Huskers Return to Big 12 Action Against Missouri in Matchup Featuring Versatile Quarterbacks
Nebraska (4-2, 0-1) vs.
Missouri (3-2, 0-1)
DATE: Saturday, Oct. 12, 2002
Saturday?s game gives both Missouri and Nebraska an opportunity to even their conference records after opening Big 12 play with losses. The Huskers dropped a 36-14 decision at Iowa State on Sept. 28, while Missouri lost to No. 3 Oklahoma, 31-24, on Saturday night in Columbia, after leading midway through the fourth quarter.
Nebraska took a one-week hiatus from Big 12 play and ended a two-game slide with a 38-14 victory over McNeese State on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. The Huskers were led by an outstanding performance by junior quarterback Jammal Lord, who rushed for an NU quarterback record 218 yards and rolled up a Husker record 369 yards of total offense. Lord rushed for three touchdowns and passed for another in the victory.
Missouri pushed Oklahoma to the limit behind the play of quarterback Brad Smith. The redshirt freshman showed why he is among the nation?s leaders in total offense, accouting for 391 yards vs. the Sooner defense, including a Tiger QB record 213 yards rushing.
Nebraska has posted 23 straight victories against Missouri dating back to a 35-31 loss to the Tigers in 1978 in Lincoln. Last season Nebraska opened Big 12 play with a 36-3 victory over Mizzou in Columbia. A Husker victory would mark their nation-leading 26th straight home win and mark the 25th straight season the Huskers have been victorious in their home conference opener.
Nebraska Gets Back on Winning Track Against McNeese State
Quarterback Jammal Lord had a record-setting day and Nebraska returned to the win column with a 38-14 victory over McNeese State on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Lord accounted for four touchdowns and posted a school-record 369 yards of total offense, including a Nebraska quarterback record 218 rushing yards.
Nebraska wasted little time getting started against the Cowboys, the second-ranked team in Division I-AA. After forcing McNeese to punt on its first possession, Nebraska drove inside the Cowboy 20-yard line on its first offensive drive, but turned the ball over on downs. However, the Husker defense forced the Cowboys to a three-and-out and DeJuan Groce gave NU great field position with a 21-yard punt return. Nebraska quickly converted, driving 28 yards in four plays, capped by Lord?s first TD run from five yards out.
Lord gave Nebraska a two-touchdown lead early in the second quarter, running 57 yards for a score to cap a nine-play, 91-yard drive. Lord was flawless on Nebraska?s next drive, hitting 4-of-4 passes for 63 yards, including a 10-yard TD strike to wingback Troy Hassebroek. McNeese State scored late in the second quarter to cut the halftime lead to 21-7.
After a scoreless third quarter, Nebraska put the game away with 17 fourth-quarter points. Josh Brown capped a 16-play, 82-yard drive with a 22-yard field goal to push the lead to 24-7. NU then struck in one play on its next possession as true freshman split end Mark LeFlore took a reverse and raced 64 yards for a touchdown. McNeese State countered with a scoring drive to cut the advantage to 31-14, but Lord accounted for the final margin with a 56-yard TD run. On the run, Lord eclipsed both the NU quarterback rushing record and the school?s total offense record.
Nebraska churned out a season-high 595 yards of total offense, including 444 yards on the ground. McNeese State gained 355 total yards, but had 139 yards of that total on its final two drives.
Recapping Game Six...Nebraska 38, McNeese State 14
- Quarterback Jammal Lord made a splash in the Husker record book, by rushing for 218 yards on 17 carries and accounting for 369 yards of total offense. His 218 yards rushing eclipsed Eric Crouch?s 191 yards rushing at Missouri last season and Tommie Frazier?s 199 yards in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl vs. Florida. Lord?s total offense total bettered Crouch?s 360-yard day in a loss at Colorado last season. The game marked the first time in six starts Lord had topped 100 yards in both rushing and passing and his 151 yards through the air were a career best. Lord?s 12-of-18 passing effort was also his most accurate day through the air. Lord scored on TD runs of 5, 57 and 56 yards, marking the first time a Husker had scored on two TD runs of 50 yards or longer since Dan Alexander at Colorado in 1999.
