DATE: Saturday, Nov. 16, 2002
Lincoln -- Nebraska (7-4, 3-3) will look to ensure its 41st consecutive winning campaign on Saturday when it travels to Manhattan, Kan., to take on nationally ranked Kansas State. The Huskers became eligible for a 34th consecutive bowl trip with last Saturday?s 45-7 win over Kansas and also locked up a 41st straight non-losing campaign. However, the Huskers will need to pick up an eighth victory to guarantee an above .500 season and need two victories to extend their streak of nine-win seasons to 34 years.
The Huskers face a tall order in Saturday?s game at Manhattan. The Wildcats enter the game with an 8-2 record, including a 4-2 mark in the Big 12 Conference after a 58-7 victory over Iowa State on Saturday night in Manhattan. Kansas State is ranked 11th in both polls this week and still has hopes of capturing the North Division crown. The Wildcats lone setbacks this season have come on the road against Big 12 North leader Colorado and at home against No. 4 Texas. The Wildcats feature one of the nation?s top defenses, ranking in the top 10 in all four major defensive statistical categories.
Nebraska holds a decided advantage in the all-time series between the two schools, holding a 72-12-2 edge in the series. However, in recent years the NU-Wildcat matchup has been one of the top showdowns in the Big 12 Conference. The teams have split the past four meetings in the series, with each school winning a pair of home games. Kansas State defeated the Huskers, 40-30, in Manhattan four seasons ago, ending NU?s 29-game winning streak in the series and upended Nebraska, 29-28, in 2000 in the Huskers? last visit to Manhattan.
Game time for Saturday?s matchup is set for 11:39 a.m. at a sold-out KSU Stadium. The contest will be televised on Fox Sports Net.
Nebraska Extends Winning Streak over Kansas to 34 Games
Nebraska added to one of the nation?s most lopsided college football matchups, defeating Kansas, 45-7 last Saturday at Memorial Stadium. The victory was the Huskers? 34th straight in the series, the second-longest active winning streak against an opponent in college football. In the process, Nebraska also picked up a win on Homecoming for the 34th straight season.
The Huskers wasted little time establishing their dominance. On its first offensive possession, NU drove 81 yards in six plays, capped by Dahrran Diedrick?s 53-yard touchdown run, to take a 7-0 lead. Kansas struck back quickly with a 50-yard touchdown pass from Jonas Weatherbie to Byron Gasaway to even the game at 7-7. However, Kansas would not score again and the Husker ground game and defense took control of the remainder of the game.
Freshman I-back David Horne put together two straight 30-yard runs on a drive midway through the second quarter to give NU a 14-7 edge. Early in the second quarter, DeJuan Groce put Nebraska in great field position with a 24-yard punt return, and Nebraska drove 47 yards in seven plays to take a two-touchdown advantage. Jammal Lord capped the drive with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Wilson Thomas. A breakdown in the Kansas punting game once again gave the Huskers a short field. This time the Huskers drove inside the KU 10-yard line, but settled for a 27-yard Josh Brown field goal to give NU a 24-7 lead, an advantage it would carry into halftime.
Nebraska opened the second half with a five-play, 80-yard scoring drive to build a 31-7 lead. Lord threw his second TD pass of the afternoon, a 12-yarder to Aaron Golliday, to cap the drive. Nebraska quickly added to its lead courtesy of the special teams. Lannie Hopkins blocked his second punt of the day, and senior rover Aaron Terpening returned the ball 30 yards for a score for a 38-7 lead.
Reserve quarterback Mike Stuntz guided the Huskers to another third-quarter score, capped by Josh Davis? four-yard touchdown run to account for the final margin. Nebraska substitued freely throughout the second half, with a season-high 111 players seeing action in the ball game. The Huskers relied on their running game, topping 300 yards for the fifth time in the past six games with 352 rushing yards. Both Horne (122) and Diedrick (107) topped 100 yards on the ground, marking the first time this season a pair of Husker running backs eclipsed the century mark. After the early touchdown, the Blackshirt defense kept Kansas in check, allowing just 224 total yards, including 71 yards rushing.
