Nebraska (5-3, 1-2) at
Texas A&M (5-2, 2-1)
DATE: Saturday, Oct. 26, 2002
The Huskers hope to reverse their recent fortunes away from Lincoln on Saturday night. The loss at Oklahoma State was NU?s fifth straight road loss since a victory at Kansas late last season. Kyle Field has traditionally been one of the nation?s toughest venues for opposing teams. Texas A&M has lost just 10 home games in the past 14 seasons, but has been defeated twice in College Station this fall.
Nebraska has had the upper hand in the all-time series between the two schools, winning seven of nine meetings. The Huskers won the most recent matchup of the teams, with a 37-0 shutout of the Aggies in Lincoln in 1999. Texas A&M won the only meeting between the teams in College Station, posting a 28-21 victory over the Huskers in 1998.
Texas A&M enters Saturday evening?s game with a 5-2 record and stands at 2-1 in Big 12 Conference play. The Aggies dropped their league opener to Texas Tech 48-47 in overtime on Oct. 5 in College Station, but have picked up road wins at Baylor and Kansas the past two weeks to remain in the thick of the Big 12 South Division race. In addition to Texas Tech, the Aggies suffered their only other loss of the season against No. 3 Virginia Tech (13-3) in September at home.
Nebraska Falls Short on the Road at OSU; Cowboys Defeat NU for First Time Since 1961
Oklahoma State scored touchdowns on three of its first four second-half possessions and rallied for a 24-21 upset victory over Nebraska last Saturday in Stillwater. The outcome marked the first time since 1961 that Oklahoma State had defeated Nebraska and just the third time in 39 meetings with OSU that Nebraska found itself on the losing end of the outcome.
The first half was played in a light rain, and both offenses struggled to get untracked. The Huskers threatened on their first drive, but could not score. Oklahoma State got on the board first early in the second quarter when Luke Phillips connected on a 45-yard field goal to give the Cowboys a 3-0 advantage. The Huskers took the lead midway through the second quarter after a 22-yard punt return by DeJuan Groce placed the ball near midfield. On the first play of the drive, Jammal Lord connected with true freshman tight end Matt Herian for a 44-yard pass play inside the Cowboy 10-yard line. Dahrran Diedrick scored from two yards out three plays later to give the Huskers a 7-3 edge. Nebraska drove deep into OSU territory later in the second quarter, but a false start penalty hindered the offense, and NU settled for its four-point halftime edge.
OSU?s balanced offense got in gear after halftime. OSU moved 80 yards in 12 plays for a touchdown on its first drive of the second half. Josh Fields completed five of six passes on the drive, then ran three yards for a score to give the Cowboys a 10-7 advantage. Nebraska fumbled at its own 40 on its next drive, and OSU made the Huskers pay. Fields led the Cowboys 40 yards in seven plays, capped by a five-yard TD pass to Rashaun Woods to push the OSU lead to 17-7.
The Huskers gained life early in the fourth quarter when Fabian Washington recovered a Tatum Bell fumble at midfield. Nebraska capitalized with an eight-play, 49-yard drive capped by a David Horne touchdown run from two yards out. The score sliced the lead to 17-14 and appeared to change momentum. However, OSU was up to the challenge. Bell rushed for 36 of his opponent season-high 182 yards on the drive, and Fields completed all three of his pass attempts on the drive. Fields? final completion on the drive was a 12-yard TD strike to John Lewis, who made a diving grab in the corner of the end zone to give OSU a 24-14 advantage with less than five minutes remaining. NU responded with a 70-yard scoring drive capped by a Lord TD run to cut the lead to 24-21. Nebraska?s on-side kick attempt failed, and the Cowboys were able to pick up a first down and run out the clock.
The game was fairly even statistically, as the Cowboys outgained Nebraska 387-369 and ran just one more offensive play (69-68). The Huskers ran for 259 yards, led by a 125-yard effort by Horne, who carried the ball 24 times in the first road game of his NU career.
Recapping Game Eight..Oklahoma State 24, Nebraska 21
*- Nebraska?s loss at Oklahoma State ended a remarkable run of success against the Cowboys. The 24-21 loss ended the Huskers? 24-game winning streak against OSU and snapped Nebraska?s 36-game unbeaten streak in the series. The Cowboys had not defeated Nebraska since 1961 before Saturday?s game, with only a 17-17 tie in 1973 to show for their efforts. Nebraska now leads the series 35-3-1.
