LINCOLN — Barney Cotton wasn't angry. Fire was spitting through his mustache, his bandaged arm was flailing as high as the socket would take it during a third-quarter get-tough tirade, but Nebraska's offensive coordinator says he wasn't angry.
Frank Solich seemed a little peeved. The offense stumbled through two quarters Saturday, the defense saved the day again in a 30-0 win over Troy State, and afterward somebody asked the NU coach how long the Huskers can keep riding the defense's coattails.
"That statement there, I don't appreciate how you're viewing it," Solich said. "It's obvious you've got to have great defense to win football games. It's obvious you've got to make big plays on offense. We're working toward that.
"You're not going to march up and down the field every drive. You're not going to do it every quarter. There's an awful lot of good football teams out there and an awful lot of good defenses. We've played our fair share."
They may have committed three turnovers Saturday, they may have caused 77,825 to stir in their seats, but only one thing matters to Solich right now — the 5-0 Huskers keep winning. And the Big 12 North keeps losing.
On a day when Colorado got knocked off at Baylor, and Kansas State lost at Texas, the possibilities for Nebraska seemed as endless as the line at the Runza stand.
It's because of the defense, which got its first shutout since 2000 and dominated its fifth straight game. And give an assist to Cotton, who apparently had seen enough by the third quarter Saturday, when quarterback Jammal Lord fumbled on the Troy State 45-yard line and the Huskers clung to a 10-0 lead.
"All we talked about was going out there and making it happen," Cotton said. "It was time we quit relying on our defense and our special teams to give us field position. It was time for us to step up and make some opportunities for ourselves and put the ball in the end zone."
The speech must've worked. With true freshman quarterback Joe Dailey warming up on the sidelines, Lord marched out on the field, first play of the next series, and found Matt Herian sprinting across the middle. Lord had misfired on a couple of deep passes earlier in the game, but this time he hit Herian with a 77-yarder.
One play later, Cory Ross punched in a 3-yard touchdown, and Nebraska put the ball in the end zone on the next series, taking control as the third quarter ended.
You want pep talks? Check out the one Cotton gave Lord, man-to-man, after the senior threw an interception early in the third quarter. He told Lord he had two great weeks of practice, his best of the season. He said things were going bad, but the ball was going back in his hands and the Huskers were going deep.
Lord looked up at Cotton and said two words.
"You always wonder what's going through a quarterback's mind," said Cotton, who had a rough week himself, battling an elbow infection. "I didn't see him get down today."
Aaron Leak, Troy State's quarterback, couldn't say the same. He was harassed by the Blackshirts all day. He fumbled twice and threw an interception. The Trojans finished with just 150 yards.
And Defensive Coordinator Bo Pelini, who came to Lincoln in December to resurrect the defense, had his first shutout.
Pelini said it was even more meaningful that the defense did it without two of its starters, whom he called "warriors." Safety Philip Bland and nose tackle Ryon Bingham didn't suit up Saturday because of injuries.
Patrick Kabongo filled in for Bingham, had three tackles and a pass breakup, and fired up the defense by dancing around the field after nearly every big play. Troy State came into the day with the nation's 35th-best rushing offense but left with just 66 yards on the ground.
"If anybody says, 'Let's play smashmouth, we say, 'Let's do it,'" Kabongo said. "We line up everybody and expect a street fight."
This fight was missing a few key brawlers. Right guard Jake Andersen (turf toe) joined Bingham and Bland on the sidelines Saturday. And with about six minutes to go, starting center Josh Sewell went down with a knee injury.
Though the extent of his injury was unknown late Saturday, Sewell told at least one teammate in the locker room that he thought his sprain was minor and that he'd be back.
The No. 8 Huskers play 4-1 Missouri next weekend in Columbia.
Are they ready for the Big 12? Troy State Coach Larry Blakeney says yes. One week after his team beat Marshall, which knocked off K-State, Blakeney said Nebraska's defense "is going to be reckoned with for the remainder of the season."
"They are good enough to take this team all the way," Blakeney said.
For now, getting through Columbia is enough.
|Yards per carry||1.8||4.0|
Nebraska is 3-0 all-time against Troy State.
|Oklahoma State||Aug. 30|
|Utah State||Sept. 6|
|Penn State||Sept. 13|
|Southern Miss||Sept. 25|
|Troy State||Oct. 4|
|Texas A&M||Oct. 18|
|Iowa State||Oct. 25|
|Kansas State||Nov. 15|
|Michigan State||Dec. 29|
Nebraska has played 17 games on Oct. 4. See them all »
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