Recapping Game 11...Nebraska 45, Kansas 7
The victory was Nebraska?s 34th straight win in the series, dating back to 1968, and the Huskers? 16th straight win over Kansas in Lincoln. Nebraska also picked up a win on Homecoming for the 34th straight season.
Quarterback Jammal Lord became the 18th quarterback in Division I-A history to both rush and pass for more than 1,000 yards in the same season. Lord reached the milestone with a seven-yard pass to Josh Davis in the second quarter. Lord joined former NU quarterbacks Scott Frost (1997) and Eric Crouch (2001) in accomplishing the feat. Lord now has 2,245 yards of total offense this season, the fifth-best mark in school history and upped his season rushing total to 1,229 yards, the 11th-best season in NU history. Lord passed for two touchdowns for the second straight week.
Nebraska piled up 352 yards rushing against Kansas. It marked the third straight game and fifth time in its last six outings that the NU offense had topped 300 yards on the ground.
Senior I-back Dahrran Diedrick rushed 12 times for a season-best 107 yards, his first 100-yard game of the season and eighth in his career. Diedrick opened the scoring with a career-long 53-yard run for a score in the first quarter. With his 107 yards, Diedrick moved up to ninth place on NU?s career rushing list with 2,543 yards.
Freshman I-back David Horne gave the Huskers a pair of backs over the century mark with 122 yards on just nine attempts, an average of 13.6 yards per carry. Horne had three carries of 25 yards or more and picked up his third 100-yard day in the past four games. Horne now has 556 yards rushing, the fifth-best season by an NU frosh.
Tight end Aaron Golliday caught a 12-yard touchdown pass, his second TD of the year. Nebraska?s tight ends have combined for five TD receptions in 2002.
Senior split end Wilson Thomas caught two passes for 40 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. Thomas now has 63 career receptions, good for ninth place on the NU chart.
Freshman cornerback Fabian Washington had an outstanding afternoon with a pair of pass breakups and his fourth interception of the season. Washington?s 11 PBU lead the Huskers and the total is just one off the freshman PBU record of 12, held by Ralph Brown (1996).
Sophomore rover Lannie Hopkins blocked a pair of Kansas punts, giving him three blocks this season. The second block of the day was returned 30 yards by Aaron Terpening for a touchdown. Hopkins was named Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week.
Senior DeJuan Groce returned five punts for 61 yards and moved into second place on the Husker season punt return yards list with 586, just 30 behind Johnny Rodgers? school record set in his Heisman winning season of 1972.
Punter Kyle Larson averaged 50.2 yards on six punts and pinned KU inside its own 20 two times, including one on the Jayhawk 1-yard line.
Senior wingback Troy Hassebroek was named Homecoming king, the first time a Husker football player has been named king since a king has been chosen (since 1975).
Nebraska Head Coach Frank Solich
Coach Frank Solich (Nebraska, 1966) is in his fifth season at the helm of the Husker program with a 49-13 school and career record (.790). 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 a .790 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 and his 49 wins in his first five years is tied for the fourth-most in Division I-A history.
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.
Surging Husker Running Game to Face Stern Test at K-State
Nebraska?s running game has been back to its usual self in recent weeks. The Huskers were held to just 81 yards on the ground at Iowa State in late September, but since that game the NU ground game has been nearly unstoppable, averaging 346.8 yards per game in six contests.
The run of rushing success will be put to the test this week against a Kansas State defense that ranks third nationally against the run, allowing just 72.5 yards per game. The Wildcats have limited five opponents to less than 50 yards on the ground and have given up just five rushing touchdowns. Colorado ran for 194 yards in a 35-31 victory over K-State, the most rushing yards the Wildcats have allowed in 2002.
Nebraska is coming off a 352-yard rushing effort against Kansas. The victory marked the fifth time in the past six games the Huskers have cracked the 300-yard mark on the ground. I-backs David Horne (122) and Dahrran Diedrick (107) both topped 100 yards, and NU had six running plays of more than 25 yards. The Kansas game came on the heels of two impressive rushing performances against strong defenses.