*- True freshmen accounted for 204 of NU?s 369 total yards. I-back David Horne rushed for 125 yards, tight end Matt Herian caught a 44-yard pass, split end Ross Pilkington had a six-yard catch (sixth straight game with at least one catch) and split end Mark LeFlore had a 29-yard run on a reverse on the game?s first play. Those freshmen accounted for seven plays of 10 yards or longer, including five in the first half.
*- David Horne finished the game with 125 yards on 24 carries and his second career touchdown. 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 is the first Husker 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 day marked 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.
*- Senior split end Ben Cornelsen and senior wingback Troy Hassebroek each matched their season and career highs with two receptions. Cornelsen totaled 35 receiving yards, also a career high.
*- Quarterback Jammal Lord rushed for 73 yards and passed for 110 yards in the loss. The game marked the sixth time in eight games Lord has topped 70 yards on the ground and his fifth game with more than 100 yards passing.
*- Junior punter Kyle Larson punted six times for a 37.7-yard average in Saturday?s game, but pinned the Cowboys inside their own 20 on three occasions, all in the first half. Larson?s punts pinned OSU on its 14, 16 and 3-yard lines.
*- Cornerback Fabian Washington recovered an OSU fumble early in the fourth quarter and NU capitalized with a touchdown. The turnover was the first forced by the NU defense in 12 quarters.
*- Rover Philip Bland led Nebraska?s defense with a career-high 10 tackles, marking the second time in three games he has had nine or more stops.
*- Oklahoma State?s Tatum Bell rushed for a Nebraska opponent-season high 182 yards to pace the Cowboys to 195 yards rushing. Bell?s 182 yard-effort ranks as the sixth-most rushing yards ever against a Nebraska defense.
*- The loss dropped the Huskers to 1-2 in Big 12 Conference play, marking the first time since the 1968 season that Nebraska has dropped two of its first three conference games.
*- The loss was Nebraska?s fifth straight setback away from Lincoln. The last time Nebraska had lost five straight road games was the 1958 season.
Nebraska Head Coach Frank Solich
Coach Frank Solich (Nebraska, 1966) is in his fifth season at the helm of the Husker program with a 47-12 school and career record (.797). 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 .797 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. Assisting from above in the press box are rush ends coach Nelson Barnes, defensive backs coach George Darlington, running backs coach Dave Gillespie and offensive line coach Milt Tenopir.
Improved Husker Running Game to Face Stiff Test at Texas A&M
Nebraska?s running game has been improved in the past three games. Since rushing for just 81 yards in a loss at Iowa State, Nebraska has topped 250 yards on the ground in three straight games and averaged 342.7 yards rushing in those games. The stretch opened with a season-high 444 yards rushing vs. McNeese State, 325 yards in a win over Missouri and 259 yards on the ground at Oklahoma State. For the season, Nebraska is averaging a Big 12-best 266.4 yards rushing per game.
Quarterback Jammal Lord and true freshman I-back David Horne have keyed Nebraska?s rushing success the past three weeks. Lord has run for 389 yards the past three weeks (129.6 ypg), including an NU quarterback record 218 yards vs. McNeese State. Horne shed his redshirt after the Iowa State game and has gained 294 yards (98.0 ypg), including 125 yards on 24 carries at Oklahoma State.
The Husker rushing offense will face its stiffest test of the season at Texas A&M. The Aggies allow just 76.9 yards per game on the ground to rank fifth nationally in that category. No team has rushed for more than 129 yards (Virginia Tech) against Texas A&M this season and the Aggies are allowing just 2.4 yards per rush.
Extra Special Teams
Like his predecessors Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne, NU Head Coach Frank Solich has stressed the importance of the Husker special teams. Entering the 2002 campaign, Solich has mentioned on numerous occasions that this year?s kicking and coverage units had the potential to be very "special." The Husker special teams have played a key role in NU?s non-conference victories and will be a key to success in the Big 12 schedule.
In Nebraska?s season opener, the Huskers blocked two punts, one of which was returned for a touchdown, keying a 48-10 win over Arizona State. The punt return unit stole the show against Troy State. Senior DeJuan Groce tied an NCAA record with two punt return touchdowns in NU?s 31-16 victory. 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. Overall, Nebraska held a 225-29 edge in return yards vs. Missouri.
