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C O M M E N T A R Y
T A D    S T R Y K E R
November 21, 2009

 
The Husker Nation got one last, fond look at Big Number 93 wreaking havoc on the floor of Memorial Stadium.

The Blackshirts were center stage one more time, led by Ndamukong Suh, the majestic 6-foot-4, 300-pounder who is a devastating mix of run-stuffer, pass rusher and pass defender rolled into one package. It was a sight that 85,998 partisan Nebraska fans never got tired of watching. So what if Zac Lee and the NU offense had another three-and-out? Just turn Suh and the Husker defensive line loose and everything will be fine.

If Suh couldn’t get the Wildcats, Larry Asante could. The senior safety ended a pair of K-State drives in the red zone by intercepting a pass at the 16-yard line and forcing a back-breaking fumble with a timely hit at the Husker 1.

Suh, who will get his degree in construction management next month, was in prime destruction mode as Nebraska shut down Kansas State 17-3 Saturday night to clinch a berth in the Big 12 championship game. Suh had nine tackles, including two for loss. He had 1.5 sacks, broke up two passes and was credited with a quarterback hurry.

The Huskers, with their maddeningly inconsistent offense, probably wouldn’t be going to Arlington on Dec. 5 without the efforts of their soon-to-be All-America team leader. Big Suh has been a Big Pain to the Big 12 for two years now, and judging by the way he sprinted off the field at the end of the game, it looks like he’s planning on doing more damage for at least a couple of additional weeks.

It was a solid Senior Night for the Blackshirts, who got excellent efforts from seniors Asante (10 tackles), Phillip Dillard (eight tackles including a sack), Matt O’Hanlon (five tackles) and Barry Turner (three tackles, including one for a loss).

The Huskers have gone 10 consecutive quarters without allowing a touchdown at home, and they weren’t about to give up one on this night, not with a Big 12 North title riding on the game. “They’re playing with an attitude,” said Bo Pelini on his postgame radio show. “They’ve got some things they need to get cleaned up, but they’re doing what it takes to win games.”

Four in a row, to be exact, which matches the season-ending run Nebraska put together last fall. Now Pelini, who is 18-7 overall in less than two seasons as head coach, will go for back-to-back nine-win seasons when the Huskers (8-3 overall, 5-2 Big 12) travel to Boulder to meet struggling Colorado on Nov. 27.

The Buffs no doubt will come out emotionally sky-high and fighting for one last big win for their embattled coach, Dan Hawkins. They probably will try to control the ball with a short passing game and break a few big runs in the same manner that Kansas State went after the Big Red. The Wildcats had some success, and even outyarded the Huskers 293-267, but couldn’t get the ball in the end zone against a defensive unit that backpedaled at times, but always stayed in control.

This is a defense-dominated team, and the coaching staff seems content not to rock the boat as long as Lee and the offense are merely harmless. “Just don’t do anything stupid,” seems to be the slogan of the Husker attack, which continually puts pressure on the Blackshirts, who are up to the challenge. On this night, the offense managed to do just enough to win the game by putting together a couple of touchdown drives.

A mediocre offensive performance like that should be good enough to beat a relatively slow Colorado team, but it likely won’t get the job done against Texas. The Huskers will need to somehow find a little more firepower to make the Longhorns sweat.

The offensive line, after taking a step forward against Kansas, took a step backward. They lost right tackle Marcel Jones with an injury, and have been unable to establish much continuity this season. The lack of improvement in the o-line is the biggest concern with this team now.

The kicking game was solid again for Nebraska, which was not burned by Brandon Banks, K-State’s game-breaking kick returner and wide receiver. Banks, who has returned five kicks for scores in his career, caught five passes for 48 yards and had a 22-yard punt return, but was generally kept in check.

Adi Kunalic kept the ball away from Banks on kickoffs and Alex Henery had a fantastic game, twice pinning the Wildcats deep in their own territory and making Banks work for everything he got. Henery’s 61-yard bomb that rolled out of bounds at the 3-yard line early in the fourth quarter was a work of art. The junior from Omaha has become almost as good a punter as he is a placekicker.

Defense and special teams are not spectacular, but they can take you a long way, especially when Big Number 93 plays defense for your team. The Huskers plan to ride Suh — who is as valuable a player as anyone in college football today — as far as he will take them.

 

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