LINCOLN — Blackshirts 4, West Coast offense 2.
Through two Husker wins, that's the baffling touchdown count. Yes, Nebraska's linebackers own two more touchdowns than their I-backs. Daniel Bullocks has matched Zac Taylor's one score.
Nebraska beat Wake Forest 31-3 Saturday at Memorial Stadium, and there's no disputing why. While Bill Callahan's West Coast offense continued to look as trendy as a rubber corn-cob hat, the Blackshirts appeared in late-season form as they bruised and abused the Demon Deacons' backfield much to a sellout crowd's delight.
Bullocks scored a touchdown. Corey McKeon did, too. Stewart Bradley even got one. That's a school record.
"You can't really explain it," said safety Blake Tiedtke, who picked off a pass in the second quarter. "If you play hard, if you go to the ball, those things happen. It's just fun. We're competing."
The defense, which forced five turnovers, has allowed just 10 points in two games. Its four touchdowns are exactly four more than it created in 2004.
"Any time you can create a turnover on defense and then capitalize and score, that just adds to the dimension of momentum," Callahan said. "It makes the play-calling a lot easier."
The Huskers have emphasized turnovers since last year, and Tiedtke said momentum snowballed Saturday. Once one defender makes a hit or an interception or a sack, everybody wants to match it.
This one was billed as an arduous test against a physical running game. But McKeon, NU's sophomore linebacker, quickly dented Wake's ball-control plan, picking off quarterback Ben Mauk's second pass and returning it 38 yards for a touchdown as an antsy packed house rose in unison with 6:24 on the clock.
Mauk rolled out of the pocket on third and five and tried to find a receiver in the flats. But Bo Ruud, who scored a touchdown on an interception a weekend ago, snared Mauk as he released it. McKeon, who also had two of NU's five sacks, corralled the errant throw.
Four minutes later, matters worsened for Wake. On first down, running back Micah Andrews collided with Bullocks in the backfield. Bullocks wrapped up, then ripped the ball from the larger running back like a child yanking a Tonka truck from little brother. Bullocks took off the other way, scoring 30 yards later.
"It's nice when you look up and the score is 14-0 and you haven't even done anything," said quarterback Taylor.
Bradley later intercepted a Mauk pass and returned it 43 yards for a score with 10 minutes left in the game.
Much of the Deacons' firsthalf troubles, though, were self-inflicted. They included two muffed kickoff returns, both of which stuck Wake inside its 5-yard line.
All the defensive momentum couldn't inspire a Nebraska offense that sputtered most of the night. Wake Forest gave up 422 yards to Vanderbilt in the season opener, but NU must've lost that game film.
By half, the Husker offense had mustered 73 yards. It had converted one of eight thirddown chances. Its long play was 13 yards. Even the punt-return game, which shined a week ago, wavered -- Cortney Grixby fumbled twice and NU lost 1 yard on five returns.
The second half brought brief life to the offense.
Cory Ross broke off right tackle for 57 yards on the opening drive, placing NU at the Wake 9-yard line. Three players later, Taylor hit Frantz Hardy for the quarterback's first career touchdown pass, a 4-yarder that gave Nebraska a 21-3 lead with 12:52 left in the third quarter.
Taylor, who completed 14 of 33 throws for 114 yards, pieced together six straight completions late in the third to move Nebraska into scoring range again. Jordan Congdon's 21-yard field goal capped a 13-play, 77-yard drive and built a three-touchdown margin.
That would be Nebraska's most impressive drive. The Huskers finished with 234 total yards, 13 fewer than Wake Forest and only 3.5 per snap. Callahan will be patient.
"It's just a matter of time," he said. "We've just got to be more consistent with protection, route running and all the things that tie into the passing game. It's coming along. It's not where we want it, but it's coming."
Saving NU was defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove's unit, which was seemingly one stubbed toe from trashing its black practice jerseys coming into 2005. Now Coz's crew is all Nebraska has to praise.
Case in point: Nebraska led 24-3 in the fourth quarter. On fourth and one at the NU 43, Le Kevin Smith and a legion of defenders broke through the line and dropped Chris Barclay for a 2-yard loss, thwarting that drive.
The stop was hardly significant to the outcome, but perhaps no play Saturday better describes Blackshirt pride. The defense resembles the bunch that paced the 2003 squad to 10 wins, not the one ranked 56th in total defense a year ago. It plays with spunk.
"What a difference a year makes," said senior defensive tackle Titus Adams. "It's a whole new year."
The Blackshirts may have to sparkle awhile longer. Callahan's offense doesn't appear ready for a stout defense. Not next week. Maybe not next month. The defense intends to keep scoring touchdowns if it must.
"This is a team game," Callahan said. "You get points any way you can get them."
|Yards per carry||2.5||4.0|
Nebraska is 3-0 all-time against Wake Forest.
|Wake Forest||Sept. 10|
|Iowa State||Oct. 1|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 8|
|Kansas State||Nov. 12|
Nebraska has played 7 games on Sept. 10. See them all »
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