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Huskers Roll in Callahan's Opener 56-17

By NU Athletic Communications
Junior tight end Matt Herian caught seven passes for 98 yards.
Junior tight end Matt Herian caught seven passes for 98 yards.
Photo by Design Jeff Abele, Photography Scott Bruhn

Lincoln - Sophomore quarterback Joe Dailey produced six touchdowns to tie the Nebraska single-game record and lead the Huskers to a 56-17 victory over Western Illinois in Coach Bill Callahan’s debut. In his first starting appearance, Dailey completed 15-of-30 pass attempts for 218 yards to go with four touchdowns and four interceptions. Dailey’s four passing scores were the most by a Nebraska quarterback since Eric Crouch had five against Iowa in 2000. Dailey also rushed four times for 28 yards and two more scores.

"I’m very confident in Joe," Callahan said. "He learned some invaluable lessons tonight. Until you get under the gun as a quarterback in this system, you really don’t know. He came out very focused though, and managed the system very well. There aren’t many quarterbacks in the National Football League who could handle what we did tonight, and I want to commend him."

Dailey directed the Huskers to 581 yards of total offense, including 363 rushing yards. Two NU players surpassed the 100-yard rushing mark for the game. Junior running back Cory Ross totaled 125 yards on 13 carries for the fourth 100-yard rushing game of his career. Freshman Tierre Green rushed seven times for 112 yards and two touchdowns in the first game of his collegiate career.

Junior tight end Matt Herian recorded seven receptions for 98 yards and two touchdowns, while senior receiver Willie Amos added two receptions for 54 yards and two touchdowns.

Western Illinois quarterbacks Steve LaFalce and Adam Smith combined for 223 passing yards, completing 20-of-41 attempts for one touchdown and four interceptions.

A crowd of 77,471 fans were in attendance, extending the Huskers’ sellout streak to an NCAA-record 263. NU also won its 19th-straight season opener, improving to 84-26-5 in season openers and 93-17-5 all-time in home openers.

"We came out early and started fast, which was a primary objective," Callahan said. "We wanted to come out of the tunnel and play fast and start fast. When you look at what we did on the first three drives of the game, with our shift, motion and movement, we created problems on other side and took advantage. I’m proud of our kids and the way we played."

The Huskers needed just one minute and 49 seconds to produce the first touchdown of the Callahan era. Nebraska drove 79 yards in six plays, scoring on a six-yard run by Dailey.

On Nebraska’s second possession of the game, Dailey engineered an 85-yard scoring drive, completing 4-of-7 passes for 48 yards, including a 23-yard pass to Herian that gave the Huskers a first down at the Western Illinois 11. After Ross rushed up the middle for six yards and a Dailey pass to Steve Kriewald fell incomplete, Dailey found Herian in the end zone for a five-yard scoring strike. Sandro DeAngelis connected on the PAT attempt to give NU a 14-0 lead with 4:26 remaining in the first quarter.

Western Illinois entered Nebraska territory for the first time in the game on its next possession when James Norris returned a David Dyches kick 75 yards to the Nebraska 8-yard line. However, WIU quarterback Adam Smith fumbled the snap, and sophomore defensive end Jay Moore recovered for the Huskers to end the Leatherneck scoring threat.

Nebraska erupted for 28 points in the second quarter. The Huskers went 53 yards in three plays in a drive that featured a 36-yard touchdown pass from Dailey to Amos. NU then produced two quick scores off Western Illinois turnovers forced by the Blackshirts. Washington intercepted a LaFalce pass at the Leatherneck 34. Nebraska converted the Western Illinois turnover into another score when Dailey hit Herian for a 22-yard scoring strike with 12:34 remaining in the half. NU led 28-0 after DeAngelis’ PAT kick. Later, Daniel Bullocks intercepted another LaFalce pass and returned it 58 yards to the WIU 18. Amos scored on the game's next play, hauling in an 18-yard pass from Dailey and sneaking into the front corner of the end zone.

Nebraska turned to its ground game for its final touchdown of the first half, as Green scored on a 28-yard run with 4:45 remaining in the first half. Green had two carries for 46 yards during the six-play, 70-yard drive.

The Leathernecks finally got on the board in the last minute of the half. NU’s Kade Pittman bobbled a kickoff, and William Penn recovered it at the NU 12. Western Illinois’ Justin Langan connected on a 24-yard field goal attempt to end the first-half scoring.

In the second half, Dailey reached a milestone on Nebraska’s first offensive series when he finished a 53-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown run. The score was Dailey’s sixth of the game and tied the NU single-game record for total offense touchdowns, set by Gerry Gdowski (Oct. 28, 1989, vs. Iowa State) and tied by Calvin Jones (Nov. 9, 1991, at Kansas).

Western Illinois answered with its first touchdown of the game, as Norris broke loose for a 98-yard kickoff return. WIU scored again at the end of the third when Smith hit Boomer Moore with a six-yard touchdown pass to make it 49-17, Nebraska. The drive was highlighted by a 47-yard pass from Smith to Reggie Gray that gave the Leathernecks a first down on the NU 15.

Nebraska ended the scoring with 5:22 remaining in the game. Freshman running back Brandon Jackson picked up 35 yards on four carries, before Green produced his second score of the game with a 34-yard run.

Nebraska stays at home next Saturday to play host to Southern Miss, the defending Conference USA champion. The game is set for an 11 a.m. start with regional television coverage by ABC.

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