Huskers Return Home to Square Off Against Seventh-Ranked Texas
No. 7/7 Texas (7-1, 3-1)
DATE: Saturday, Nov. 2, 2002
167th Calvary, Erstad in Attendance
|Nebraska will salute the 167th Calvary based in Nebraska who are deploying to Bosnia in November. during pregame of Saturday?s contest. At halftime, NU will recognize Anaheim Angel outfielder Darin Erstad, who played a key role in the team?s World Series victory. Erstad was a baseball All-American for the Huskers and was the No. 1 pick in the 1995 draft. He was also the starting punter on Nebraska?s 1994 national championship football team.|
Lincoln -- Nebraska (6-3, 2-2) returns home to Memorial Stadium to take on No. 7 Texas this Saturday in a matchup of two of the most storied programs in college football history. The Huskers hope to build on the momentum gained in last week?s 38-31 comeback victory at Texas A&M. That win ended Nebraska?s road losing streak at five games and allowed the Huskers to even their conference record at 2-2 and improve to 6-3 overall on the season. Kickoff for the Nebraska-Texas tilt is set for 6 p.m. and the game will be televised nationally on Fox Sports Net.
After ending a road losing streak last week, the Huskers now turn their attention to continuing a nation-leading streak. Nebraska has won its past 26 games at Memorial Stadium since Texas posted a 20-16 upset in Lincoln in 1998. In fact, the Longhorn?s victory at Nebraska four seasons ago is NU?s lone loss at Memorial Stadium in its past 74 home games.
The Longhorns enter Saturday evening?s game with a 7-1 overall record and a 3-1 mark in the Big 12 Conference. Texas is ranked No. 7 in both national polls this week after a 21-10 victory over Iowa State last Saturday in Austin. The win was UT?s second straight over a ranked opponent after a 35-24 setback against No. 2 Oklahoma three weeks ago in Dallas.
Saturday?s matchup will break a tie in the all-time series between the two schools. Nebraska and Texas have split the first eight meetings in the series, with the ?Horns winning three of four matchups since the formation of the Big 12 Conference. Texas holds a 2-1 edge in the three games played at Memorial Stadium.
Running Game Propels Nebraska to Second-Half Comeback at Texas A&M
Nebraska rallied from a 17-point second half deficit for a 38-31 victory at Texas A&M last Saturday, giving the Huskers their first road victory of the season. Texas A&M jumped to a 31-14 lead midway through the third quarter, but Nebraska did not stray from its gameplan. NU?s offense pounded the Aggie defense with a three-headed rushing attack and scored 24 points in the game?s final 22 minutes.
The evening started well for the Huskers, who took the opening kickoff and drove 80 yards in eight plays for a touchdown capped by a Dahrran Diedrick 12-yard TD run. However, a series of Nebraska miscues allowed Texas A&M to outscore the Huskers 31-7 from late in the first quarter to midway through the third period.
The Aggies evened the score at 7-7 late in the first quarter, when Terrence Thomas returned a blocked punt 12 yards for a touchdown. On its next drive, Nebraska fumbled deep in its own territory and the Aggies needed just two plays to move six yards for a touchdown and a 14-7 advantage. Nebraska?s offense continued to move successfully against the stout Texas A&M defense and tied the score at 14 midway through the second quarter on a two-yard David Horne touchdown run.
The Aggies took the lead into the locker room after a 12-play, 67-yard touchdown drive just before halftime. The A&M lead grew to 10 points on the opening drive of the second half, capped by a 33-yard Todd Pegram field goal. Nebraska appeared ready to cut into the lead on its next drive, but the Aggie defense stripped Jammal Lord of the football on a third-down run and Byron Jones returned the fumble 66 yards for a score and a 31-14 A&M advantage.
Nebraska relied on its power running game on the next drive. Dahrran Diedrick picked up 18 and 29 yards on the first two plays of the drive and Horne followed with a 21-yard TD sprint down the sideline to cap the drive and cut the lead to 31-21. The Husker defense forced A&M to punt on its next possession, and the NU offense then put together its gutsiest drive of the season. The Huskers converted two fourth downs on the drive, including one from their own 28, and marched 81 yards in 13 plays for a touchdown. Horne ran in from 11 yards out for his third touchdown to cap a balanced drive that included two Lord to Ross Pilkington pass plays covering 52 yards.
