LINCOLN — Nebraska's defenders are proud of the blue collars that ring their Blackshirts this season.
The Huskers showed off a defense long on grit and short on stars Saturday in limiting TCU to six first downs and 186 yards in a 21-7 Pigskin Classic victory. The win, before the 240th consecutive sellout of 77,473 at Memorial Stadium, stretched Nebraska's string of season-opening victories to 16 in a row.
The victory didn't come easily as Nebraska's offense struggled to find its early-season synchronicity. That mattered little to the Husker defenders, who came within one big play of holding the Horned Frogs scoreless.
"Chris Kelsay is always talking about how this is a blue-collar defense, how we don't depend on one or two guys to get the job done," Husker weakside linebacker Mark Vedral said. "We have 11 guys who can step up at anytime, and that's the way it should be on defense.
"We don't have a bunch of superstars. We just have a bunch of guys who want to fly around and get to the football. If we can continue to do that, we'll be all right this year."
If Nebraska continues to play as it did Saturday on offense, a defense of 11 superstars might not be able to save the day once the Huskers hit the meat of their schedule. Rest assured that coaches at Oklahoma, Kansas State and Notre Dame will zone in on what TCU did to keep Nebraska's offense in neutral most of the afternoon.
The Huskers managed to produce scoring drives of 70 and 55 yards in the first half as well as a momentum-grabbing 98-yarder in the third period. The 22 plays on those three possessions produced 75 percent (223 yards) of Nebraska's total offense (310 yards) for the day.
Nebraska's other 46 plays produced an average gain of 1.9 yards against at TCU defense that featured six new starters. Overall, 15 of Nebraska's 68 plays produced negative yardage, with TCU strong safety Marvin Godbolt notching five tackles for 37 yards in losses and linebacker LeMarcus McDonald adding four for 16 yards in losses.
"Because we play against the option everyday in practice, we understand a little bit more about it," TCU Coach Gary Patterson said. "We were able to take some chances and got fortunate on some plays and got some lost yardage."
The Horned Frogs couldn't get enough to keep Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch from becoming the school's all-time total yardage leader one game into his senior season. Crouch passed for 151 yards, completing 10 of his 18 attempts, and netted 69 rushing yards on 24 carries.
"For the most part, we were able to get the job done," Crouch said.
But not in the fashion that the Huskers would have preferred.
"Offensively, we have a lot of things we need to work on," said Nebraska center John Garrison, one of three offensive linemen making their first starts Saturday. "This is not something that we're going to take pride in. As linemen, we have a great deal of tradition that we have to live up to.
"We have a lot of things we need to get ironed out before next week."
Garrison was being his diplomatic best with that assessment of Nebraska's offensive effort. The Huskers went three-and-out on six of their 13 possessions. A seventh consisted of four plays before Kyle Larson had to come on to punt.
There were some who thought the Huskers' sophomore punter from Funk, Neb., should have been named the team's most valuable player for the game after averaging 48.6 yards on eight punts in his first career start. Instead, the award went to Crouch, who displaced Tommie Frazier atop Nebraska's career total offense chart.
Crouch moved past Frazier with a 28-yard completion to tight end Tracey Wistrom in the final quarter. Crouch now has 5,510 yards of total offense with, barring injury, at least 11 more games remaining in his career. Frazier had 5,476 yards after his four-year career ended in 1995.
"The record is kind of amazing to me because I never expected to do anything like that," Crouch said. "I have to credit everybody around me. If it wasn't for those guys around me, this never would have happened."
Crouch directed Nebraska to a touchdown on its first possession, eating up 33 of the 70 yards on the march with one option run. Crouch also had a 12-yard run on the six-play drive, as did I-back Thunder Collins. The touchdown came with 9:52 left in the first quarter on a 6-yard run by Collins, the Huskers' rushing leader for the day with 71 yards on 14 carries.
TCU needed just four plays to force a tie on a 67-yard pass from quarterback Casey Printers to Matt Schobel. The elusive Printers narrowly avoided Vedral on a blitz by rolling to his right. He reversed his field to avoid another potential tackler, then lofted a long pass over cornerback DeJuan Groce to Schobel.
"Their one big play was more or less a broken play that typified their quarterback's athleticism," said Craig Bohl, Nebraska's defensive coordinator. "He made three of our guys miss, a couple of guys twice. But we put that one play out of our minds. I was pleased how we came back and established the line of scrimmage and got a good push on the quarterback, "
Printers' other nine completions produced just 55 yards, and the Huskers limited TCU to 56 yards on 28 rushes. Subtract their one big play and the Horned Frogs averaged 2.5 yards for the other 49 offensive plays.
"The best thing we did today was keep our composure," Husker cornerback Keyuo Craver said. "We knew that playing a good quarterback like Printers there would be plays where he would make things happen. The coaches challenged us not to let it happen again after that one play, and I thought we did a good job of doing that."
Nebraska regained the lead when Crouch drove the Huskers 55 yards in six plays on their third possession. Forty-one of the yards came on Crouch's pass to wingback John Gibson, and the quarterback scored three plays later on a 1-yard run.
TCU, which led the nation in total defense last season, buckled down and held the Huskers to 13 yards on their next 27 snaps. Thirteen of those were second-quarter runs that resulted in a minus 20 rushing yards.
"They were making it very difficult to run our offense," Crouch said. "We like to get it to where it's second-and-short or third-and-short. They were putting us in tough situations. When we're facing long yardage, it takes us out of our element.
"They made us do some things we didn't plan on doing, but we fought through it. We had a 99-yard drive when our backs were against the wall. The offense put everything together and helped pull us through."
The Huskers ate up almost five minutes of the third period with a 10-play drive that ended with Collins' 26-yard scoring run with 25 seconds left in the period. That put the Huskers up by 14 points and all but ended the upset hopes of a TCU team that came into the game a four-touchdown underdog.
TCU ran just seven of its 50 plays in Nebraska territory. All six of the Horned Frogs' second-half possessions ended in punts.
"Going into the game, we wanted to play a lot of players, which we did," Bohl said. "We wanted to be focused and organized, which I thought we were. I thought our tackling was improved. And while I wouldn't say we've arrived, I think we're making moves in the right direction."
Nebraska Coach Frank Solich did, too, in spite of the up-and-down showing by his offense.
"We got a lot out of this game," Solich said. "It was a tough football game, and our guys responded. We're going to be a better football team because of this game."
|Yards per carry||2.0||3.2|
Nebraska is 6-1 all-time against TCU.
|Troy (formerly Troy State)||Sept. 1|
|Notre Dame||Sept. 8|
|Iowa State||Oct. 6|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 20|
|Kansas State||Nov. 10|
|Miami (FL)||Jan. 3|
Nebraska hasn't played any other games on Aug. 25.
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