The Huskers rolled up 320 yards rushings against No. 7 Texas, which boasted the nation?s No. 3 defense entering the game. Husker quarterback Jammal Lord gouged the Longhorn defense for an NU quarterback record 234 rushing yards on 23 carries (10.2 ypc), and NU had five rushing plays of 20 yards or more in the game.
Nebraska had perhaps its most impressive rushing outing 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 was especially remarkable 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 facing the Husker ground 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).
Nebraska has rushed for 259 yards or more in each of the last six games, including a season-high 444 yards vs. McNeese State to begin the stretch. For the season, Nebraska is averaging a Big 12-best 289.5 yards rushing per game to rank third in the nation, behind Air Force (299.5) and West Virginia (294.9).
Quarterback Jammal Lord and true freshman I-back David Horne have keyed Nebraska?s rushing success in recent weeks. Lord has run for 856 yards in the last six games (142.7 ypg). He has posted the only two 200-yard days by a quarterback in NU history in the period with 218 yards vs. McNeese State and 234 yards against Texas. He also had 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 556 yards (92.7 ypg), including three 100-yard performances.
Nebraska?s five running plays of 25 yards or longer against Kansas, give the Huskers 23 such plays on the ground this season. Eighteen of those 23 long runs have come in Nebraska?s past six games, after NU had just five running plays go for 25 yards or more in the first five games.
Husker O-Line Paving Way for Rushing Resurgence
Not to be forgotten in Nebraska?s rushing success in recent weeks is the play of the Husker offensive line. The NU offensive front opened big holes against strong Texas A&M and Texas defenses and continued to stand out in a 45-7 win over Kansas.
Nebraska had a school-record 110 pancakes against Texas A&M, 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 143 pancakes, including 81 in the past four games (three 20-plus games). Incognito?s pancake total is tied for fourth-best in school history and just 12 pancakes from second on the NU single-season chart.
Incognito was one of three Huskers with a team-high 10 pancakes against Kansas (also Wes Cody and Junior Tagoa?i). Incognito leads Nebraska with seven double-figure pancake games, while Center John Garrison has six such games and ranks second on the team in total pancakes with 116.
Five Husker offensive linemen had career-high pancake totals against A&M. In addition to Incognito, OT 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. Garrison matched his career high with 20 pancakes. Erickson (16) and fellow guard Junior Tagoa?i (18) also bettered their previous best outings. Tagoa?i has four double-figure pancake efforts despite coming off the NU bench.
NU Run Defense Making Opponents One-Dimensional
Like the Husker offense, the Blackshirt defense has also begun to control the line of scrimmage in the past three games. Nebraska gave up 195 yards on the ground in a loss at Oklahoma State, but has since been very stingy against the run.
Nebraska has allowed its past three opponents to rush for just 67.7 yards per game and 2.1 yards per carry. NU has allowed just one rushing touchdown in that span. The Huskers limited Texas A&M to an opponent season-low 53 rushing yards, while Texas picked up just 79 yards on the ground, followed by Kansas? 71-yard effort last Saturday. The longest rush Nebraska has allowed in the three-game stretch is 20 yards.
The improved run defense has lowered Nebraska?s rush defense average to 121.2 yards per game.
Lord Joins 1,000-1,000 Club Against Kansas
Nebraska junior quarterback Jammal Lord faced a variety of difficult challenges in his first season as the Huskers? starting signal caller. First, he was faced 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 in strong fashion and is producing one of the top total offense seasons in school history.
Lord had a short day of work in Nebraska?s 45-7 win over Kansas, playing just one series in the second half. However, Lord still managed to rush for 74 yards and passed for 59 yards and two touchdowns. His passing yards pushed his season total to 1,016 yards and entered Lord into an elite club. He has 1,229 rushing yards to go along with his passing total, making him the third Husker quarterback in six seasons to both rush and pass for more than 1,000 yards in the same season, joining Scott Frost (1997) and Eric Crouch (2001). Lord is the 18th player in Division I-A history to accomplish the feat.
The 6-2, 220-pound Lord has produced 2,245 yards of total offense this season, the fifth-most in school history and the most ever by a Nebraska junior. He needs 380 yards (190.0 ypg) in NU?s final two games to break the single-season total offense record. Lord has already produced two of the top three single-game total offense marks in school history with an NU record 369 yards vs. McNeese State and 332 yards of total offense against Texas (third).