The Blackshirt defense kept the momentum squarely in NU?s corner, forcing A&M three-and-out on its next series. After a short Aggie punt, Nebraska moved 35 yards in six plays, all on the ground, for the go-ahead touchdown. Horne ran fror 20 yards on the drive and put Nebraska ahead with a six-yard TD run, his fourth of the night. Nebraska added a Josh Brown field goal after a Pat Ricketts interception to push its lead to 38-31 with six minutes remaining. The Aggies mounted one final threat, moving inside the NU 10 behind the passing of QB Dustin Long. However, Philip Bland made a diving interception in the end zone on first-and-goal from the NU 9, sealing the NU victory.
Recapping Game Nine...Nebraska 38, Texas A&M 31
Nebraska?s victory ended a five-game road losing streak and was its first-ever win in College Station. The Huskers took an 8-2 advantage in the all-time series between the schools and posted their fifth straight victory in the state of Texas.
The Huskers overcame a 31-14 deficit in the contest, marking their largest comeback in the Frank Solich era. NU?s previous largest comeback under Solich was a rally from a 13-3 deficit for a 20-13 win against Missouri in 1998 in Lincoln. The 17-point rally was NU?s largest since the Huskers fell behind 17-0 at Kansas in 1991, but rallied for a 59-23 rout of the Jayhawks. The previous time Nebraska trailed in the fourth quarter and won was a 34-32 victory over Colorado in 2000, when the Huskers hit a game-winning field goal on the game?s final play.
Nebraska gained 381 rushing yards in the contest, the most in 32 years against the Aggies. Texas A&M entered the game allowing just 76.9 yards per game on the ground, a mark that ranked first in the Big 12 and fifth nationally. Before Nebraska?s 381-yard effort, the previous rushing high against A&M was 129 yards by Virginia Tech.
Freshman I-back David Horne rushed for 128 yards and four touchdowns in the game, the most ever vs. Texas A&M. After his second straight 100-yard outing, Horne has 422 rushing yards in four games and ranks seventh on the NU single-season frosh rushing list. Horne is the first Husker player to rush for four TDs since Eric Crouch accomplished the feat twice in 2001 (Kansas, Iowa State). He is the first Husker freshman to score four touchdowns since Calvin Jones? school-record six rushing TDs at Kansas in 1991.
QB Jammal Lord posted his fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season with 159 yards on an NU quarterback record 30 carries. In the game Lord became the 52nd Husker to crack the 1,000-yard career rushing mark. He also passed for 116 yards in the game and became the 22nd Husker to pass for more than 1,000 yards in his career. Lord has 921 yards rushing and 859 yards passing this season.
Senior I-back Dahrran Diedrick ran 15 times for 85 yards on the night, including 78 yards on nine carries in the second half. Diedrick?s 29-yard run in the third quarter was his longest of the season.
Split end Wilson Thomas caught four passes for 59 yards in the game. He now has 61 career receptions, good for a tie for ninth place on the NU career chart.
Freshman split end Ross Pilkington had two receptions for 52 yards in the game, marking the seventh straight game he has had at least one reception. Pilkington has 12 catches in 2002, tying the NU frosh record for receptions, previoulsy shared by Ahman Green (1995) and DeAngelo Evans (1996).
Linebacker Demorrio Williams posted a career-best nine tackles in the game, including a 15-yard sack of Dustin Long in the fourth quarter. He also had a pass breakup.
Cornerback Pat Ricketts had a team-high 11 tackles and picked off his second pass of the season in the fourth quarter. He also added a pass breakup in the contest.
Safety Philip Bland nabbed his first career interception in the fourth quarter to seal the Husker victory. He also had nine tackles, the third time in four games he has had nine or more tackles.
Nebraska?s Blackshirt defense limited Texas A&M to a season-low 53 rushing yards and forced more than one turnover for the first time in five 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 48-12 school and career record (.800). 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 .800 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.
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. Running backs coach Dave Gillespie moved to the sideline for NU?s win at Texas A&M, after being in the press box for the first eight games. Assisting from the press box are rush ends coach Nelson Barnes, defensive backs coach George Darlington and offensive line coach Milt Tenopir.
