John Papuchis celebrates a defensive effort that held Michigan to 188 yards on 64 plays.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

B1G Weekend: Sellout Crowds, Historic Wins

By NU Athletic Communications

Randy York's N-Sider

What a weekend for Nebraska Athletics and two flagship programs, for Nebraska football and Husker volleyball, for Big Red fans and national television exposure, for sellout crowds and historic wins, for head coaches and tenacious teams, for purpose and resolve, for strength and willpower. And yes, what a weekend for one athletic director preparing to exit stage left and another AD that is only beginning to see why there’s no place like Nebraska.

In less than 24 hours, Nebraska manufactured two historic wins in two different sports in front of two NCAA record sellout crowds. The now No. 21-ranked Nebraska football team celebrated its 323rd consecutive home sellout with a signature 23-9 win over Michigan Saturday night. The Wolverines are college football’s No. 1 all-time program with 900 wins.

On Sunday afternoon, Nebraska followed that milestone with another, outlasting No. 1-ranked Penn State in five sets. The match advanced the Huskers' ongoing NCAA record for consecutive home-game sellouts to 175. Penn State has won four of the past five national volleyball championships and eight of the last nine Big Ten Conference titles. Sunday's match enabled Cook, the No. 4-ranked active coach in terms of all-time winning percentage (.830 based on 522 career wins), to notch an historic win against Russ Rose. The Nittany Lion legend is the No. 1-ranked NCAA active coach with a winning percentage of .860, based on 1,059 career wins. Husker fans that brought black rally towels from Saturday night's football game to Sunday afternoon's volleyball showdown certainly knew what they were doing. 

Nebraska football and Husker volleyball must have set some sort of tandem school record for hard-core spirit and never-ending passion – from the fabled Tunnel Walk that launched a memorable Saturday night in late October to a rhythmic Can You Feel It? introduction for Sunday’s fifth set of a matinee match with more twists than the world’s largest roller coaster.

Can You Feel It? Go Big Red Means Yes!

Go Big Red chants not only resonated inside Memorial Stadium and within NU’s aging but proud Coliseum, but also echoed through countless homes and business establishments across the country. Those watching on television or listening on radio couldn’t help but experience the loyalty, passion and spirit of a fan base that helped lift two well prepared and highly driven teams to timely triumphs.

Big Red fans watched a football team play another game without Rex Burkhead, its senior heart and competitive soul, and without Taariq Allen, a redshirt freshman that saved the day with a fourth-quarter touchdown catch at Northwestern, but had to be helped off the field with a possible season-ending injury on the game’s opening kickoff.

Fortunately, Nebraska’s offense and special teams remained in good hands Saturday night. Taylor Martinez, Ameer Abdullah and Kenny Bell were the marquee contributors on offense. Bret Maher kicked three field goals, including one from 51 yards. Maher also demonstrated how rugby style punts can confuse the opponent and stretch the field.

Three linebackers surfaced at the top of the defensive stats. Redshirt freshman David Santos came into the Michigan game with six career tackles and walked off the field Saturday night with 10 more, including six solos. All-America Husker linebacker Lavonte David, who was in The House Saturday night after helping Tampa Bay beat Minnesota Thursday night, saw signs of Santos’ explosiveness. Seniors Sean Fisher and Alonzo Whaley finished with eight and seven tackles apiece, respectively.

Blackshirts Delivered to Lockers Saturday Night

The big picture items in Nebraska’s decisive win over Michigan are: 1) The Huskers are in the driver’s seat to represent the Legends Division in the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis. They are one-third of the way home in Bo Pelini’s bold pledge to do everything possible to sweep the last six regular-season games of the season; 2) Pelini has Nebraska’s defensive stars wearing Blackshirts again. He tried to hand them out last week after the Huskers beat Northwestern in Evanston, but to a man, they told their head coach they didn’t want to pull a Blackshirt over their heads until after they beat Michigan. By the time they left the field Saturday night, Blackshirts were in their lockers, waiting to recognize a unit that had yielded only 188 offensive yards on 64 snaps of the football; and 3) Michigan State is also eagerly awaiting Nebraska's arrival in East Lansing after beating Wisconsin in overtime last Saturday in Madison. This Saturday's kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. CT. The game will be carried on ABC/ESPN2.

Sunday’s volleyball match had a dramatic impact on Husker Nation, and John Cook knows what Pelini feels like trying to guide his team through the grinding, grueling Big Ten. Penn State dropped to 11-1 in the conference and Nebraska is 10-2 because Ohio State upset the Huskers Friday night at the Coliseum.

Cook was so drained from Sunday’s match that he thought his eardrums were going to break. “I don’t know how those rock band guys do it,” he said in a hoarse voice after watching his No. 4-ranked team hijack its second No. 1 team this season in the Coliseum. Defending national champion UCLA was the other top-ranked team Nebraska knocked off.

Both were big-play, high drama matches, but Nebraska redefined its greatness Sunday. Crushed in the first set, the Huskers were headed towards 0-2 until the crowd literally willed them to a 32-30 second-set win.

To Beat Penn State, Everyone Had to Do Her Part

Nebraska had 94 digs in the 2-hour and 35-minute marathon. So many Huskers stepped up at pivotal times that it was difficult to pinpoint the stars. Lara Dykstra and Hannah Werth delivered critical digs Gina Mancuso, Morgan Broekhuis, Meghan Haggerty and Werth all produced timely kills. Lauren Cook was her usual versatile self, leading the charge and distributing the ball.

When a powerful kill smacked Cook in the face, the senior All-America candidate had two choices as the tough-minded daughter of an equally tough-minded head coach. Lauren chose to laugh it off. In a strange way, the play created some levity, if not a strategy, because the coach of two Nebraska national championship teams shared later that he listened intently to Lauren about certain matchups and situations.

Nebraska's head coach quit subbing his daughter out, and even though that created some matchup issues, Lauren Cook, the leader, competitor and coach on the floor, showed she can handle the pressure, even when it forces her out of the comfort zone.

While Cook was inspiring her teammates, Werth was pointing at herself and taking the blame in the huddles for plays that backfired. She more than persevered through her hitting disappointments. Werth finished with 27 digs, plus three of her 11 kills came in the decisive fifth set.

Could Werth Be a Worthy Libero or Goalie Later?

On his postgame radio show, play-by-play announcer John Baylor asked Cook if he'd consider mentioning Werth as a potential Olympic libero, especially after watching her dig so many powerful shots behind his daughter. Cook said Werth could be a libero, but would miss hitting. “I can see her as an Olympic soccer goalie,” Cook added. “She’s competitive enough to handle almost anything that comes her way.”

Interestingly, a replay of Saturday's Nebraska-Michigan football game followed Sunday's live Husker-Nittany Lion volleyball match on BTN.

Baylor believes Sunday’s match will get more national replays.

“It was a classic,” he said.

Just like Nebraska-Michigan.

At least in the eyes of those who wear red.

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