DATE: Friday, Nov. 29, 2002;
Nebraska (7-5, 3-4) closes its regular season on Friday, Nov. 29, with a matchup against Big 12 North Division champ Colorado (8-3, 6-1) at Memorial Stadium. The game continues a long-standing Nebraska football tradition of playing on the Friday following Thanskgiving. The Husker-Colorado matchup will mark the 13th straight year Nebraska has played on the day after Thanksgiving, with Colorado serving as the opponent each of the last seven seasons.
The Huskers will be looking to secure a .500 finish in conference play and a victory would also guarantee a 41st consecutive winning season and keep alive Nebraska?s hopes of extending its string of nine-win seasons to 34 years. Nebraska is coming off a 49-13 defeat at Kansas State on Nov. 16, a setback that gave NU five losses in a season for the first time since 1961.
Nebraska now must turn its attention to Colorado, a team that has secured its position as the North Division representative in next month?s Big 12 Championship Game in Houston. The Buffs will attempt to defend their league title against either Oklahoma or Texas Tech. Colorado opened the season with a 1-2 record, but has since won seven of eight games, with its lone loss since mid-September a road setback at No. 4 Oklahoma. The Buffs stand 16th in this week?s AP poll and are ranked 17th according to the coaches poll.
Colorado rolled to a 62-36 victory in last year?s matchup in Boulder, ending Nebraska?s nine-game win streak in the series and ending a streak of tight games in the series. Before last season, the previous five meetings between the schools had been decided by a total of 15 points, with the most recent three games in Lincoln determined by a total of nine points.
The Nebraska-Colorado game will be televised by ABC for the 10th consecutive year with the network sending the contest to a national audience. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m.
Kansas State Defeats Nebraska for Third Straight Time in Manhattan
Nebraska ran into one of the nation?s hottest teams in Manhattan, Kan., and Kansas State scored the game?s final 28 points to defeat the Huskers 49-13 on Nov. 16. Kansas State quickly jumped in front in the game, taking a 7-0 lead on an Ell Roberson touchdown run less than five minutes into the contest. Roberson scored his second touchdown of the game on a 91-yard run later in the first period to push the KSU lead to 14-0.
Nebraska got on the board early in the second period with a 27-yard field goal from Josh Brown to trim the lead to 14-3. However, Kansas State upped its advantage to 21-3 later in the second quarter when the Wildcats blocked a Kyle Larson punt and recovered it in the end zone. Brown hit his second field goal of the day, a career-long 48-yarder, just before halftime to cut KSU?s lead to 21-6.
Nebraska?s defense forced fumbles on the Wildcats? first two second-half possessions, breathing life into the Huskers? hopes. The offense quickly converted the first fumble into a score with Jammal Lord running 35 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the series to cut the lead to 21-13. After the Blackshirts forced another K-State fumble, the Huskers drove inside the Wildcat 10-yard line, but NU?s drive stalled and Brown missed a 28-yard field goal attempt.
Kansas State quickly regained the momentum with a seven-play, 80-yard drive, culminated by an eight-yard Darren Sproles? TD run. The ensuing kick gave KSU a 28-13 advantage. The Huskers moved to the Wildcat 11 late in the third quarter, but turned the ball over on downs. Kansas State added touchdown runs on its final three drives of the game to account for the final margin.
The Wildcats dominated statistically, rushing for 415 yards, led by Roberson?s 228 yards and three touchdowns. Sproles added 155 yards and three touchdowns and Kansas State picked up 507 yards of total offense on the day. The Nebraska offense picked up just 231 yards of total offense, including 97 on the ground. Jammal Lord passed for 134 yards on the day. Rush end Chris Kelsay returned to the Husker lineup for the first time in six weeks and led the Blackshirts with 11 tackles and a sack.