Nebraska Hopes to Defend Home Field Against Longhorns
Nebraska carries a nation-leading 26-game home winning streak into Saturday?s game with No. 7 Texas. The Huskers have won 73 of 74 games at Memorial Stadium since 1991, with the only blemish a 20-16 loss to Texas on Oct. 31, 1998.
The Longhorn victory ended Nebraska?s school record home winning streak at 47 games and dashed NU?s hopes of reaching the all-time NCAA record of 57 straight home wins. The loss is NU?s only home setback under Head Coach Frank Solich, who has guided the Huskers to a 31-1 record at Memorial Stadium. Texas will be the third top-10 team to visit Memorial Stadium during Nebraska?s current home win streak.
Nebraska has lost just 10 home games since 1990, with just six teams leaving Lincoln with a victory. In fact, Texas Coach Mack Brown is one of just three active coaches who have a victory against Nebraska at Memorial Stadium, joining Florida State?s Bobby Bowden (1980, 1985) and Penn State?s Joe Paterno (1981).
Texas has a 2-1 edge over Nebraska in games played in Lincoln, one of just six teams to have a winning record against NU at Memorial Stadium. The others are Air Force (0-1), Indiana (5-7-2), Pittsburgh (1-5-3), USC (0-1) and Washington State (1-2).
Huskers, ?Horns Have History of Championships
This weekend?s matchup not only pits two of the four winningest football programs in NCAA history, but also a pair of schools that are accustomed to capturing championships on the gridiron.
Nebraska and Texas have won a combined eight national titles, including 1970 when Nebraska captured the AP title, while Texas was awarded the UPI crown.
The schools have combined for 69 conference championships, including 43 by Nebraska and 26 by Texas. In fact, the schools have combined for three of the first six Big 12 titles and have met in the championship game twice (1996 and 1999). The two schools have both made three Big 12 Championship Game appearances in the first six seasons of competition in the league, more than any other conference school.
What a Comeback
Nebraska showed its resilience in picking up a 38-31 victory at Texas A&M, just the 11th home loss for the Aggies in the past 14 years. First, the Huskers rebounded from their most disappointing loss of the 2002 campaign, a 24-21 setback at Oklahoma State a week earlier.
In addition, Nebraska rallied from a 31-14 third-quarter deficit to upend the Aggies. The rally was one of the top come-from-behind efforts in school history and Nebraska?s best under Head Coach Frank Solich.
A few notes on Nebraska?s comeback victory at Texas A&M.
The previous largest deficit Nebraska had overcome to win under Frank Solich was 10 points against Missouri on Oct. 24, 1998, in Lincoln. NU trailed 13-3 in the second quarter, but rallied for a 20-13 win.
The Huskers? rally from 17 points behind was their largest in any game since a 59-23 win at Kansas in 1991. NU trailed 17-0 in the first quarter of that contest, but used six Calvin Jones TD runs to pave the way to an easy victory.
Nebraska?s previous victory when trailing after three quarters was on Nov. 27, 1998, when the Huskers trailed Colorado 14-13 after three quarters, but pulled out a 16-14 victory.
Before the A&M game, NU had not won a game when trailing at any point in the fourth quarter since a 34-32 victory over Colorado on Nov. 24, 2000. CU led 32-31 late in the game, but NU?s Josh Brown hit a game-winning field goal on the last play of the contest.
Nebraska trailed 31-21 entering the fourth quarter at Texas A&M. The last time Nebraska rallied from a bigger deficit entering the fourth quarter was on Oct. 22, 1966, at Colorado. The Huskers trailed 19-7 entering the fourth quarter, but rallied for a 21-19 victory. Nebraska rallied from 10-point deficits entering the fourth quarter twice for bowl victories under Tom Osborne. NU trailed Florida 10-0 entering the fourth in the 1974 Sugar Bowl and won 13-10 and was behind North Carolina 17-7 heading into the fourth quarter of the 1977 Liberty Bowl, but escaped with a 21-17 victory.