Here?s a quick look at Nebraska?s special teams dominance in 2002.
- Punt Returns...Nebraska is averaging 18.8 yards on 25 punt returns this season. Groce has returned 21 punts for 431 yards, for a nation-leading 20.5 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.
- Place-kicking...Senior place-kicker Josh Brown is 6-of-7 on field goals in 2002 and perfect in 29 PAT attempts. Brown has four field goals of 40 yards or longer this season, including a 42-yarder vs. Missouri. He 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. Brown missed a field goal in the fourth quarter vs. Missouri, ending a streak of eight straight field goals made. Brown has hit 11 of his last 13 field goals dating back to last season. He ranks fourth at Nebraska with 274 career points. Brown?s performance on kickoff duties should not be left unnoticed with 28 of his 44 kickoffs this season (2-4 vs. Oklahoma State, one on-side kick) ending in touchbacks. Brown was named Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week for his work in the season opener against Arizona State.
- Punting...NU?s Kyle Larson continues to prove that he is among the nation?s top punters. Larson ranks 25th in the nation in punting with a 42.2-yard average on the season. He has also pinned the opposition inside the 20 12 times. Larson averaged 57.3 yards on four punts against Utah State, just off a school record. Larson, a Ray Guy Award candidate, has been NU?s nominee for Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week three times this season. Nebraska ranks seventh in the nation in net punting at 38.90 yards per attempt.
- Blocked Kicks...NU has had a history of being one of the nation?s best kick blocking units. The Huskers have exhibited the same ability this season, blocking three punts. Demorrio Williams and Lannie Hopkins each blocked a punt in the second half of Nebraska? victory over Arizona State, marking the first time since a 1999 win over Kansas State that the Huskers have had two blocked punts in the same game. Williams? blocked punt was returned six yards for a score by senior linebacker Scott Shanle. The last time NU had returned a blocked punt for a TD was at Kansas State in 2000 (Keyuo Craver). NU added its third punt block of the year at Iowa State, when Williams and senior Aaron Terpening teamed to block a third-quarter Cyclone punt, setting the Husker offense up for a touchdown.
- Kickoff Returns...Junior Josh Davis finished 14th nationally in kickoff return average a year ago at 27.0 yards per return. This season Davis is averaging 23.24 yards per return, including a season-long 42-yarder vs. Utah State and three returns of 25 yards or longer against Missouri. Davis ranks fourth at Nebraska in career kickoff return yardage.
- Kick Coverage...Nebraska has allowed opponents to average just 14.6 yards on kickoff returns and only 8.4 yards on 16 punt returns this season. Oklahoma State had one punt return for six yards and a kickoff return for no yards.
Special Teams Supplying Huskers With Big Plays in 2002
Nebraska?s biggest threat for long-distance plays this season has come via its special teams. Senior punt returner DeJuan Groce has four punt returns of 25 yards or more this season, including touchdowns of 72, 83 and 89 yards. Junior Josh Davis has eight kickoff returns of 25 yards or more, including three against Missouri. While Groce and Davis have combined for 12 returns of 25 yards or more, NU opponents have just two such returns (one punt, one kickoff).
Place-kicker Josh Brown has also been strong from long distance. The senior from Foyil, Okla., has four field goals of 40 or more yards in 2002. He entered the season with just four 40-yarders in 12 attempts in his three-year career. NU opponents have made two of three 40-plus field goals, a 43-yarder by Utah State?s Dane Kidman. Brown and Nebraska?s kickoff coverage team have pinned opponents inside the 20 on six occasions.
Husker punter Kyle Larson ranks in the top 25 nationally in punting at 42.2 yards per punt. He has averaged better than 45 yards per punt in four games this season (46.2 vs. TSU; 57.3 vs. USU, 46.8 vs. PSU and 47.2 vs. ISU) 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. Larson had a season-high five punts of 45 yards or more vs. Penn State. Larson has punted a season-high six punts four times and has pinned oponents inside the 20 12 times, including three times vs. Troy State and Oklahoma State. Larson 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 10 times.
The Huskers have blocked three punts this season, including two by junior linebacker Demorrio Williams, while NU?s Larson has not been blocked. In fact, when Larson took a bad snap at the Nebraska 24 yard line vs. Missouri, he ran it eight yards for a first down.