- Nebraska?s 595 total yards, 444 rushing yards and 26 first downs were all season highs.
- Lord completed passes to seven different receivers, marking the most players to catch a pass in a game since NU also had seven different receivers vs. Kansas in 2000.
- Nebraska?s 12-of-16 performance on third downs was a season best and marked the first time NU has topped 50 percent in that category.
- Senior I-back Dahrran Diedrick had 15 carries for 64 yards, including 49 yards on NU?s opening drive. He also had a season-long 26-yard rush. Diedrick now has 2,212 career rushing yards and moved from 19th to 15th on NU?s career chart.
- True freshman I-back David Horne got his Husker career off to a good start, rushing 12 times for 81 yards.
- Freshman split ends Mark LeFlore and Ross Pilkington both made their presence known. LeFlore raced 64 yards for a TD on a reverse on the first time he has touched the ball in his NU career, while Pilkington grabbed three passes for 54 yards.
- Senior split end Wilson Thomas had four catches for 47 yards to move from 17th to 13th on the NU career receptions list (57). It marked the fourth time this season and 13th time in his career Thomas has had three or more catches.
- Wingback Troy Hassebroek caught his first career TD pass in the second quarter, grabbing a 10-yard reception from Lord. Hassebroek was honored in pregame ceremonies with the 2002 Brook Berringer Memorial Scholarship.
- Linebacker Scott Shanle led the Nebraska defense with 10 tackles and recorded the Huskers? only sack of the afternoon, a 10-yarder in the fourth quarter.
- Free safety Philip Bland posted a career-high nine tackles, including seven before halftime, and also broke up a pass.
- Place-kicker Josh Brown remained perfect on field goal attempts, hitting his fifth FG of the year with a 22-yarder in the fourth quarter. He also connected on all five PATs and moved from sixth to fifth on the NU career scoring chart.
- Nebraska?s victory was its 25th straight home win and the 251st straight sellout at Memorial Stadium. It also gave NU a 4-1 non-conference record, marking the 21st straight year the Huskers have lost one or fewer non-league games.
Nebraska Head Coach Frank Solich
Coach Frank Solich (Nebraska, 1966) is in his fifth season at the helm of the Husker program with a 46-11 school and career record (.807). With 11 wins in 2001, Solich moved into a tie for fourth on the all-time Division I list for victories in the first four seasons as a head coach. He will officially qualify to rank among his peers after this season with five years as a head coach, and with an .807 winning percentage, would rank third among active coaches in Division I-A.
Coach Solich became 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). Solich posted a 9-4 record in his first season, despite being hit heavy with injuries. 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?s 21 wins in his first two years at NU bettered Devaney?s previous school record of 19 and ranked in a tie for third all time among Division I coaches in their first two years at the helm. He went 10-2 in 2000 and his 31 wins in three years bettered both Osborne and Devaney?s 28 wins in their first three years. His 42 wins in four years is also a school best.
Solich is the only Husker coach to have won 12 games in either of his first two seasons. Devaney won nine games in his first year, 10 his second year, nine in his third and 10 in his fourth, while Osborne won nine, nine, 10 and nine, respectively. Devaney won his first conference title his second year, while Osborne tied for his first title in his third year at the helm. Solich was named the 1999 Big 12 Coach of the Year by his league peers and the AP after winning the league championship in 1999, and was named coach of the year by the conference coaches a second time in 2001.
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.
Although defensive coordinator Charlie McBride retired after the 1999 season, the rest of Coach Osborne's staff is intact. Solich replaced himself with recruiting specialist and running backs coach Dave Gillespie, who was the recruiting coordinator at Nebraska when the Huskers signed the athletes who won back-to-back national championships in 1994 and 1995, and hired former Husker Jeff Jamrog away from New Mexico State to replace McBride in January of 2000. Counting Solich, five members of the Husker coaching staff played for Nebraska. Solich is one of 17 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.
Darlington Top 300 Wins at Nebraska
Nebraska secondary coach George Darlington has been a part of the Husker coaching staff since 1973, Tom Osborne?s first season as head coach. Darlington was a part of all 255 of Osborne?s victories at Nebraska and has been a part of 46 Husker victories with Frank Solich at the helm?good for a total of 301 victories as a member of the NU coaching staff. The long-time NU coach was presented the game ball and a plaque on the field by Solich at the conclusion of the Husker win over Utah State.