Surging Husker Running Game to Face One of Nation?s Best Defenses Nebraska?s running game had its most impressive outing of the season at Texas A&M. The Huskers ran for 381 yards on a season-high 73 rushing attempts and scored five TDs on the ground. The effort is especially impressive when considering that the Aggies entered the game allowing just 76.9 yards per game on the ground and had not allowed an opponent to run for more than 129 yards in 2002. In fact, NU?s 381 rushing yards were the most against Texas A&M in 32 seasons. Before Saturday?s game, A&M had not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 20 games, but a pair of Huskers topped that mark (Lord, 159; Horne, 128).
The Texas A&M game continued a trend of rushing success in the past four games.Since rushing for just 81 yards in a loss at Iowa State, Nebraska has topped 250 yards on the ground in four straight games and has averaged 352.3 yards rushing in those games. The stretch opened with a season-high 444 yards rushing vs. McNeese State, followed by 325 yards in a win over Missouri, 259 yards on the ground at Oklahoma State and the A&M contest. For the season, Nebraska is averaging a Big 12-best 279.1 yards rushing per game to rank fourth in the nation.
Quarterback Jammal Lord and true freshman I-back David Horne have keyed Nebraska?s rushing success in recent weeks. Lord has run for 548 yards in the last four games (137.0 ypg), including an NU quarterback record 218 yards vs. McNeese State. He added 159 yards at Texas A&M on an NU quarterback record 30 carries. Horne shed his redshirt after the Iowa State game and has gained 422 yards (105.5 ypg), including back-to-back 100-yard games at Oklahoma State and Texas A&M.
Like last week at Texas A&M, NU?s offense will face a tough test this week. Texas ranks third nationally in both total defense and scoring defense.
Husker O-Line Has Record-Setting Day Against Aggie Defense
Nebraska?s offensive line has paved the way for the rushing success. Against Texas A&M, Nebraska had a school-record 110 pancakes, bettering the previous high of 101 vs. Baylor in 2000. Redshirt freshman offensive tackle Richie Incognito had 28 knock-down blocks against the Aggies, the second-highest total in school history, trailing only Toniu Fonoti?s 32 against Texas Tech last season. Incognito leads Nebraska with 114 pancakes, including 49 in the past two games.
Incognito was not alone in playing an outstanding game. Four other Husker offensive linemen had career-high pancake totals. Offensive tackle Dan Vili Waldrop?s 24 pancakes were the fourth-highest total in school history, seven better than his previous career high of 17 vs. Rice in 2001. Center John Garrison matched his career high with 20 pancakes. Guards Junior Tagoa?i (18) and Mike Erickson (16) also bettered their previous best outings. Tagoa?i played the majority of the game after starting guard Wes Cody left early with a leg injury. Tagoa?i has three double-figure pancake efforts despite coming off the NU bench, while Erickson?s effort was his fourth double-figure pancake game of the year.
Offensive line coach Milt Tenopir credited his troops for their outstanding play in the NU victory. "We saw it coming during the week. We challenged them and they rose to the occasion. It was a joint effort and they all played well. They know they can do it and their confidence level is very high now." Tenopir also said that Coach Solich showed confidence in the linemen when Nebraska went for it on fourth-and-one on its own 28 in the third quarter. "They knew then that Coach Solich had confidence in them and it really sent a message to them."
Lord Facing Task of Leading Young Husker Offense
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 has rebounded and is producing one of the top total offense seasons in school history.
Lord rushed for 159 yards on a Nebraska QB record 30 carries at Texas A&M and passed for 116 yards in the 38-31 win. In the process, Lord pushed both his career rushing and passing total past the 1,000-yard marks. He now has 1,134 career rushing yards to rank 43rd on the NU list and 1,040 passing yards, good for 22nd on the Husker career chart.
The 6-2, 220-pound Lord is nearing a rare milestone in 2002. He has 921 rushing yards and 859 yards through the air this season and is on pace to become the third Husker quarterback in six seasons to rush and pass for more than 1,000 in a season, joining Scott Frost (1997) and Eric Crouch (2001). His 1,780 total offensive yards place him less than 300 yards from the NU single-season top 10.
Lord began his recent surge with a record-setting afternoon against McNeese State, 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 that Lord 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. Lord posted his second 100-100 game of the season at Texas A&M. Lord?s 159 yards against the Aggies marked his fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season. In addition to the McNeese State game, he also topped the century mark with 103 yards vs. Arizona State and 111 at Penn State. Against McNeese State, Lord 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. His 41-yard scamper against Texas A&M is the longest non-scoring run by a Husker in 2002.
