Nebraska Gears Up for Third Contest of Young 2002 Season Tonight
Utah State Aggies (0-1) vs.
Date Site Result Score
Series Notes: Utah State is one of 38 all-time opponents that has never beaten Nebraska, and one of five teams still winless in at least five contests with the Huskers...the 1988 contest was the first of three games during that season that Nebraska recorded 63 points in a game (also against Kansas and Oklahoma State)...Nebraska's 47.2 points-per-game average against Utah State is the highest against any opponent the Huskers will face this season...Nebraska has been ranked in the top 15 in all six previous contests, including in the top five four times.
Nebraska brings a 2-0 record into tonight?s contest against Utah State, one that will mark the Huskers? NCAA-leading 250th consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium. The Huskers will look to get the offense untracked against the Aggies, while the defense has lifted NU in each of the first two games. The special teams have also been outstanding, as they have contributed three scores in the first two games and kept opponents pinned deep in their territory to start drives.
Nebraska, which carries the nation?s longest home winning streak at 23 games, will be looking to give Head Coach Frank Solich his 45th victory on the NU sideline. Solich, who has a 44-9 record in his fifth season, has won 19 of 21 contests against non-conference opponents since taking over the program in 1998.
The offense, led by junior quarterback Jammal Lord, has seen solid play, including a pair of long scoring drives last week in the second half against Troy State. Behind a young offensive line that is starting to come together, Nebraska reeled off drives of 91 and 60 yards that led to 10 points against the Trojans. Lord, who had 23 carries against TSU, continues to lead the Huskers in rushing, piling up 195 yards on the ground in the first two contests.
The Blackshirts, led by senior captains DeJuan Groce and Chris Kelsay, have put the clamps down, allowing just 26 points in two games. While Nebraska was outgained by Troy State, 347-313, in total offense last week, the defense has allowed just three touchdowns and only seven drives of at least seven plays in Nebraska?s first two contests.
Groce, along with punter Kyle Larson and kicker Josh Brown, has made the special teams into one of the premier units in the country early in the season. Groce tied the NCAA record with a pair of punt returns for touchdowns against TSU, while the unit also blocked a pair of punts against Arizona State in the opener. Brown has put 11 kickoffs through the end zone for touchbacks, with just three returned for a total of 42 yards. Larson has also done his part, downing four punts inside the opponent 20 while averaging 43.7 yards per kick.o:p>
Groce Shines in Victory Over TSU
As one of three team captains, senior DeJuan Groce tries to let his actions on the field do the talking. Last week in the Huskers? 31-16 victory over Troy State, Groce did more than just talk, as he stopped the Trojans cold with his play on special teams and defense.
The Garfield Heights, Ohio, native finished the day with two interceptions and one pass breakup, while adding a pair of highlight-reel punt returns for touchdowns. His interceptions, which gave him six for his career, tied the school record for picks in game, last matched by Willie Amos against Kansas State in 2001.
On special teams, Groce tied the NCAA record with two touchdown returns, as he brought his first return back 83 yards for the score before following up with a 72 yarder. Before last Saturday?s game, Groce had two career punt returns for touchdowns, including one in last year?s Rose Bowl national title game.
For his efforts, Groce was named the Big 12's Special Teams Player of the Week, joining Josh Brown (special teams) and Pat Ricketts (defense) with player-of-the-week honors for the Huskers this season.
Brown is Getting the Job Done
Entering his senior season, place-kicker Josh Brown was already known for his accuracy kicking extra points and field goals. While that has continued early in the season, he has also made a lasting impression on opponents with his kickoffs.
Brown took over the kickoff duties in the preseason and has bombed NU?s first two foes, putting 11 kickoffs through the end zone for touchbacks, virtually giving Arizona State and Troy State no chance at solid field position.
Brown?s leg has shown no drop-off when it comes to scoring points for the team despite the added work. He is 10-for-10 on PATs through two games, and has hit all three of his field-goal attempts, including two from 40-plus yards. Brown also made a third field goal from more than 40 yards out that was nullified when the Huskers elected to continue the drive after a flag for roughing the kicker gave Nebraska a first down inside TSU?s 15.
Overall, Brown ranks seventh on the NU career scoring list with 249 points, and is second among kickers behind only Kris Brown?s Husker record 388 points.
Newcomers Showing Promise
While it?s still too early for a final verdict, several newcomers are already getting noticed for their solid contributions in the Huskers? early season games.
Starting at left tackle in the first game of his career, redshirt freshman Richie Incognito played like a veteran. The Scottsdale, Ariz., native recorded a team-high 14 pancakes in the season opener against Arizona State, and also led the Huskers with 13 against Troy State. He was one of just three Huskers to record double-figure pancakes in the contest.
Running behind Incognito and the O-line, redshirt freshman I-back Cory Ross has seen action in each of the Huskers? first two games, and has many fans looking for more. Ross, a native of Denver, Colo., is currently third on the team in rushing with 71 yards on eight carries. In his first career game, Ross had three rushes for 44 yards, including a 34-yard scamper for a touchdown.
On the other side of the ball, transfers Demorrio Williams and Chad Sievers, both linebackers, led the Huskers last week against Troy State, combining for 13 tackles, two tackles for loss and one pass breakup. Williams also played well in the first game by recording three tackles and a blocked punt, while Sievers sat out the ASU game with an injury.
Utah State comes into tonight?s contest with an 0-1 record after suffering a 23-3 setback against in-state rival Utah last week in the season opener. The Aggies, who were 4-7 last year, returned 17 starters, including eight on defense, and 42 lettermen.
Head Coach Mick Dennehy is in his third season with the Aggies, holding a 9-14 record. Dennehy?s gameplan will rely on the Aggies giving the Blackshirt secondary a test for the second straight week, as USU runs a one-back offense that utilizes four wide receivers throughout the game.
Returning for his senior season, quarterback Jose Fuentes can air it out, as he passed for 3,100 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. In last week?s opener, Fuentes completed 18-of-37 passes for 174 yards and an interception.
Fuentes has his top three receivers back, including his favorite target from last year in wide receiver Kevin Curtis. One of the nation?s top receivers in 2001, Curtis caught 100 balls for 1,531 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Aggies. He started this season off on the same note against Utah last Saturday, collecting six receptions for 98 yards to lead all receivers.
Utah State?s top returning rusher is David Fiefia, who had just 30 carries for 187 yards and two touchdowns in 2001. Last week, the Aggie ground game was completely silent against the Utes, as USU had minus-9 yards rushing as a team. Four Aggie tailbacks gained just 17 yards and the quarterbacks were sacked for minus-26 yards, as USU compiled just nine first downs and 162 yards of total offense.
On the other side of the ball, the Aggies utilize a 4-3 defense, with linebacker Jesse Busta returning as USU?s top playmaker. Busta recorded 100 tackles last season, and had 13 tackles for 27 yards lost with three sacks. Safety Jamar Glasper also offers good run support, as he had 77 tackles and four tackles for loss last year.