Recapping Game 12...#11 Kansas State 49, Nebraska 13
Kansas State?s victory was its third straight over Nebraska in Manhattan and the 13th Wildcat win in the 88-game series. The 49 points were the most KSU has scored in the series and its 36-point victory was its largest margin over Nebraska. The loss marked the first time Nebraska had lost three straight games in an opponent?s stadium since dropping four straight at Oklahoma from 1973 to 1979.
Junior Josh Davis had a record-setting day in the kickoff return department. Davis had seven kickoff returns for a single-game NU record 186 yards. In the process, Davis broke his own school record for season kickoff return yardage. Davis now has 34 kickoff returns for 818 yards in 2002, bettering his 675 yards last season. Davis also moved into the top spot on the NU career kickoff return list with 1,493 yards, passing Tyrone Hughes? total of 1,443 yards from 1989 to 1992.
Quarterback Jammal Lord rushed for 47 yards on 21 carries to push his season total to 1,276 yards to move into 10th place on the single-season rushing list. Lord?s 134 yards passing were the second-highest total of the season. Lord moved from fifth to second on NU?s single-season total offense chart (2,426 yards).
Senior split end Wilson Thomas caught two passes for 41 yards in the game to move into a tie for eighth place on NU?s career receptions chart with 65.
Freshman tight end Matt Herian had a 28-yard reception in the first quarter, the fourth of his career, each covering at least 28 yards.
Senior rush end Chris Kelsay returned to the Husker lineup after missing the previous five games because of a hamstring injury. Kelsay recorded a team-high 11 tackles, the most of his career, and added a two-yard sack of Ell Roberson. Kelsay also had a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry in the game.
Senior place-kicker Josh Brown connected on two of three field goals in the game. He tied his regular-season career-long with a 48-yard field goal in the second quarter. Brown has made 11-of-15 field goals this season, including seven field goals of 40 yards or longer. Brown pushed his career scoring total to 304 points, fourth on the NU list.
Punter Kyle Larson averaged 40.4 yards on a season-high eight punts, with a long of 55 yards. The Ray Guy Award semifinalist pinned Kansas State inside its own 20 twice in the game.
Nebraska was a season-best plus-three in turnover margin in the game, forcing three Kansas State fumbles. NU converted the three Wildcat miscues into seven points.
Kansas State allowed just 97 yards rushing, the second opponent in 2002 to limit Nebraska to less than 100 yards on the ground (Iowa State, 81).
KSU quarterback Ell Roberson?s 228 rushing yards were the third-most ever against Nebraska, trailing only Billy Sims? 247 yards for Oklahoma in 1979 and Penn State?s Curt Warner who rushed for 238 yards against Nebraska in 1981.
Roberson?s 91-yard first-quarter TD run was the first run of 90 yards or longer since Kansas? Gale Sayers had a 99-yard run vs. the Huskers on Nov. 9, 1963.
Kansas State?s 415 rushing yards were the ninth-most all-time against Nebraska and the most against the Huskers since second-ranked Oklahoma rushed for 419 yards in Lincoln in 1987. The game also marked the first time since 1968 that the Wildcats had outgained Nebraska on the ground.
The loss dropped Nebraska to 0-3 against ranked teams in 2002 and 10-11 under Solich.
Nebraska Head Coach Frank Solich
Coach Frank Solich (Nebraska, 1966) is in his fifth season at the helm of the Husker program with a 49-14 school and career record (.778). With a victory over Colorado, Solich would move into a tie for second place for most victories by Division I-A head coaches in their first five seasons since 1900. He will officially qualify to rank among his peers after this season with five years as a head coach, and with a .778 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. In fact, neither Devaney or Osborne had an 11-win campaign in their first four years, with Devaney posting a pair of 10-win seasons and Osborne hitting 10 wins in his third season. 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.
Defensive coordinator Charlie McBride retired after the 1999 season, but the rest of Coach Solich?s original 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 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.
Before the Colorado game, 30 Huskers will be introduced during Senior Day festivities. The class includes 17 players from the state of Nebraska. During the past five years, the senior class has contributed to the 1999 Big 12 Championship and will make a fifth straight bowl trip this holiday season, including last year?s Rose Bowl for the national championship. The seniors have a 49-14 overall record in the past five seasons, including a 32-2 home record.