The McNeese State game was also a career-best passing day for Lord in terms of completions (12), attempts (18), yards (151) and percentage (.667). He has topped 100 yards passing in six times in 2002, including four of the past five games. Most recently he threw for 116 yards at Texas A&M.
Lord has led the Huskers in rushing six times in 2002, most recently with 159 yards in a 38-31 victory over Texas A&M. Lord leads Nebraska in rushing with 921 yards and seven touchdowns and averages 5.9 yards per carry. His 102.3 yards rushing per game rank 34th in the nation and fifth in the Big 12 Conference. Lord is second nationally in rushing among quarterbacks. His 197.7 total offensive yards per game rank seventh in the Big 12.
Going Around the Horne
I-back David Horne has given the Husker running game a kick-start since ending his redshirt season four games ago. Horne has rushed for 422 yards in four games (105.5 ypg) and has raced for more than 100 yards in each of the past two games. Horne had 125 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries at Oklahoma State and had a career-best 128 yards and four touchdowns vs. Texas A&M.
In the Oklahoma State game, Horne became the first true freshman I-back to rush for more than 100 yards since DeAngelo Evans had 130 yards in the 1996 Big 12 Championship Game against Texas. Horne was the first Husker frosh at any position to top 100 yards rushing since redshirt freshman quarterback Eric Crouch had 108 yards in a 40-30 loss at Kansas State in 1998. Horne?s 100-yard outings the past two weeks mark the first time a Husker back has topped 100 yards since Dahrran Diedrick rushed for 108 yards on 24 carries vs. Kansas State on Nov. 10, 2001. Horne?s four touchdowns at Texas A&M were the most by a Husker freshman since fellow Omaha Central graduate Calvin Jones rushed for a school-record six TDs at Kansas in 1991 as a redshirt freshman.
Horne?s speed and field vision were evident immediately in his debut against McNeese State. He made a strong debut, rushing 12 times for 81 yards. He backed that performance up with 88 yards on a team-high 20 carries against Missouri, including 46 yards on a key second-quarter TD drive. He also added his first career TD on a five-yard run in the first quarter against Mizzou.
The 6-0, 190-pound Horne is averaging 5.3 yards per carry in his first four games. His 105.5 yards per game would rank fifth in the Big 12 Conference and among the top 35 in the nation if he had played in the required number of games. With 422 yards, Horne ranks seventh on the NU single-season list for most rushing yards by a freshman. He is just 78 yards from becoming the sixth Husker frosh to rush for more than 500 yards.
Diedrick Continues to Climb Husker Rushing Charts
Senior I-back Dahrran Diedrick had his most impressive outing of the 2002 season at Texas A&M. He rushed for 85 yards on 15 carries in the game, including 78 yards on nine carries after halftime. Diedrick also scored his fourth touchdown of the season on a 12-yard run on NU?s opening drive and had a season-long 29-yard scamper in the third quarter.
Diedrick has totaled 570 rushing yards this season and joined an elite club against Utah State when he became the 21st Husker to rush for 2,000 career yards. He finished that game with a season-high 93 yards and now has 2,384 career yards to rank 14th on the Husker charts.
At 6-0 and 225 pounds, Diedrick supplies the Huskers with a physical running complement to freshman I-back David Horne who gives NU a home-run threat at the position. Quarterback Jammal Lord gives the Huskers one of the nation?s most lethal three-player rushing threats.
Diedrick was a first-team All-Big 12 pick last season after leading the league in rushing with 1,299 yards. He also scored 15 touchdowns and rushed for 100 or more yards in seven of 11 regular-season appearances. 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.
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 23 receptions and has a pair of touchdowns this season. Thomas was held without a reception in consecutive games against Missouri and Oklahoma State, but was again a key part of the offense at Texas A&M. He had four catches for a season-high 59 yards against the Aggies, including a season-long 28-yard catch in the second quarter that set up a David Horne TD run.