"You can travel all across the country and it would be hard to find another coach that has reached that accomplishment," Solich said. "That is an amazing feat that George has accomplished. He is a great coach that has recruited a number of great athletes."
Solich was on the mark regarding Darlington?s accomplishment. Research indicates that Darlington is the first Division I-A assistant to be a part of 300 victories at the same school. Husker offensive line coach Milt Tenopir who joined Osborne?s staff after one season is not far behind Darlington with 292 wins as a Husker assistant.
Coaches? Game Day Assignments
Following the lead of Tom Osborne, Coach Solich is his own offensive coordinator, calling the plays from the sideline. Craig Bohl, who tutors the linebackers and is in his third season as defensive coordinator is also on the sideline, along with receivers coach Ron Brown, quarterbacks coach Turner Gill, defensive line coach Jeff Jamrog and kickers/offensive line coach Dan Young. Assisting from above in the press box are rush ends coach Nelson Barnes, defensive backs coach George Darlington, running backs coach Dave Gillespie and offensive line coach Milt Tenopir.
Big 12 Conference Home Opener
Nebraska will open its 2002 Big 12 home schedule with Saturday?s game against Missouri. The Huskers enter the contest with the Tigers having won their last 24 conference home openers, since a 24-21 loss to Iowa State in 1977. Three of Nebraska?s 24 straight victories in league home openers have come against Missouri, including a 42-24 victory in 2000.
Huskers Continue Non-Conference Success in 2002
Nebraska completed its 2002 non-conference schedule with last Saturday?s 38-14 victory over McNeese State. The Huskers finished their non-conference season with a 4-1 record, marking the 21st straight season Nebraska has lost one game or fewer in non-league action. The Huskers are 18-1 in non-conference games under Head Coach Frank Solich and have not lost a non-conference game at home under his direction. In fact, Nebraska?s last non-conference home loss came in 1991 at the hands of fourth-ranked Washington. Since that loss, Nebraska has reeled off 31 straight non-conference home victories.
Extra Special Teams
Like his predecessors Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne, NU Head Coach Frank Solich has stressed the importance of the Husker special teams. Entering the 2002 campaign, Solich has mentioned on numerous occasions that this year?s kicking and coverage units had the potential to be very "special." The Husker special teams have played a key role in NU?s non-conference victories and will be a key to success in the Big 12 schedule.
In Nebraska?s season opener, the Huskers blocked two punts, one of which was returned for a touchdown, keying a 48-10 win over Arizona State. The punt return unit stole the show against Troy State. Senior DeJuan Groce tied an NCAA record with two punt return touchdowns in NU?s 31-16 victory.
Here?s a quick look at Nebraska?s special teams dominance in 2002.
- Punt Returns...Nebraska is averaging 18.1 yards on 18 punt returns this season. Groce has returned 14 punts for 285 yards, for a 20.4 average, good for third in the nation. Groce?s two punt return touchdowns vs. Troy State not only set a school record, but matched the NCAA record. His 83-yard TD was the fifth-longest punt return in school history and his 155 yards on two returns were just 15 yards shy of the school record for punt return yardage in a game. Groce is fifth at Nebraska in career punt return yards.
- Place-kicking...Senior place-kicker Josh Brown is 5-5 on field goals in 2002 and perfect in 21 PAT attempts. Brown hit on field goals of 40 and 42 yards against Arizona State, marking the first time in his career he has made a pair of 40+-yard field goals in the same game and had a season-best 44-yarder vs. Utah State. Dating back to last season Brown has made seven straight field goals and 10 of his past 11 attempts. He ranks fifth at Nebraska in career scoring and passed 1972 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers vs. McNeese State. Brown?s performance on kickoff duties should not be left unnoticed with 23 of his 35 kickoffs this season (4-7 vs. McNeese State) ending in touchbacks. Brown was named Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week for his work in the season opener against Arizona State.
