nine pass plays of 28 yards or longer in the past two seasons, including three this year. Herian did not have a reception against Texas A&M, ending a streak of nine straight games with at least one reception.
Sophomore receiver Ross Pilkington spent two seasons playing minor league baseball before joining the Nebraska program and plays with the poise of a veteran. Also a physical downfield blocker, Pilkington is second on the team in receptions with 14 for 210 yards, an average of 15 yards per reception. Pilkington caught a 44-yard TD pass from Lord at Southern Miss. His streak of at least one catch in seven straight games ended against Texas A&M.
Sophomore wideout Mark LeFlore is Nebraska’s co-No. 1 "Z" receiver and ranks third on the team with 13 catches for 123 yards. He had a breakout game at Missouri, with a career-high six receptions for 76 yards, including his first career touchdown catch, a 55-yarder in the first quarter. LeFlore scored a rushing touchdown on a reverse as a true freshman last season.
Redshirt freshman Isaiah Fluellen is among the fastest players on the Husker roster and has emerged as a big-play threat both as a receiver and runner. Fluellen has touchdowns on two of his three career catches. He hauled in a 43-yard TD reception on the first catch of his Husker career at Southern Miss and caught a 29-yard scoring strike from Joe Dailey against Texas A&M.
Fluellen also has eight rushing attempts this season, including five carries for a game-high 78 yards against Iowa State. Fluellen scored on a 39-yard reverse in the first quarter against the Cyclones, and his 78 yards were the most by a Husker receiver since Dana Brinson ran for 83 yards against Missouri in 1986. It also marked the first time in 26 seasons a receiver has led Nebraska in rushing.
Dyches Heads Newcomers Making Impact for 2003 Huskers
Last season a group of newcomers made a strong impact on the Nebraska football program. Five true freshmen saw action for Coach Frank Solich last fall and all made their presence known. In fact, three of the five scored touchdowns the first time they touched the ball as a Husker. Cornerback Fabian Washington set NU freshman records for pass breakups and interceptions, I-back David Horne finished third on the team in rushing, while split end Ross Pilkington and tight end Matt Herian tied for the Husker rookie receiving yardage record.
Another talented group of newcomers could have a similar impact for Nebraska this fall. Place-kicker David Dyches has been Nebraska’s headline newcomer so far in 2003. Dyches has connected on 11-of-15 field goal attempts this year, including four each against Utah State and Penn State. The Spring, Texas, native ranks 16th nationally in field goals per game (1.6 pg). Dyches is just the third Husker place-kicker (five times) and first freshman to connect on four or more field goals in a game. Dyches’ 11 field goals are just three shy of the Nebraska freshman field goals record of 14, set by Josh Brown in 1999.
Five other true freshmen have already seen action this season, including wide receiver Andy Birkel, defensive tackle Brandon Teamer, long snapper Lane Kelly, quarterback Joe Dailey and offensive guard Greg Austin. Dailey has been impressive as Nebraska’s No. 2 quarterback, connecting on 9-of-14 passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for 128 yards. Austin made his NU debut against Troy State, becoming the first true freshman offensive lineman to play for Nebraska since 1999, when Toniu Fonoti saw action as true freshman.
Personnel, Injury Update
Strong safety Philip Bland missed his fourth straight game with a foot injury against Iowa State. Senior fullback DeAntae Grixby missed the first five games after suffering an ankle injury during fall camp, before returning to action against Missouri and Texas A&M. Grixby re-injured his ankle in practice last week and is out for the year.
Nebraska has suffered two other season-ending injuries this fall. Senior place-kicker Dale Endorf suffered a severe knee injury in the season opener and is out for the season. Junior linebacker Lannie Hopkins missed much of fall camp while recovering from off-season surgery, played on special teams in the season opener, but returned to to the sidelines before recently undergoing season-ending abdominal surgery. Sixth-year senior defensive lineman Jason Lohr did not play in Nebraska’s first three games, but saw his first action in two seasons at Southern Miss and also played against Troy State and shared a tackle for loss.