Osborne?s Teammates Program to be Honored at CU Game
At halftime of the Colorado game, former head coach Tom Osborne and his wife Nancy will be honored for their role in establishing the Teammates Mentoring Program. The Teammates Program was co-founded by the Osbornes in 1991. Teammates is a school-based, one-to-one program, that matches adult volunteers from the community with students in need of an additional caring adult in their life. The program reaches more than 2,000 youth in 60 communities in Nebraska. Five of the Teammates mentors and their mentees will also be in attendance at the game. The University of Nebraska Athletic Department salutes the Teammates Program and all those who have helped ensure its success.
History Indicates NU, Colorado Defenses to Have Hands Full
Nebraska and Colorado feature two of the nation?s top six rushing offenses entering next Friday?s game. That fact along with recent history of offensive fireworks in the series might lead one to believe that the Memorial Stadium scoreboard operator will be busy when the two teams clash.
In the past three meetings between the schools, both teams have topped 30 points in each of the three games. NU won 33-30 in overtime in Boulder in 1999 and followed up with a 34-32 thriller in Lincoln in 2000. Last season, Colorado turned the tables with a 62-36 defeat of Nebraska in Boulder, ending NU?s nine-game win streak in the series. The teams combined for more than 1,100 yards of total offense in last year?s game and have averaged nearly 975 yards of combined total offense in the past three meetings.
Thanksgiving Tradition Continues
Nebraska will hit the gridiron on the Friday after Turkey Day for the 13th consecutive year. The Huskers have met Colorado for post-Thanksgiving festivities each of the last seven seasons (since formation of Big 12). Before 1996, Nebraska and Oklahoma met the previous six years on the day after Thanksgiving. Since 1990, Nebraska has an 11-2 mark on post-Thanksgiving Friday losing only to Oklahoma in 1990 and at Colorado last season.
Before 1990, Nebraska and Oklahoma also met on the Friday after Thanksgiving in 1973, 1976, 1977 and 1982 and squared off on Thanksgiving five times between 1965 and 1972.
Huskers Look for Thanksgiving Weekend Home Cooking
Nebraska will rely on its home-field edge in Friday?s game against Colorado. The Huskers are 6-1 at Memorial Stadium this season and hold a 23-6 edge against CU in Lincoln, including wins in each of the Buffs? last five visits to Memorial Stadium.
The Huskers have also fared much better statistically at home than away from Lincoln this season. The Huskers are outscoring the opposition 36.3 to 14.3 at home and have outrushed the opposition by nearly 220 yards in seven 2002 home games at Memorial Stadium. Only one of Nebraska?s seven 2002 home opponents has scored more than 16 points against the Huskers at Memorial Stadium.
Husker Running Game Looks to Rebound from Kansas State Game
Nebraska enters the final game of the regular season among the nation?s top rushing teams. The Huskers lead the Big 12 and rank third nationally in rushing offense, averaging 273.4 yards per game. Nebraska?s running attack had been rolling, but Kansas State limited NU to just 97 yards on the ground in a 49-13 loss on Nov. 16.
Despite Nebraska?s tough day at Kansas State, the Huskers have impressive ground numbers over the past seven games. Since Iowa State held Nebraska to a season-low 81 rushing yards on Sept. 28, NU has averaged 311.1 yards per game on the ground. Five times in those seven games Nebraska has topped the 300-yard barrier in rushing, most recently with 352 yards against Kansas on Nov. 9. In that contest, 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 rushing 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 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 rushing yards per game. 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).
Before the Kansas State game, Nebraska had rushed for 259 yards in six straight games, including a season-high 444 yards vs. McNeese State to begin the stretch. Quarterback Jammal Lord and true freshman I-back David Horne have keyed Nebraska?s rushing success in recent weeks. Lord has run for 903 yards in the last seven games (129.0 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 579 yards (82.7 ypg), including three 100-yard performances.