- Punting...NU?s Kyle Larson continues to prove that he is among the nation?s top punters. Larson ranks fourth in the nation in punting with a 46.5-yard average on the season. He has also pinned the opposition inside the 20 eight times. Larson averaged 57.3 yards on four punts against Utah State, just off a school record. Larson, a Ray Guy Award candidate, has been NU?s nominee for Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week three times this season. Nebraska ranks fourth in the nation in net punting at 41.89 yards per attempt.
- Blocked Kicks...NU has had a history of being one of the nation?s best kick blocking units. The Huskers have exhibited the same ability this season, blocking three punts. Demorrio Williams and Lannie Hopkins each blocked a punt in the second half of Nebraska? victory over Arizona State, marking the first time since a 1999 win over Kansas State that the Huskers have had two blocked punts in the same game. Williams? blocked punt was returned six yards for a score by senior linebacker Scott Shanle. The last time NU had returned a blocked punt for a TD was at Kansas State in 2000 (Keyuo Craver). NU added its third punt block of the year at Iowa State, when Williams and senior Aaron Terpening teamed to block a third-quarter Cyclone punt, setting the Husker offense up for a touchdown.
- Kickoff Returns...Junior Josh Davis finished 14th nationally in kickoff return average a year ago at 27.0 yards per return. This season Davis is averaging 22.1 yards per return, including a season-long 42-yarder vs. Utah State and a 41-yard return at Iowa State. Davis now ranks fourth at Nebraska in career kickoff return yardage.
- Kick Coverage...Nebraska has allowed opponents to average just 16.1 yards on kickoff returns and only 8.5 yards on 15 punt returns this season. McNeese State totaled just 33 yards on two kickoff returns and had one punt return for seven yards.
Huskers Scoring in All Three Facets of Game
Nebraska has reached the end zone 24 times this season, with the offense, defense and special teams all getting into the act. Of Nebraska?s touchdowns, four have been non-offensive scores, two in each of the Huskers? first two games this season.
In the season opener against ASU, Nebraska scored via a blocked punt return and an interception return. DeJuan Groce supplied two special teams touchdowns against Troy State, returning punts 83 and 72 yards for scores, setting a school and Big 12 record and tying an NCAA record. The special teams set up a two-yard NU scoring drive at Iowa State when the Huskers blocked their third punt of the season.
The first two games this season marked the first time Nebraska has recorded two or more non-offensive scores in consecutive games since the 1996 season. In that year, NU returned an interception (Ralph Brown) and a kickoff (Kenny Cheatham) for a TD at Oklahoma and the following week vs. Missouri returned a blocked punt for a score (Terrell Farley) and recorded a safety when the Tigers fumbled the ball out of the end zone.
The Huskers have now scored by defense or special teams in six of their last 13 games dating back to last season. Seven members of the 2002 team have scored non-offensive TDs in their career led by Groce?s four scores, all punt returns. Groce also became the first Husker to score two non-offensive touchdowns in a game since Julius Jackson had an interception return and a fumble return for TDs against Southern Mississippi in 1999.
Huskers Hope to Get Back on Track in Turnover Margin
In addition to special teams excellence, the Husker coaching staff regularly preaches the importance of a positive turnover margin. The Huskers were a +1 in that department in each of the first three games this season, but are a combined minus-6 in turnover margin in the past three games, including a combined five-turnover disadvantage in losses at Penn State and Iowa State. Nebraska will try to turn that trend around Saturday against Missouri, one of the Big 12?s most opportunistic teams. While Nebraska ranks 74th in the nation in turnover margin at -0.50 per game, Mizzou is 17th at +1.40 turnovers per contest.
In Nebraska?s season opener, the Huskers returned an interception for a touchdown against Arizona State, while the Nebraska offense did not commit a turnover. In the Troy State contest, the Huskers forced three first-quarter turnovers and committed two turnovers in the game. NU upped its season interception total to six with three picks against Utah State, while the NU offense committed a pair of turnovers.
The victory over Arizona State marked the first time since 1974 (Oregon) that Nebraska did not have a turnover in its season opener. That statistic is even more impressive considering the Huskers had a new starter at quarterback in Jammal Lord and were also breaking in three starters on the offensive front.
