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August 30, 2008

Yeah, it was a good idea to switch Cody Glenn to defense all right.

The Blackshirts are not back yet, but you can see them coming, and Glenn is out in front, leading the charge. The Nebraska defense played hard, tackled well and made sure that nobody will mistake it for last year's edition.

The NU defense made its share of mistakes. It overpursued at times, lost containment, gave up a couple of 50-yard plays in the third quarter and made a couple of needless late hits . But it forced two turnovers and had four sacks and allowed only 8 rushing yards . It was so nice to see a Nebraska defense play with passion that hey, we can overlook 342 passing yards and a bunch of mental mistakes, at least for the first time out.

When Glenn volunteered to move from I-back to linebacker last spring, it seemed like a good sign – here was a senior who said he wanted to do whatever it takes to help the team win ballgames. Saturday night at Memorial Stadium, the Texas native looked like he is ready to back up his words.

Glenn had nine unassisted tackles and three assisted. He broke up three passes and forced a fumble. He had 2.5 tackles for loss, and generally flew around on defense.

He is not a polished product. How could he be, having played only a little linebacker in high school? Chances are, he will be exploited by a couple of the All-America candidates in the Big 12 quarterback pool, but he could be a disruptive force and he has the speed to attack the spread offenses that are dominating college football.

Glenn gave up a long pass to tight end Brandon Ledbetter and he had one of the personal foul penalties when he clobbered Western Michigan's Brandon West after he had clearly run out of bounds. But he appears to be a vocal leader, and he will be a central figure this fall. He may get tricked a few times, but he'll make some big plays that the Huskers desperately needed a linebacker – any linebacker – to step up and make last year.

Glenn made his debut on defense the same night Bo Pelini made his debut as Nebraska's head coach. The Cornhuskers' 47-24 win over Western Michigan was convincing, but not pretty – a good starting point for a season that the Huskers hope to use to win back their honor.

This game was not as one-sided as Nebraska's 56-17 pounding of Western Illinois in Bill Callahan's 2004 debut, but this was a much better opponent than Callahan had to face. As expected, Pelini was more animated on the sideline than any Nebraska coach this generation has ever seen. And as expected, his team is starting to take on his character, playing with energy on defense and efficiency on special teams.

The offense seemed to pick up where it left off last year, although the balance (31 rushes, 36 passes) was an improvement from the way the Huskers finished the 2007 season. Joe Ganz threw for 345 yards and four touchdowns – his fourth consecutive game over 300 yards – but gave up two interceptions. Marlon Lucky made some big plays, and we saw the return of Nate Swift to the mix in the passing game (two touchdown receptions) and Menelik Holt assert himself as a solid pass catcher. He and Swift had five receptions apiece.

This will be a balanced offense, not a return to the power-I option. The offensive line was a little disappointing, in that it didn't dominate in the running game (the Huskers had just 138 rushing yards), but Shawn Watson, working from the press box once again, has the tools he needs to mix it up and keep opposing defenses off balance.

The Blackshirts are not back yet. There is not enough quality depth on defense. Safety Ricky Thenarse did not play – hopefully he will return to the lineup soon. But it got some quality reps against a decent spread offense and it has a leader. They will need to grow up together in a big way by the end of September.

Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at tad.stryker@gmail.com. | Archive