Nebraska has 24 rushing plays of 25 yards or longer this season, with eighteen of those 24 long runs coming in Nebraska?s past seven games. The Huskers had just five running plays go for 25 yards or more in the first five games.
Lord is Newest Member of 1,000-1,000 Club
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 joined an elite club on Nov. 9 against Kansas. In the game, he rushed for 74 yards and passed for 59 yards and two touchdowns, pushing his season passing total over 1,000 yards. He had previously topped 1,000 rushing yards in 2002 and became 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 2,426 yards of total offense this season, the second-most in school history, trailing only Eric Crouch?s school-record of 2,625 yards set in his Heisman Trophy-winning campaign last year. 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 totals past the 1,000-yard marks. He now has 1,489 career rushing yards to rank 31st on the NU list and 1,331 passing, good for 19th 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 1,276 yards rushing in 2002, the 10th-best rushing season by a Husker.
Lord has led Nebraska in rushing eight times in 2002. In addition to leading Nebraska in rushing yards (1,276) and rushing touchdowns (8), Lord averages a remarkable 6.0 yards per carry. By comparison, Crouch averaged 5.5 yards per rush in winning the Heisman last season. Lord?s 106.3 yards rushing per game rank 28th in the nation and fourth in the Big 12 Conference. Lord is second nationally in rushing among quarterbacks. His 202.2 total offensive yards per game rank eighth in the Big 12.
The McNeese State game was a career-best passing day for Lord in terms of completions (12), yards (151) and percentage (.667). He has topped 100 yards passing seven times in 2002, including five of the past eight games, most recently when he threw for 134 yards at Kansas State. Lord has thrown for 1,150 yards and 10 touchdowns this season.
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 23 plays of 25 yards or longer.
Lord has 12 rushes of 25 yards or more this season, including at least one in each of Nebraska?s last seven games. He has broke off eight runs of 35 yards or longer, including five in the past four games. The NU signal caller has accounted for nine of NU?s 12 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 11 pass plays of 25 yards or more, including a pair of long plays at Kansas State. 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 23 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 moved into the top 10 on NU?s career rushing list earlier this month in a win over Kansas. In the game, Diedrick had 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.
His effort against the Jayhawks moved Diedrick past five former Huskers and into ninth place on the NU career rushing list. Diedrick now has 2,557 career rushing yards, including 743 yards in 2002. Diedrick rushed for 85 yards on 15 carries against Texas A&M, including 78 yards on nine carries after halftime. Diedrick has six rushing touchdowns this season and 26 in his career, the 14th-most in school history. He had two rushing touchdowns at Colorado last season.
At 6-0 and 225 pounds, Diedrick supplies the Huskers with a physical running complement to freshman I-back David Horne. Along with the I-back tandem, quarterback Jammal Lord gives Nebraska 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 in early October. Horne has rushed for 579 yards (82.7 ypg) and has raced for more than 100 yards three times in the past five 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 Dahrran 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 touchdown 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 5.5 yards per carry and his 82.7 yards per game would rank eighth in the Big 12 Conference if he had played in the required number of games. With 579 rushing yards, Horne ranks fifth on the NU single-season list for most rushing yards by a freshman.
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 has played well in recent weeks, most notably in a record-setting performance at Texas A&M.
Nebraska had a school-record 110 pancakes against the Aggies, 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 157 pancakes, including 92 in the past five games (three 20-plus games). Incognito?s pancake total is second-best in school history.
Incognito leads Nebraska with eight double-figure pancake games, while center John Garrison has seven such games, including a team-high 16 knock-downs at Kansas State. The senior captain ranks second on the team in pancakes with 132 and has 263 in his career (ninth at Nebraska).
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. Garrison matched his career high with 20 pancakes. Erickson (16) and fellow guard Junior Tagoa?i (18) also bettered their previous best outings in the offensive line?s record-setting performance.