Lord Rebounds with Record-Setting Performance Against McNeese State
Nebraska junior quarterback Jammal Lord has faced a variety of difficult challenges in his first season as the Huskers? starting signal caller. First, he was charged with the duty of following 2001 Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch, who started 38 games at quarterback from 1998 to 2001. Secondly, Lord guided a young Husker offense against ranked teams in his first two road contests at Penn State and Iowa State. While those games didn?t go as Lord and the Huskers would have hoped, Lord showed the ability to rebound against McNeese State.
The 6-2, 220-pound Lord had a record-setting afternoon against the Cowboys, breaking the NU single-game total offense record with 369 yards, including an NU-quarterback record 218 rushing yards on 17 carries. Coincidentally, both of the broken records were set last season by Crouch?360 total offense yards at Colorado and 191 rushing yards at Missouri.
The McNeese State game marked the first time in his career Lord has topped 100 yards in both rushing and passing in the same contest and he averaged a remarkable 10.5 yards on 35 total-offense attempts. The game marked the third time this season Lord has rushed for more than 100 yards in a game, also topping the century mark with 103 yards vs. Arizona State and 111 at Penn State. He also had two TD runs of longer than 50 yards (56, 57) marking the first time a Husker has had two 50-plus yard scoring runs in a game since 1999.
Lord also had his career-best passing day in terms of completions (12), attempts (18), yards (151) and percentage (.667). He completed 4-of-4 passes for 63 yards on a second-quarter scoring drive that ended with a 10-yard TD pass to Troy Hassebroek. Lord?s play allowed Nebraska to convert on 12-of-16 third-down attempts in the game.
Lord has been Nebraska?s top offensive weapon this season, leading the Huskers in rushing four times and passing for more than 100 yards four times this year. Lord leads Nebraska in rushing with 591 yards and six touchdowns and averages 6.5 yards per carry. His 98.5 yards rushing per game rank 28th in the nation and fourth in the Big 12 Conference. His 198.3 total offensive yards per game rank eighth in the Big 12 Conference. Lord is near 600 yards this season in both rushing and passing, putting him on track to become the third Husker quarterback (Scott Frost-1997, Eric Crouch-2001) to top 1,000 yards in both rushing and passing in the same season.
This week?s game against Missouri will showcase two of the nation?s top rushing quarterbacks. While Lord averages nearly 100 yards per game on the ground, Mizzou redshirt freshman Brad Smith has gained 121.4 rushing yards per game to rank second in the Big 12 and 15th nationally. Smith and Lord are second and fourth, respectively, in the nation in rushing yards per game among quarterbacks.
Groce Anchors Husker Secondary; Stars on Husker Special Teams
In recent years, Nebraska has a history of having an experienced cornerback on one side of the field, with a newcomer manning the other corner. In 1996, true freshman Ralph Brown started opposite senior Michael Booker. Brown then served as a mentor for both Erwin Swiney and Keyuo Craver later in his career. Two seasons ago, Craver anchored one corner while DeJuan Groce learned the ropes as a starter at right cornerback. This season, it is Groce?s turn to handle the leadership role, as true freshman Fabian Washington has taken over the left cornerback spot.
Groce has shown why he is an All-America candidate and listed on the Jim Thorpe Award watch list. Groce had a pass breakup and intercepted two passes against Troy State, helping the Husker defense hold the Trojans to just 11 of 29 in the passing department. He backed up that performance with two more interceptions and a breakup against Utah State.
Groce now has 36 career PBU to rank fourth on the NU career list and is the Huskers? single-season PBU record-holder with 17 in 2000. He has eight career interceptions, including four this season, just off the Husker top 10 season list and three from the school season record of seven, held by three players. Groce?s eight career interceptions are also just off the career top 10 list. Dana Stephenson holds the NU career mark with 14 picks from 1967 to 1969. Groce ranks sixth nationally in interceptions per game at 0.67 and is one of only 10 players to have four or more interceptions this season. Groce has posted those numbers despite the fact that most teams have thrown the majority of their passes to the opposite side of the field. The play and leadership of Groce is a key reason why Nebraska ranks 16th nationally in pass efficiency defense.
Groce is also an electrifying force on Husker special teams. Against Troy State, he set a school record and tied an NCAA mark with two punt return touchdowns. Groce averages 15.7 yards per punt return in his career and is averaging 20.4 yards on 14 returns this season to rank third in the nation. In his career, Groce ranks fifth on the NU punt return yardage list and is in position to finish his career in second place on the chart, behind only 1972 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers.