Nine Players Competing in 2003 With Degree in Hand
Nine members of the Huskers’ senior class had already completed their undergraduate educations heading into the 2003 season. This season represents the most graduates Nebraska has had entering a season under Head Coach Frank Solich. Included in that group is senior nose tackle Patrick Kabongo, who played his junior season with his degree after graduating in three years in August of 2002. In addition to the nine players who already have their degrees, 11 more players are on track to earn their degrees after the fall semester. Last season, five Huskers played the season with their degree and a total of 16 players had earned their degrees before the Huskers’ appearance in the Independence Bowl.
Nebraska Tops Elite Programs in Consistency
Nebraska ranks third among Division I-A schools in all-time football victories with 778 wins. The Huskers have the nation’s best record since 1962, posting a 412-86-5 record in the last 42 seasons. In that period, Nebraska has easily been the most consistent program in the nation. That is evident when comparing the Huskers’ record to the other nine programs among the top 10 in all-time victories.
The Huskers have had just three seasons (including 2002) since 1962 with eight or fewer victories. Eight of the other nine schools in the top 10 have had at least 15 seasons with eight or fewer wins in that span. Nebraska’s last losing season occurred in 1961. Michigan has not had a losing record since 1967, but the other eight schools on the all-time top 10 wins list have all had losing seasons since 1988, including six programs with losing campaigns in the past seven seasons.
Nebraska is back in the national rankings after opening the season with a 7-1 record and hopes to contend for Big 12 and national honors in 2003. The Huskers need look no further than the top 10 winningest programs for direction. Although each has experienced a downturn of some degree, the group had a strong season in 2002. Eight of the 10 teams won at least nine games and ranked in the top 16 in the final Associated Press poll. This season seven of those teams find themselves ranked in the most recent Associated Press poll.
Against AP Ranked Teams
With its season-opening victory over 24th-ranked Oklahoma State, Nebraska improved to 90-96-3 (.484, 189 games) all time vs. AP ranked opponents, not a bad percentage considering NU started with a 7-35 mark before Coach Bob Devaney arrived in 1962. Over the last 10 seasons, the Huskers have gone 29-14 against ranked foes, with just two of the losses at home. Nebraska has won 14 of its last 19 games against top 10 AP teams (since 1994).
The Huskers were 0-4 last season against AP ranked opponents, and ended a six-game overall losing skid against ranked foes with the victory over Oklahoma State. Nebraska’s previous victory over a ranked opponent was a 20-10 defeat of No. 2 Oklahoma on Oct. 27, 2001.
Over the last 31 years, NU is 72-49-1 (.594, 122 games) vs. ranked teams. In the 1990s, NU was 27-10-1 (counting the Jan. 2, 2000, win over Tennessee). Solich is 11-12 vs. ranked teams (4-5 vs. top 10 AP teams), and has lost just twice at home to a ranked AP team (7-2 home, 1-8 away, 3-2 neutral).
Saturday’s game against 16th-ranked Texas will mark Nebraska’s second of the season against an AP ranked opponent, and the 24th game against a ranked opponent under Frank Solich (11-12).
Nebraska a Fixture on NFL Rosters
Nebraska is consistently among the nation’s leaders in supplying talent to the National Football League and this season is no different. The Huskers had a total of 42 former players on NFL rosters at the start of training camp and 32 players are currently on NFL rosters. In all, 19 teams had at least one former Husker on their opening day rosters, with Kansas City, Houston, St. Louis and Oakland each having three former Huskers on their opening rosters.
All four Huskers selected in the 2003 NFL Draft made opening day rosters, including Chris Kelsay (2nd round, Buffalo), DeJuan Groce (4th, St. Louis), Josh Brown (7th, Seattle) and Scott Shanle (7th, St. Louis). Kansas City Chiefs All-Pro offensive guard Will Shields and Oakland Raiders defensive tackle John Parrella are NU’s most experienced NFL veterans, each in their 11th season in the league.