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 several of NU?s victories 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 17.3 yards on 41 punt returns. Groce has returned 33 punts for 613 yards, for a 18.6-yard average, good for third in the nation. Groce?s two punt return touchdowns vs. Troy State not only set a school record, but matched the NCAA record. His 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 has five punt returns of 25 yards or longer in 2002 and moved up to second on the NU career punt return chart earlier this year.
Place-kicking...Senior place-kicker Josh Brown is 11-of-15 on field goals and perfect in 44 PAT attempts. Brown has seven 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. He has twice hit a regular-season career-long 48-yard field goals (vs. Texas, at Kansas State). Brown has hit 16 of his last 21 field goals dating back to last season. He ranks fourth at Nebraska with 304 career points. Brown?s performance on kickoff duties should not be left unnoticed with 38 of his 68 kickoffs this season (3-4 at Kansas State) 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 43.3-yard average on the season. He has also pinned the opposition inside the 20 18 times, including three times each vs. Troy State and Oklahoma State. He has pinned opponents inside the 10-yard line eight 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, 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 (two punts), and had a season-high five punts of 45 yards or more vs. Penn State and Kansas (four of 50 yards or more). Larson had a season-high eight punts at Kansas State. NU is sixth nationally in net punting at 38.30 yards per attempt. Larson, a Ray Guy Award semifinalist, 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 the win over Kansas. Hopkins? second blocked kick 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 NU 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 and Kansas State have both blocked Husker punts for touchdowns, while Texas blocked a Husker field goal.
Kickoff Returns...Junior Josh Davis has re-written the NU kickoff return record book this season. He had seven returns for an NU single-game record 186 yards at Kansas State. In the game Davis also set NU season (818) and career records (1,493) for kickoff return yardage. He broke his own season yardage record of 675 yards set last season and Tyrone Hughes? career mark of 1,443 yards from 1989 to 1992. Davis is averaging 24.0 yards per return, with a season-long 53-yarder at Kansas State. He has 12 kickoff returns of 25 yards or more in 2002, including three against Missouri.
Kick Coverage...Nebraska has allowed opponents to average just 17.7 yards on kickoff returns and only 8.8 yards on 25 punt returns this season. While Groce and Davis have combined for 17 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 45 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 19 games dating back to last season (4 of 12 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 year, but are a combined minus-3 since. Nebraska is even in turnover margin to rank 59th in the nation.
Nebraska has a combined three-turnover disadvantage in its five losses, but is a plus-five in the past two games. The Huskers recovered three Kansas State fumbles and did not turn the ball over in Manhattan. The previous week the Huskers also forced three turnovers against Kansas.
In Nebraska?s season opener, the Huskers returned an interception for a touchdown against Arizona State, while the offense did not commit a turnover. The ASU victory 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 three new starters on the offensive front.
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, was Groce?s turn to handle the leadership role, as true freshman Fabian Washington mans the left cornerback spot.
Groce?s play in 2002 has shown why he is an All-Big 12 and national honors candidate. 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 106.55 rating.
Groce had a pair of interceptions in back-to-back wins against Troy State and Utah State early in the season. Those performances marked just the second time in school history that a Husker defender has recorded two interceptions in consecutive games (Bill Kosch, 1970).
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. He is the Huskers? single-season PBU record-holder with 17 in 2000. Groce?s four interceptions this season give him eight in his career, 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 touchdown return 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 16.2 yards per punt return in his career and is averaging 18.6 yards on 33 returns this season to rank third in the nation. Groce moved into second place on the NU career punt return yardage list against Missouri, and he now has 1,099 career yards. Groce?s 613 punt return yards this season rank second on the NU single-season chart, just five yards from Rodgers? single-season record of 618 yards, set in his Heisman-winning season in 1972.
Kelsay Shows Form in Return to Blackshirt Defense
Senior rush end Chris Kelsay quickly exhibited his impact on the Nebraska defense with his return from an injury against Kansas State. Kelsay had missed the majority of the previous six games with a hamstring injury he suffered against McNeese State. Despite not being on the field for six weeks, Kelsay returned to action with a career-high 11 tackles, including a sack against the Wildcats.