Senior Rush End Kelsay Leading Blackshirt Front Seven
Senior rush end Chris Kelsay has shown in 2002 why he was a preseason All-Big 12 pick by the league?s media. In addition to his first-team all-league notice by the conference media, Kelsay was a first-team All-Big 12 pick by The Sporting News, which listed him as the nation?s No. 5 defensive end. Kelsay, a senior from Auburn, Neb., was also on preseason watch lists for the Rotary Lombardi Award and the Bronko Nagurski Award.
The 6-5, 260-pound Kelsay is anchoring the Husker defensive front in 2002. Through six games, Kelsay has nine tackles for losses totaling 46 yards, including a team-leading 4.5 sacks for 38 yards. Kelsay also leads the Huskers with 14 QB hurries, including four against Utah State and Penn State. Kelsay recorded 1.5 sacks for 17 yards and four quarterback hurries against Arizona State and added his second career two-sack game against Utah State. Kelsay has also batted down two opposing passes, all while NU?s opponents have regularly double-teamed the senior captain. Kelsay saw very limited action against McNeese State leaving in the first quarter with a strained right hamstring.
Kelsay now has 10.5 sacks and 29 tackles for loss in his Husker career. Kelsay recorded 52 total tackles as a junior, including a team-best 17 tackles for losses totaling 58 yards and five sacks.
Thomas Among Nebraska?s Career Receiving Leaders
Senior split end Wilson Thomas is being relied on as a go-to-player in the Husker offensive attack this season. The 6-6 Thomas leads Nebraska with 19 receptions and has a pair of touchdowns this season. He opened the season with a nine-yard TD against Arizona State, one of his three catches against the Sun Devils, and had four grabs against Troy State. Thomas grabbed his second TD of the year against Utah State on a 23-yard connection with Jammal Lord. He caught an NU season-high five passes for 49 yards against Iowa State and had a team-high four grabs for 47 yards in the win over McNeese State.
The McNeese State game marked the 13th time in his career that Thomas has caught three or more passes in a game, including four games in 2002. Thomas had three or more grabs nine times last season, including six each in key victories over Oklahoma and Kansas State. He capped the 2001 regular season with a career-best 109 receiving yards against Colorado, including a career-long 78-yard reception, the longest non-scoring pass in NU school history.
Thomas has 57 career receptions and is closing fast on the Husker career top 10, just four catches shy of a tie for ninth place on the list. With 803 career receiving yards, Thomas ranks 20th on the NU charts and is 197 yards short of becoming just the 12th Husker in school history to reach 1,000 career receiving yards.
Thomas? 37 receptions last year were the most by any Husker since All-American Irving Fryar caught 40 balls in 1983, and the sixth-most ever by a Husker. Thomas? 616 receiving yards ranked as the fifth-best single-season total in school history and was a record for Husker split ends.
Thomas has spent his past two offseasons playing for Coach Barry Collier?s Husker basketball team. Last season Thomas averaged 4.6 points and 3.8 rebounds in 16 games, including a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds against Missouri in Lincoln.
Diedrick Continuing Husker Running Back Legacy
Senior I-back Dahrran Diedrick is the latest in a long line of outstanding Husker running backs. Diedrick was the Big 12?s leading rusher in 2001 with 1,299 yards and was a first-team All-Big 12 preseason pick in 2002 by the league?s media.
Last month, Diedrick was one of 42 players named to the preseason watch list for the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the nation's top running back. Diedrick was also named first-team preseason All-Big 12 by Football News and Athlon, which also listed him as a second-team preseason All-America pick. The Scarborough, Ontario, Canada native was also listed by Lindy?s and The Sporting News as one of the nation?s top 10 running backs entering the season.
Diedrick reached a milestone against Utah State when he became the 21st Husker to rush for 2,000 career yards. Diedrick finished the game with a season-high 93 yards on 16 carries. Diedrick moved into the top 20 on NU?s career rushing list at Penn State and now has 2,212 career yards to rank 15th in school history. Against McNeese State, Diedrick rushed for 64 yards, including 49 on the opening series of the game. On the day, Diedrick passed fomer standouts Tony Davis, Jarvis Redwine, Bobby Reynolds and Doug DuBose to move up the career rushing chart. Diedrick has rushed for 398 yards and two touchdowns this season and is less than 300 yards from the NU career top 10.