Thomas? four catches against Texas A&M pushed his career total to 61 and moved him into a tie for ninth place on the NU career receptions chart. Thomas 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 Texas A&M game marked the 14th time in his career that Thomas has caught three or more passes in a game, including five games in 2002. He 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.
With 862 career receiving yards, Thomas ranks 18th on the NU charts and is 138 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.
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 success in 2002.
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. The special teams has remained solid throughout the season and again played a big role in the 24-13 victory over Missouri. Groce had his third punt return TD of the year and Josh Davis averaged nearly 28 yards on four kickoff returns.
Here?s a quick look at Nebraska?s special teams dominance in 2002.
Punt Returns...Nebraska ranks second in the nation in punt returns, averaging 18.6 yards on 28 punt returns this season. Groce has returned 24 punts for 481 yards, for a nation-leading 20.0 average. Groce?s two punt return touchdowns vs. Troy State not only set a school record, but matched the NCAA record. His 89-yard TD return against Missouri was his third of the season and the third-longest punt return in school history. It also tied the NU school record for punt return TDs in a season, matching Johnny Rodgers? three in 1971. His 155 yards on two returns against Troy State was just 15 yards shy of the school record for punt return yardage in a game. Groce moved up to second on the NU career punt return chart with his performance against Missouri. Groce has four punt returns of 25 yards or longer in 2002.
Place-kicking...Senior place-kicker Josh Brown is 7-of-9 on field goals in 2002 and perfect in 34 PAT attempts. Brown has five field goals of 40 yards or longer this season. He entered the season with just four 40-yarders in 12 career attempts from that range. (NU opponents are 2-of-4 from 40-plus yards in 2002). 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. He has added 42-yarders against Missouri and Texas A&M. Brown missed a fourth-quarter field goal vs. Missouri, ending a streak of eight straight field goals made. Brown has hit 12 of his last 15 field goals dating back to last season. He ranks fourth at Nebraska with 282 career points. Brown?s performance on kickoff duties should not be left unnoticed with 30 of his 51 kickoffs this season (2-7 vs. Texas A&M) ending in touchbacks. Brown and Nebraska?s kickoff coverage team have pinned opponents inside the 20 on seven occasions.
Punting...NU?s Kyle Larson continues to prove that he is among the nation?s top punters. Larson ranks 17th in the nation in punting with a 42.6-yard average on the season. He has also pinned the opposition inside the 20 12 times, including three times each vs. Troy State and Oklahoma State. He has pinned opponents inside the 10-yard line five times, including twice at Penn State. Husker opponents have pinned Nebraska inside the 20 on punts 11 times. Larson has averaged better than 45 yards per punt in five games this season (46.2 vs. TSU; 57.3 vs. USU, 46.8 vs. PSU, 47.2 vs. ISU and 50.5 vs. A&M) with a career-best 57.3 vs. Utah State, when he also had a career-best 71 yarder. Larson has had at least one punt of 45 yards or more in every game except McNeese State when he punted just twice, and had a season-high five punts of 45 yards or more vs. Penn State. Larson has punted a season-high six punts four times. Nebraska ranks 14th in the nation in net punting at 37.72 yards per attempt. Larson, a Ray Guy Award candidate, has been NU?s nominee for Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week three times this season.
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. Texas A&M was the first opponent to block an NU punt this season and returned the ball for a first-quarter 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 22.73 yards per return, with a season-long 42-yarder vs. Utah State. He has nine kickoff returns of 25 yards or more in 2002, including three against Missouri. Davis ranks second at Nebraska in career kickoff return yardage with 1,201 yards and owns the top two season totals in school history, including his NU record 675 kickoff return yards in 2001.
Kick Coverage...Nebraska has allowed opponents to average just 16.3 yards on kickoff returns and only 9.4 yards on 18 punt returns this season. While Groce and Davis have combined for 13 returns of 25 yards or more, NU opponents have just three such returns (one punt, two kickoffs).
Huskers Scoring in All Three Facets of Game
Nebraska has reached the end zone 35 times this season, with the offense, defense and special teams all getting into the act. Of Nebraska?s touchdowns, five have been non-offensive scores, two in each of the Huskers? first two games this season and DeJuan Groce?s 89-yard punt return TD vs. Missouri.