Lord began making his mark in the record book against McNeese State, posting his school-record total offense mark on just 35 total-offense attempts, good for a remarkable 10.5 yards per attempt. In that game he also rushed for a then-NU quarterback record 218 yards. 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. He reached the 100-100 mark for the second time at Texas A&M.
The quarterback rushing record set against McNeese State lasted all of four weeks, as Lord rushed for 234 yards on 23 carries against Texas and added 98 yards and a touchdown through the air. Lord?s 234 rushing yards vs. Texas marked his fifth 100-yard rushing game of the season. In addition to his two 200-yard outings, he also topped the century mark with 103 yards vs. Arizona State, 111 at Penn State and 159 yards at Texas A&M.
Lord?s 159 yards at Texas A&M came on a Nebraska QB record 30 carries. In that game, Lord pushed both his career rushing and passing total past the 1,000-yard marks. He now has 1,442 career rushing yards to rank 33rd on the NU list and 1,197 passing, good for 20th on the Husker career chart.
During the Texas game, Lord broke the Nebraska season quarterback rushing record and is putting together one of the top rushing seasons in school history, regardless of position. Lord has 1,229 yards rushing in 2002, the 11th-best rushing season by a Husker. He is just three yards outside of the top 10 and has a chance of posting just the fifth, 1,500-yard rushing season in school history.
Lord has led the Huskers in rushing seven times in 2002. In addition to leading Nebraska in rushing yards (1,229) and rushing touchdowns (7), Lord averages a remarkable 6.4 yards per carry. By comparison, 2001 Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch averaged 5.5 yards per rush in 2001. Lord?s 111.7 yards rushing per game rank 21st in the nation and third in the Big 12 Conference. Lord is second nationally in rushing among quarterbacks. His 204.1 total offensive yards per game rank seventh in the Big 12.
The McNeese State game was 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 six times in 2002, including four of the past seven games, most recently when he threw for 116 yards at Texas A&M. Lord is completing 50 percent of his passes this season and has thrown for 10 touchdowns, including two in each of Nebraska?s last two games.
Lord Supplies Nebraska With Big-Play Threat
One of the attributes Nebraska coaches saw in Jammal Lord from the start of the season was his big-play ability. The junior has not disappointed in that department this season, accounting for 20 plays of 25 yards or longer.
Lord has 11 rushes of 25 yards or more this season, including at least one in each of Nebraska?s last six games. He has broke off six runs of 40 yards or longer, including four in the past three games. The NU signal caller has accounted for eight of NU?s 10 longest runs of the season.
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.
Lord has connected on nine pass plays of 25 yards or more, including a 27-yard scoring strike to Wilson Thomas against Kansas. He hit a season-long 90-yard TD pass to Ross Pilkington at Iowa State, good for the third-longest pass play in NU history.
The 20 25-yard plays by Lord stack up well in comparison to 2001 Heisman winner Eric Crouch, who accounted for 24 plays of 25 yards or longer in 12 games last season (10 rush, 13 pass, 1 receiving).
Diedrick Climbs into Top 10 on NU Rushing List
Senior I-back Dahrran Diedrick posted his first 100-yard rushing day of the season with 107 yards on 12 carries against Kansas. He bolted 53 yards for a first-quarter touchdown to give NU a 7-0 lead, marking the longest run of his Husker career.
Diedrick?s 107 yards against the Jayhawks moved him past five former Huskers and into ninth place on the NU career rushing list. Diedrick now has 2,543 career rushing yards, including 729 yards in 2002. Diedrick rushed for 85 yards on 15 carries against Texas A&M, including 78 yards on nine carries after halftime. Diedrick also scored a touchdown on a 12-yard run on NU?s opening drive, one of six touchdowns by Diedrick this season. He now has 26 rushing touchdowns in his career, the 14th-most in school history.
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. Along with the I-back tandem, quarterback Jammal Lord gives NU 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.