Huskers Scoring in All Three Facets of Game
Nebraska has reached the end zone 30 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 15 games dating back to last season (3 of 8 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.
Huskers Hope to Get Back on Track in Turnover Margin
In addition to special teams excellence, the Husker coaching staff regularly preaches the importance of a positive turnover margin. The Huskers were a +1 in that department in each of the first three games this season, but are a combined minus-7 in turnover margin in the past five games, including a combined five-turnover disadvantage in three losses. Nebraska ranks 80th in the nation in turnover margin. This week Nebraska matches up with one of the nation?s top teams in turnover margin. Texas A&M has forced 22 opponent turnovers and ranks sixth nationally in turnover margin at +1.57 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.
Nebraska turned an Oklahoma State fumble into seven points on Saturday in Stillwater. The forced fumble in the fourth quarter marked the first turnover forced by the Husker defense since the third quarter of the Iowa State game.
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 26 turnovers in winning six of its seven 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. Groce had a pass breakup and intercepted two passes against Troy State, helping the Husker defense hold the Trojans to just 11 of 29 in the passing department. He backed up that performance with two more interceptions and a breakup against Utah State.
Groce now has 36 career PBU to rank fourth on the NU career list and is the Huskers? single-season PBU record-holder with 17 in 2000. He has eight career interceptions, including four this season, just off the Husker top 10 season list and three from the school season record of seven, held by three players. Groce?s eight career interceptions are also just off the career top 10 list. Dana Stephenson holds the NU career mark with 14 picks from 1967 to 1969. Groce ranks 16th nationally in interceptions per game at 0.57. Opposing offenses rarely throw toward Groce and his shut-down abilities key a Husker pass defense that ranks 14th nationally in pass efficiency defense with a 100.29 rating.
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 20.5 yards on 21 returns this season to lead the nation. Groce totaled 114 yards on four punt returns against Missouri and moved into second place on the NU career punt return yardage list with 917 yards. Groce?s 431 punt return yards this season already rank fifth on the NU single-season chart and his 469 yards last season ranked third.
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 rebounded with a standout game against McNeese State and remains one of NU?s top offensive threats.
The 6-2, 220-pound Lord had 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 in his career Lord has topped 100 yards in both rushing and passing in the same contest, and he averaged a remarkable 10.5 yards on 35 total-offense attempts. The game marked the third time this season Lord has rushed for more than 100 yards in a game, also topping the century mark with 103 yards vs. Arizona State and 111 at Penn State. He also had two TD runs of longer than 50 yards (56, 57) marking the first time a Husker has had two 50-plus yard scoring runs in a game since 1999.
Lord also had his career-best passing day in terms of completions (12), attempts (18), yards (151) and percentage (.667). He completed 4-of-4 passes for 63 yards on a second-quarter scoring drive that ended with a 10-yard TD pass to Troy Hassebroek. Lord?s play allowed Nebraska to convert on 12-of-16 third-down attempts in the game.
Lord has led the Huskers in rushing five times in 2002, most recently with 98 yards in a 24-13 victory over Missouri. He has passed for more than 100 yards five times this year, including 110 yards last week at Oklahoma State.
Lord leads Nebraska in rushing with 762 yards and seven touchdowns and averages 6.0 yards per carry. His 95.2 yards rushing per game rank 36th in the nation and fifth in the Big 12 Conference. Lord is second nationally in rushing among quarterbacks. His 188.1 total offensive yards per game rank eighth in the Big 12 . Lord is on track to become the third Husker quarterback (Scott Frost-1997, Eric Crouch-2001) to top 1,000 yards in both rushing and passing in the same season.
Blackshirts Look for Return of Rush End Kelsay
Senior rush end Chris Kelsay has missed the majority of the past three 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. Kelsay has nine tackles for losses totaling 46 yards this season, including a team-leading 4.5 sacks for 38 yards. Kelsay also leads the Huskers with 14 QB hurries, including four against Utah State and Penn State. Kelsay recorded 1.5 sacks for 17 yards and four quarterback hurries against Arizona State and added his second career two-sack game against Utah State. Kelsay has also batted down two opposing passes, all while NU?s opponents have regularly double-teamed the senior captain.