Diedrick, who scored 15 touchdowns last year, rushed for 100 or more yards in seven of his 11 regular-season appearances and scored two or more TDs in five games. If Diedrick were to reach 1,000 yards this season he would move into sixth place on NU?s career rushing list.
Other Huskers on Preseason Watch Lists for National Awards
Groce, Kelsay and Diedrick lead a strong group of Huskers who are candidates for major national awards. Husker linebackers Scott Shanle and Barrett Ruud are two of the 67 preseason candidates for the Butkus Award.
Ruud was Nebraska?s leading tackler in the season opener with eight stops against Arizona State and made eight tackles against McNeese State. Ruud has a team-leading 34 tackles on the season, despite playing with injuries ranging from a broken hand to a bruised shin and an injured knee.
Shanle, the only returning starter in NU?s linebacking corps, has also made a big impact. He returned a blocked punt for a touchdown to give NU a 24-3 advantage in the third quarter against Arizona State and was NU?s leading tackler with 10 stops, including a sack against McNeese State. He has 32 tackles in 2002?tied for second on the team.
Senior center John Garrison has been named to the preseason watch list for the Outland Trophy and the Rimington Award, given annually to the nation's top center. The award is named in honor of former Husker Dave Rimington, a two-time Outland Trophy winner. Garrison is the leader of a re-tooled offensive line that features three first-year starters, but has helped NU to a Big 12-leading 257.8 yards per game on the ground.
Junior punter Kyle Larson continues to prove he is one of the nation?s best, averaging 46.5 yards on 28 punts this season to rank fourth in the nation in punting average. Larson boomed four punts for a 57.3-yard average vs. Utah State, just off the single-game school record. Larson was one of 34 punters on the Ray Guy preseason watch list. For a full listing of Husker players on preseason watch lists, please see the left column on page 6.
True Freshmen Making Big Impact for 2002 Huskers
Five true freshmen have seen action for Nebraska in 2002 and all have made immediate impacts. In fact, three of the true freshman who have played have scored touchdowns on their first touch of their Husker career. In the season opener, left cornerback Fabian Washington intercepted an Arizona State pass and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown. Two games later against Utah State, tight end Matt Herian turned his first career reception into a 33-yard TD. Split end Mark LeFlore got into the act against McNeese State, taking his first career carry on a reverse 64 yards for a touchdown to give NU a 31-7 fourth-quarter advantage.
Washington and split end Ross Pilkington made their Husker debuts in the season opener and have seen the most extensive playing time among the group. Washington took over starting duties at left corner last week and has three intereceptions in five games to rank 11th nationally. Pilkington caught a 90-yard TD pass at Iowa State and ranks second on the team in receptions with eight, while leading the Huskers in receiving yards with 193, good for a 24.1-yard per catch average. Pilkington originally committed to the Huskers in February of 2000, but played two seasons of minor league baseball in the Colorado Rockies? organization before coming to Lincoln.
Herian is listed fourth at tight end while LeFlore is NU?s No. 3 split end. I-back David Horne, a high school teammate of LeFlore at Omaha Central, became the fifth Husker true frosh to see action this season, when he shed his redshirt against McNeese State. Horne made a quick impression, rushing 12 times for 81 yards in his debut.
Last season, three Huskers saw action as true freshmen, including Mike linebacker Barrett Ruud, rover Philip Bland and receiver Mike Stuntz. Bland became the first true freshman to start since 1997 (Erwin Swiney and Joe Walker). Stuntz has moved back to quarterback after playing split end last year. He was the first skill-position player (QB, RB or WR) under Solich to bypass a redshirt season and this year has been joined by Pilkington, LeFlore and Horne.
Three Seniors Serving as 2002 Team Captains
Three seniors were elected team captains by their teammates before the start of the season?center John Garrison, rush end Chris Kelsay and cornerback DeJuan Groce.