Going Around the Horne
I-back David Horne has given the Husker running game a kick-start since ending his redshirt season six games ago. Horne has rushed for 556 yards (92.7 ypg) and has raced for more than 100 yards three times in the past four weeks. Horne had 125 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries at Oklahoma State, a career-best 128 yards and four touchdowns vs. Texas A&M and 122 yards on just nine carries against Kansas.
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 outing at Oklahoma State marked the first time a Husker back had 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 and Diedrick both topped 100 yards against Kansas, the first time this season a pair of Husker running backs have cracked the century mark.
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 5.8 yards per carry and his 92.7 yards per game would rank seventh in the Big 12 Conference if he had played in the required number of games. With 556 rushing yards, Horne ranks fifth on the NU single-season list for most rushing yards by a freshman.
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. NU again blocked two punts against Kansas, returning one for a touchdown.
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 18.0 yards on 38 punt returns this season. Groce has returned 30 punts for 586 yards, for a 19.5-yard average, good for second in the nation. 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 five punt returns of 25 yards or longer in 2002.
Place-kicking...Senior place-kicker Josh Brown is 9-of-12 on field goals in 2002 and perfect in 43 PAT attempts. Brown has six 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 3-of-6 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 44-yarder vs. Utah State. He added 42-yarders against Missouri and Texas A&M and connected on a career regular-season long 48-yard field goal against Texas. Brown missed a fourth-quarter field goal vs. Missouri, ending a streak of eight straight field goals made. Brown has hit 14 of his last 18 field goals dating back to last season. He ranks fourth at Nebraska with 297 career points. Brown?s performance on kickoff duties should not be left unnoticed with 35 of his 64 kickoffs this season (3-8 vs. Kansas) ending in touchbacks. Brown and Nebraska?s kickoff coverage team have pinned opponents inside the 20 on 11 occasions.
Punting...NU?s Kyle Larson continues to prove that he is among the nation?s top punters. Larson ranks 10th in the nation in punting with a 43.7-yard average on the season. He has also pinned the opposition inside the 20 16 times, including three times each vs. Troy State and Oklahoma State. He has pinned opponents inside the 10-yard line seven times, including twice at Penn State. Husker opponents have pinned Nebraska inside the 20 on punts 13 times. Larson has averaged better than 45 yards per punt seven times this year (46.2 vs. TSU; 57.3 vs. USU, 46.8 vs. PSU, 47.2 vs. ISU, 50.5 vs. A&M, 45.5 vs. Texas, 50.2 vs. Kansas) 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 and Kansas (four of 50 yards or more). Larson has had a season-high six punts five times. Nebraska is fourth nationally in net punting at 39.30 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.
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 five punts, including two blocked punts by Lannie Hopkins in last week?s win over Kansas. Hopkins? second blocked kick of the day was returned 30 yards by Aaron Terpening for a touchdown, NU?s second return of a blocked punt for a touchdown this season. Hopkins and Demorrio Williams 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. NU?s third punt block of the year came at Iowa State, when Williams and 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, and Texas blocked a Husker field goal this past week.
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 23.31 yards per return, with a season-long 46-yarder vs. Texas. He has 10 kickoff returns of 25 yards or more in 2002, including three against Missouri. Davis ranks second at Nebraska in career kickoff return yardage with 1,307 yards and owns the top two season totals in school history, including his NU record 675 kickoff return yards in 2001. His 27 returns this fall are also a school record.
Kick Coverage...Nebraska has allowed opponents to average just 17.7 yards on kickoff returns and only 8.7 yards on 22 punt returns this season. While Groce and Davis have combined for 15 returns of 25 yards or more, NU opponents have just four such returns (one punt, three kickoffs).
Huskers Scoring in All Three Facets of Game
Nebraska has reached the end zone 44 times this season, with the offense, defense and special teams all getting into the act. Of Nebraska?s touchdowns, six have been non-offensive scores?two in each of the Huskers? first two games this season, DeJuan Groce?s 89-yard punt return TD vs. Missouri and Aaron Terpening?s 30-yard return of a blocked punt vs. Kansas.