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 most of six games, Kelsay still ranks second on the team with 10 tackles for losses totaling 48 yards. He is the team leader in sacks with 5.5 for 40 yards and has a team-high 15 quarterback hurries. Kelsay 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 three 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. Despite missing the subsequent five games, 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 11.5 sacks and 30 tackles for loss in his Husker career, just two TFL from the top 10 on the Nebraska career list. Kelsay recorded 52 total tackles as a junior, including a team-best 17 tackles for losses totaling 58 yards and five sacks. He has 28 overall tackles this season and 125 stops in his career.
Thomas Among Nebraska?s Career Receiving Leaders
Senior split end Wilson Thomas leads Nebraska with 27 receptions, 319 receiving yards and three touchdowns this season. The 6-6 Thomas caught two passes for 41 yards at Kansas State, including a 25-yard reception. Thomas? two catches vs. the Wildcats pushed his career total to 65, good for eighth place on the NU career receptions chart. Thomas opened the season with three catches, including a touchdown against Arizona State. He also has touchdown grabs against Utah State and Kansas, while catching a season-high five passes at Iowa State. Thomas had 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 943 career receiving yards, Thomas ranks 14th on the NU charts and is 57 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.
Shanle is fourth on the team with 65 tackles, including a season-high 10 stops against McNeese State. He also returned a blocked punt for a touchdown against Arizona State. A sophomore, Ruud leads the team in tackles with 72 and has a team-high 11 tackles for loss, 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 273.4 rushing yards per game.
Junior punter Kyle Larson continues to prove he is one of the nation?s best, averaging 43.3 yards on 60 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 is one of 10 semifinalists for the Ray Guy Award.
True Freshmen Making Big Impact for 2002 Huskers
Five true freshmen have seen action for Nebraska in 2002 and all have made a significant impact. 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 less than 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. 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 three pass receptions, a 44-yarder at Oklahoma State, a 60-yard TD catch vs. Texas and a 28-yard reception at Kansas State. He averages 41.2 yards on his four 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 seven 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 (13) and receiving yards (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 tied the top come-from-behind effort in school history and was 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 tied the largest comeback in school history. NU trailed 17-0 in the first quarter of its 1991 game at Kansas, but rallied to win 59-23.
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.
Nebraska will face its fourth ranked foe of the season in Colorado (16th in Nov. 17 AP poll). The Buffs are one of five Big 12 teams ranked this week, including Oklahoma (4 AP/5 Coaches), Kansas State (10/10), Texas (11/11), Colorado (16/17) and Texas Tech (24/23). Iowa State was ranked when Nebraska met the Cyclones in September and non-conference foe Penn State is 15th in this week?s AP poll.
Nebraska opened the 2002 season ranked in the Associated Press preseason top 25 for the 33rd consecutive season. The Huskers were ranked No. 10 in this year?s AP preseason listing, the 10th consecutive season Nebraska has opened in the Top 10. The Huskers were ranked eighth in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches preseason poll.
Nebraska?s AP preseason ranking was its lowest since opening at No. 11 in 1992, but marked the fifth straight season under Solich that NU was in the preseason top 10. Under Solich, 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 returned to action in Nebraska?s loss at Kansas State. The 2002 captain had missed the Huskers? previous five games with a hamstring injury, suffered in the first quarter against McNeese State.
Kelsay?s injury was one of a series of injuries to hit the Nebraska defense in 2002. In the preseason, senior nose tackle Jason Lohr was lost for the year 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, underwent shoulder surgery midway through the season. Sophomore Mike linebacker Chad Sievers suffered an injury to his left knee against Kansas on Nov. 9 and recently underwent season-ending surgery. Tight end Jon Bowling injured his right knee against Kansas State and will have season-ending surgery.
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.
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.