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T A D    S T R Y K E R
September 26, 2009

Well, this one did have an old-time feel to it, didn’t it?

The Big Red rolling up a big halftime lead and pulling away, playing nearly the entire roster in the fourth quarter, and happy fans leaving Memorial Stadium early to celebrate.

Except for some injuries to defensive backs — most notably Rickey Thenarse — there was very little to dislike about Nebraska’s 55-0 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette Saturday night.

It was a nice celebration. Liked seeing Mike Devaney; the family resemblance gave me a lump in my throat because it reminded me of what Bob looked like in 1962. Liked the throwback uniforms, liked the atmosphere surrounding Nebraska’s 300th consecutive sellout.

Loved the defense. Loved the shutout.

This appears to be a Nebraska team that is gaining momentum, and the defense is the reason. No, I haven’t forgotten the disappointing loss at Virginia Tech, where three breakdowns by the NU defense marred an otherwise excellent performance (remember, yielding just 16 points on the road against a top 20 opponent is nothing to get too angry about). The defense has given up too many yards at times, but allowing just seven points a game through the nonconference season is a good sign.

Bo and Carl Pelini are building a defense in Nebraska. Not one that compares with the 1990s juggernauts led by Grant Wistrom and Mike Brown and the Peter brothers, not yet. But it’s getting better.

And speaking of Virginia Tech, what does the Hokies’ convincing 31-7 win over Miami say about the Huskers? I had some people tell me after the Huskers’ one-point loss in Blacksburg that Nebraska was in trouble, and that Miami would easily defeat Virginia Tech.

Well, let’s see — Tech slugged Miami in the mouth, and Nebraska is not in disarray.

Don’t get me wrong. Nebraska has a lot to prove, starting Oct. 8 at Columbia, Missouri, and again Oct. 17 in Lincoln against Texas Tech. Those games will say a lot about the way this season goes for the Huskers.

As for the offense, the showing against the Ragin’ Cajuns was encouraging. Zac Lee and the offensive line were definitely improved from their showing at Blacksburg. Roy Helu continues to build momentum at I-back, and Rex Burkhead is a young star in the making.

The 55 points were misleading; it just shows what can happen when you force turnovers and turn them into points. The offense was feeding off what the defense and kicking game gave it for much of the game, and except for the Cajuns’ first punt of the game, which the Huskers didn’t catch and allowed to roll inside the 10-yard line, the NU kicking game was excellent.

The next step for the defense is to force turnovers and turn them into points against Big 12 teams like Missouri and Texas Tech, which have a lot less experience on offense than they did last season.

In an interview earlier this year, Ndamukong Suh told me that he wanted to see the defense firing on all cylinders from the first snap of the Florida Atlantic game. Setting the bar that high flew in the face of the national perception that the Blackshirts were a weakness of the Nebraska team. This is a defense that is taking on the personality of its All-American candidate defensive tackle. Steady, smart, hard-working, and sometimes spectacular.

The Blackshirts as the strength of the Cornhuskers once again? There’s a throwback concept, but it’s starting to become believable.

It hasn’t been a dominating defense through the non-conference schedule, but the pieces seem to be forming. If Suh were not there, it would be just ordinary, but his talent and his presence will make it at least troublesome — very troublesome — for every offense here on out. Next year, when the young linebackers have another year of experience, the Blackshirts will be very good, even without Suh.

But since he’s still here, let’s enjoy watching Suh go about his business. It’s not every day that you get to see someone rebuild a tradition as time-honored as the Blackshirts.


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 [email protected]. | Archive