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 seven of their last 16 games dating back to last season (3 of 9 in 2002). Seven members of the 2002 team have scored non-offensive TDs in their careers led by Groce?s five 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.
Late Turnovers Help Key NU Comeback at Texas A&M; Blackshirts Strive for Better Turnover Ratio
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-7 in turnover margin in the past six games, including a combined five-turnover disadvantage in three losses. Nebraska ranks 80th in the nation in turnover margin at -0.44.
The Huskers got off to a slow start in the turnover department last week in College Station. The Aggies turned two NU turnovers into 14 points in building a 31-14 advantage. Nebraska did not force an A&M turnover in the first three quarters, but picked off two Dustin Long passes in the fourth quarter. The first interception (Pat Ricketts) led to a field goal that gave NU a 38-31 advantage. Philip Bland?s pick with less than three minutes remaining sealed the NU victory. NU will face another strong team in turnover margin this week. Texas enters the game ranked 25th nationally in the category at a +0.88 per game.
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. Arizona State has since proven to have an opportunistic defense, forcing 28 turnovers in winning seven of its eight games since the loss at Nebraska.
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. He has four interceptions and six pass breakups this fall despite teams routinely avoiding his side of the field. Groce?s shut-down abilities are a key factor in Nebraska ranking 20th nationally in pass efficiency defense with a 102.88 rating.
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 had a season-high three pass breakups at Texas A&M and now has 39 career PBU to rank third 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 35th nationally in interceptions per game at 0.44.
The senior is a threat to become the first Husker to ever earn All-America honors at two positions in the same year. In addition to being among one of the nation?s top corners, 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. He added an 89-yard return for a touchdown against Missouri, giving him three this season, tying Johnny Rodgers? school record and moving him within one return TD of the NCAA record. Groce?s punt return exploits earned him a spot on CNNSI.com?s Midseason All-American team.
Groce averages 16.4 yards per punt return in his career and is averaging 20.0 yards on 24 returns this season to lead the nation. Groce totaled 114 yards on four punt returns against Missouri to move into second place on the NU career punt return yardage list and he now has 967 career yards. Groce?s 481 punt return yards this season already rank third on the NU single-season chart, just ahead of his 469 yards last season.
Blackshirts Look for Return of Rush End Kelsay
Nebraska continues to improve on defense despite the loss of its most dominant player in the front seven. Senior rush end Chris Kelsay has missed the majority of the past four games with a hamstring injury.
Before his injury Kelsay had shown 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 the anchor of the Husker defensive front. Despite missing the last 15-plus quarters of action, Kelsay leads Nebraska with nine tackles for losses totaling 46 yards this season. He also still holds the team lead with 4.5 sacks for 38 yards and has a team-high 14 quarterback hurries. He tallied four QB hurries against both 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 regularly double-teamed the senior captain.
Kelsay saw very limited action against McNeese State leaving in the first quarter with a strained right hamstring. The injury has forced him to miss Nebraska?s games with Missouri, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, but Kelsay still had an impact in the games with his presence from the sideline. Several of his teammates credited Kelsay with encouraging the defensive troops from the sideline throughout the Blackshirts? top performance of 2002 vs. Missouri. In addition, Kelsay was instrumental in a defensive players? meeting where the defense set goals for the game. The goals set included 13 or fewer points, less than 100 yards rushing allowed and fewer than 250 total yards by the Tigers. NU met all of those goals.
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.
Other Huskers on Preseason Watch Lists for National Awards
Several Huskers were mentioned as preseason candidates for national awards. In addition to Groce (Thorpe), Kelsay (Lombardi) and Diedrick (Doak Walker), Husker linebackers Scott Shanle and Barrett Ruud were two of the 67 preseason candidates for the Butkus Award, which announced 11 semifinalists for the award two weeks ago.
Shanle is tied for second on the team with 52 tackles, including a season-high 10 stops against McNeese State. He also returned a blocked punt for a touchdown against Arizona State. Ruud is tied for fifth on the team in tackles with 47 (six TFL), despite being plagued by injuries throughout the season.
Senior center John Garrison was 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 an offensive line that has helped NU to a Big 12-leading 279.1 rushing yards per game.
Junior punter Kyle Larson continues to prove he is one of the nation?s best, averaging 42.6 yards on 40 punts this season to rank among the top 20 nationally 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.