Kelsay is the second member of his family to serve as a Nebraska football captain, joining his brother, Chad, a captain on Solich?s first team in 1998. The Kelsays are the fifth brother combination in school history to serve as team captains, joining Mike (1983) and Andy Keeler (1988), Erik (1991) and Zach Wiegert (1994), Christian (1995) and Jason Peter (1997) and Grant (1997) and Tracey Wistrom (2001). The 2002 campaign marks the first season Nebraska has had only three captains since the 1987 campaign. The Huskers had five captains a year ago and six in 2000.
Nebraska fell out of the top 25 in both polls after the loss at Iowa State, ending a streak of 348 straight weeks in the Associated Press Poll. Nebraska had been ranked in every AP weekly poll since October of 1981.
Although the Huskers have fallen from the top 25, the remaining Big 12 schedule presents Nebraska with an opportunity to re-enter the rankings this season. In addition to playing road games at nationally ranked Penn State and Iowa State to date, the Huskers have two games remaining against teams ranked in this week?s polls?Texas and Kansas State.
Nebraska continues to receive votes in both polls, with nine points in the AP poll and 13 from the coaches. Four Big 12 teams are ranked this week, including Texas (3 AP/2 Coaches), Oklahoma (2/3), Iowa State (11/14) and Kansas State (19/23). In addition to Nebraska, Big 12 teams Colorado, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech received votes in one or both polls. Penn State is ranked 15th and 17th in this week?s poll, while 4-2 Arizona State is receiving votes in the coaches poll.
Nebraska opened the 2002 season ranked in the Associated Press preseason top 25 for the 33rd consecutive season. The Huskers were ranked No. 10 in this year?s AP preseason listing, the 10th consecutive season Nebraska has opened in the Top 10. The Huskers were ranked eighth in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches preseason poll.
Nebraska?s AP preseason ranking was its lowest since opening at No. 11 in 1992, but marked the fifth straight season under Solich that NU was in the preseason top 10. Under Solich, Nebraska?s loftiest preseason ranking came in 2000, when the Huskers were listed first in both AP and coaches polls.
Nebraska Personnel/Injury Update
Nebraska has not been hit with major injuries since the early portion of the season when the Huskers lost a pair of defensive linemen to season-ending injuries. Senior nose tackle Jason Lohr went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in Nebraska's final scrimmage on Aug. 16. Lohr, who underwent surgery on Aug. 23, is lost for the year after missing the final 10 games of last season with an LCL tear in the same knee. In NU's victory over Arizona State, reserve defensive tackle Jared Helming also tore the ACL in his left knee and is out for the season.
At Mike linebacker, sophomore Barrett Ruud continues to be hampered by injuries. Ruud broke his left hand against Troy State, but returned to that contest with a cast and played the following three games with a cast. Ruud was slowed by a bruised knee suffered in the Utah State game and a bruised right shin at Iowa State. He did not return to the game at Iowa State, but responded with eight tackles against McNeese State.
I-back Thunder Collins completed his four-game suspension against Iowa State and returned to action against McNeese State. After failing to comply with NCAA regulations, Collins was ruled ineligible.
Nebraska Boasts Big 12-Best 35 Players on Opening Day NFL Rosters
Nebraska remains among the nation?s leaders in supplying talent to the National Football League. In fact, the Huskers had a Big 12-best 45 players in 2002 NFL training camps and 35 of those players currently find themselves on 2002 rosters. A full listing can be found in the left margin of page eight.
Among Nebraska?s notable alumni on NFL rosters are 10-year veteran offensive guard Will Shields of the Kansas City Chiefs, who has appeared in seven consecutive Pro Bowls. Green Bay?s Ahman Green finished fourth in the NFL in rushing last season with 1,387 yards, while St. Louis defensive end Grant Wistrom has been a key component in a Ram defense that has helped the team to the Super Bowl in two of the last three years. The Carolina Panther defense currently ranks No. 1 in the NFL in large part because of the play of a pair of former Huskers. Defensive end Mike Rucker is among the league leaders in sacks with five and has also forced three fumbles, while safety Mike Minter has intercepted two passes, including one that he returned for a touchdown.
Since 1994, Nebraska has had 53 players selected in the NFL Draft, the third-most of any school in the nation and tops among Big 12 Conference schools.