In the season opener vs. 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 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 eight of their last 18 games dating back to last season (4 of 11 in 2002). Eight 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.
Huskers Strive to Improve 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-6 in turnover margin in the past eight games, including a combined six-turnover disadvantage in four losses. Nebraska ranks 74th in the nation in turnover margin at -0.27. The Huskers were a plus-two in that department in last week?s win over Kansas, picking off a pair of Jayhawk passes and recovering a fumble. Nebraska will face one of the nation?s most opportunistic defenses this week. Kansas State ranks seventh nationally in turnover margin at +1.40 per game and has caused 31 opponent turnovers this fall.
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. 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 33 turnovers in winning seven of its 10 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 seven 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 22nd nationally in pass efficiency defense with a 105.73 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 40 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. Groce had a career-high 15 tackles in Nebraska?s game against Texas, the most by a Husker defensive back in four seasons.
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-America team.
Groce averages 16.5 yards per punt return in his career and is averaging 19.5 yards on 30 returns this season to rank second in 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 1,072 career yards. Groce?s 585 punt return yards this season rank second on the NU single-season chart, just 32 yards from Rodgers? single-season record of 618 yards, set in his Heisman-winning season in 1972. One of Groce?s punt return touchdowns came in last year?s 31-21 victory over Kansas State (60 yards).
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 six games with a hamstring injury. He practiced before the Kansas game, but did not play. He could return to action this Saturday vs. Kansas State.
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 23-plus quarters of action, Kelsay is tied for the team lead 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 last five games 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.
Thomas Among Nebraska?s Career Receiving Leaders
Senior split end Wilson Thomas leads Nebraska with 25 receptions and three touchdowns this season. The 6-6 Thomas caught two passes for 40 yards against Kansas, including a 27-yard TD in the second quarter.
Thomas? two catches against Kansas pushed his career total to 63, good 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, before leading NU with four catches for a season-high 59 yards at Texas A&M.
The Texas A&M game marked the 14th game in his career that Thomas has caught three or more passes, including five times 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 902 career receiving yards, Thomas ranks 14th on the NU charts and is 98 yards from becoming just the 12th player 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.
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 last month.
Shanle is fourth on the team with 58 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 second on the team in tackles with 63 and has a team-high nine tackles for loss, despite being plagued by injuries throughout the season. Ruud had 12 tackles and three tackles for loss in Nebraska?s game against Texas.
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 289.5 rushing yards per game.
Junior punter Kyle Larson continues to prove he is one of the nation?s best, averaging 43.7 yards on 52 punts this season to rank 10th 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 named one of 10 semifinalists for the Ray Guy Award last week.
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 recent weeks. 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. 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. Against Texas, NU freshmen combined for five of the Huskers? seven pass receptions.
The true freshmen wasted no time this season making their presence known. In fact, three of the five scored touchdowns on the 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. He has since added two pass receptions, a 44-yarder at Oklahoma State and a 60-yard TD catch vs. Texas. He averages 45.7 yards on his three catches.
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 four interceptions this season and has also recovered and forced a fumble, while breaking up a team-high 11 passes, one off the NU freshman record.
Pilkington ranks second on the team in receptions with 13 and leads the Huskers in receiving yards with 277, good for a 21.3-yard per catch average. He had a streak of eight straight games with a catch end against Kansas, but his 13 receptions have established a new NU freshman record. His 277 receiving yards leave him just five 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 ?backer 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.
Huskers Pull Off Historic Comeback at Texas A&M
The Huskers showed their resilience in picking up a 38-31 victory at Texas A&M on Oct. 26, just the Aggies? 11th home loss in the past 14 years. In the game, 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.
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 remaining games against a pair of ranked teams?Kansas State and Colorado. Four Big 12 teams are ranked this week, including Texas (t4 AP/3 Coaches), Oklahoma (t4/6), Kansas State (11/11) and Colorado (17/18). Iowa State was ranked when Nebraska met the Cyclones in September and non-conference foe Penn State is 16th in both polls.
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 fivegames 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 DT Brandon Greeson, who is redshirting this fall, will also miss the remainder of fall practice with a shoulder injury.
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 35 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. Carolina Panther 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.