Kelsay saw very limited action against McNeese State leaving in the first quarter with a strained right hamstring. The injury forced him to miss Nebraska?s games with Missouri and Oklahoma State, 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 against Missouri. In addition, Kelsay was instrumental in a defensive players? meeting in which NU set goals for the Missouri 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.
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, but their biggest impact came last Saturday at Oklahoma State. In the game, Nebraska had 369 yards of total offense, 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. Pilkington added a six-yard reception, marking the sixth straight game he has had at least one reception.
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 10 and leads the Huskers in receiving yards with 216, good for a 21.6-yard per catch average. Pilkington originally committed to the Huskers in February of 2000, but played two seasons of minor league baseball in the Colorado Rockies? organization before coming to Lincoln.
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.
Going Around the Horne
I-back David Horne has given the Husker running game a kick-start since ending his redshirt season three games ago. Horne has rushed for 294 yards in three games (98.0 ypg) and raced for 125 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries on Saturday at Oklahoma State, the most carries by a Husker in 2002.
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 is the first Husker 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 day marked 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 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 5.2 yards per carry in his first three games. His 98.0 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 294 yards, Horne is just off the top 10 rushing seasons by a Husker freshman and could become just the sixth Husker frosh to rush for more than 500 yards.
Thomas Among Nebraska?s Career Receiving Leaders
Senior split end Wilson Thomas is being relied on as a go-to-player in the Husker offensive attack this season. The 6-6 Thomas leads Nebraska with 19 receptions and has a pair of touchdowns this season. The Huskers will look to get Thomas back into the offense at Texas A&M after he has been held without a catch in each of the past two games. He had a catch in eight straight outings before the Missouri game.
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 McNeese State game marked the 13th time in his career that Thomas has caught three or more passes in a game, including four games in 2002. Thomas had three or more grabs nine times last season, including six each in key victories over Oklahoma and Kansas State. He capped the 2001 regular season with a career-best 109 receiving yards against Colorado, including a career-long 78-yard reception, the longest non-scoring pass in NU school history.
Thomas has 57 career receptions and is closing fast on the Husker career top 10, just four catches shy of a tie for ninth place on the list. With 803 career receiving yards, Thomas ranks 20th on the NU charts and is 197 yards short of becoming just the 12th Husker in school history to reach 1,000 career receiving yards.
Thomas? 37 receptions last year were the most by any Husker since All-American Irving Fryar caught 40 balls in 1983, and the sixth-most ever by a Husker. Thomas? 616 receiving yards ranked as the fifth-best single-season total in school history and was a record for Husker split ends.
Thomas has spent his past two offseasons playing for Coach Barry Collier?s Husker basketball team. Last season Thomas averaged 4.6 points and 3.8 rebounds in 16 games, including a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds against Missouri in Lincoln.
Diedrick Joins Husker 2,000-Yard Club
Senior I-back Dahrran Diedrick 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 2,299 career yards to rank 14th on the Husker charts.
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.
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 week.
Shanle leads the team in tackles with 45 stops, including nine against Oklahoma State. He also returned a blocked punt for a touchdown against Arizona State. Ruud is tied for second on the team in tackles with 44 stops, 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 266.4 rushing yards per game.
Junior punter Kyle Larson continues to prove he is one of the nation?s best, averaging 42.2 yards on 40 punts this season to rank among the top 25 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. For a full listing of Husker players on preseason watch lists, please see the left column on page 6.
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), Iowa State (17/18), Colorado (21/20) and Kansas State (20/21). This week?s opponent Texas A&M and Texas Tech received votes in both polls this week, while Nebraska received one point in the coaches poll. Two of Nebraska?s non-conference opponents are ranked with Penn State 18th and 17th this week and Arizona State listed at 23rd and 25th.
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 two 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.
No. 4 I-back/kickoff return man Josh Davis suffered a left quadricep injury against Missouri and missed the Oklahoma State game, but is expected to return this week. Senior rover Aaron Terpening broke his left hand during practice two weeks ago and has played with a cast on his hand in each of the last two games. Senior I-back Thunder Collins left the Husker program last week after missing four games earlier this season while serving an NCAA suspension.
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 33 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 defensive end Grant Wistrom has been a key component in a Ram defense that has helped the team to the Super Bowl in two of the last three years. The Carolina Panther defense currently ranks 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.