True Freshmen Making Big Impact for 2002 Huskers
Five true freshmen have seen action for Nebraska in 2002 and all have made immediate impacts. Split end Ross Pilkington is in his first season as a Husker after two seasons of minor league baseball, while I-back David Horne, split end Mark LeFlore, tight end Matt Herian and cornerback Fabian Washington are all just a year removed from high school.
The freshmen have proven to be difference-makers throughout the season, with their biggest impact in NU?s last two games. Nebraska had 369 yards of total offense at Oklahoma State, 204 (55 percent) of which were accounted for by true freshmen. Horne accounted for the largest chunk of the yardage with 125 rushing yards on 24 carries. LeFlore gained 29 yards on a reverse on the game?s opening play, while Herian set up NU?s first touchdown with a 44-yard reception. The Texas A&M game was similar as the frosh accounted for 185 yards of total offense, with Horne rushing for 128 yards and Pilkington grabbing two passes for 52 yards. Washington added three pass breakups and seven tackles in the victory.
The true freshmen wasted no time this season making their presence known. In fact, three of the five scored touchdowns on their first touch of their Husker careers. In the season opener, Washington intercepted an Arizona State pass and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown. Two games later against Utah State, Herian turned his first career reception into a 33-yard TD. 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. Horne has scored two touchdowns and Pilkington scored on a 90-yard TD at Iowa State, the Huskers? longest pass play in 37 years.
Washington and Pilkington were the only two members of the group to play in the season opener. The 6-0, 175-pound Washington took over starting duties at left corner against McNeese State and has a nose for the football. Washington has three interceptions this season and has also recovered and forced a fumble, while breaking up six passes.
Pilkington ranks second on the team in receptions with 12 and leads the Huskers in receiving yards with 268, good for a 22.3-yard per catch average. He has caught at least one pass in seven straight games and his 12 catches are tied for the Nebraska freshman receptions record. His 268 receiving yards leave him just 14 yards away from Johnny Mitchell?s 1990 frosh receiving yardage record of 282 yards. 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.
Three Huskers saw action as true freshmen in 2001?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.
The Huskers have three games remaining against ranked teams?Texas, Kansas State and Colorado. Five Big 12 teams are ranked this week, including Oklahoma (2 AP/2 Coaches) Texas (7/7), Colorado (13/12), Kansas State (14/14) and Iowa State (22/23). Nebraska earned 15 points in the coaches poll and 18 in the Associated Press poll, good for eighth among others receiving votes in both polls. Texas A&M is still receiving votes in both polls following the loss to Nebraska. Two of Nebraska?s non-conference opponents are ranked with Arizona State listed at 16th and 17th, while Penn State checks in at 20th and 21st.
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, NU?s loftiest preseason ranking came in 2000, when the Huskers were listed first in both AP and coaches polls.
Nebraska Personnel/Injury Update
Senior rush end Chris Kelsay has missed Nebraska?s past three games with a hamstring injury, but hopes to return to action this week. His injury is the latest in a series of injuries to hit Nebraska?s defensive front four. In the preseason, senior nose tackle Jason Lohr was lost for the season with a torn left ACL. In game one vs. Arizona State, redshirt freshman defensive tackle Jared Helming also tore the ACL in his left knee and was lost for the season. In addition, redshirt freshman Seppo Evwaraye is out for the season with an injury to his right shoulder, while freshman defensive tackle Brandon Greeson, who is redshirting this fall, will also miss the remainder of fall practice with a shoulder injury. Offensive guard Wes Cody left the Texas A&M game in the first half with a bruised left leg, while rover Lannie Hopkins suffered a concussion against the Aggies.
35 Former Huskers on NFL Opening-Day 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 32 of those players currently find themselves on 2002 rosters. Nebraska had 30 players on active 2002 opening day rosters to rank eighth nationally and tops among Big 12 schools.
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 DE 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 among the NFL leaders in large part because of the play of a pair of former Huskers. Defensive end Mike Rucker was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Month in September and is among the league leaders in sacks and fumbles caused. Safety Mike Minter, Carolina?s all-time leading tackler has intercepted two passes, including one that he returned for a touchdown.
Since 1994, NU 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.