LINCOLN — Bo Pelini was hired to fix the Nebraska defense, and Saturday night revealed that the repairs will be ongoing in a 47-24 win over Western Michigan.
The Huskers allowed 350 total yards, a handful of big plays and were flagged three times for 15-yard penalties. Not yet up to Pelini standards.
But on offense, the first-year head coach obviously wasn't left with nearly the same task.
Joe Ganz threw for 345 yards and four touchdowns as NU matched some of the numbers posted after he became the starting quarterback last November. It wasn't the perfect offensive performance -- and lacked some running game punch -- but it stole the show when many in a Memorial Stadium crowd of 84,485 came to see defense.
"I wish we could have established a little bit more of the run,'' Ganz said. "But we were putting up good numbers through the air, so it's kind of tough to go away from what's working.''
Nebraska took the first step in cleansing itself of last season's collapse with a fast start before the 290th consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium.
Afterward, senior guard Matt Slauson said the team presented Pelini with the game ball, "for your first of many wins at Nebraska.'' Slauson said Pelini was flattered.
"We're 1-0, and that's what we came here to do,'' Pelini said. "I don't want to say anything to take away from them, but we can get better, obviously, on both sides and on special teams, but that's to be expected. I said going in that we weren't a finished product yet, but we're working towards it.''
Nebraska stopped Western Michigan on its first three possessions, including two energizing plays by former I-back Cody Glenn at linebacker. That allowed to offense to open a 17-0 lead.
After punting on its first series, in fact, NU scored on its last six of the first half for a 34-10 lead. By halftime, the Huskers already had 280 total yards and were averaging 7.8 yards per play.
They finished with 483 total yards and a surprising ratio of 36 passes and 31 runs. So much for going conservative to protect a defense that ranked last in the Big 12 and No. 111 nationally in 2007.
"They were committing a lot of guys to the line of scrimmage,'' Pelini said. "Part of the deal is that you've got to take what they give you.''
That turned out to be more of Ganz and less of a talented crop of I-backs. The senior completed 19 of 29 passes through three quarters before a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions took some of the shine off his performance.
Ganz took off on a 32-yard run, utilized play-action passes off the zone read and made several throws outside the pocket.
"Joe's a good football player,'' Pelini said. "He's a better athlete than people give him credit for. He can move, he can buy time, he can run the football and he's a heck of a player.''
Ganz has now passed for more than 300 yards in all four of his career starts -- more 300-yard games than any previous Husker quarterback has been able to manage.
"He's a great quarterback,'' Western Michigan safety Louis Delmas said. "We just lost contain as a defense, and we just didn't lock on as a secondary.''
The NU defense had some of its own breakdowns, allowing the Broncos two 50-yard plays and three 80-yard drives. Two of those marches started in the third quarter and kept WMU within 44-24 with plenty of time remaining.
But the Huskers did finish with four quarterback sacks and two turnovers — the type of momentum-changing plays that were in short supply last season.
"We had some communication problems and we had some missed assignments,'' Pelini said. "Like I said, it's a process. We've got to coach it better and we have to communicate better.
"I'm not taking anything away from Western Michigan, but most of what they got we gave them because of our mistakes.''
I-back Marlon Lucky scored on a 14-yard run before Ganz threw first-half touchdown passes of 3 yards to tight end Mike McNeill and 61 and 2 yards to receiver Nate Swift. The other six points before halftime came on a pair of 44-yard field goals by Alex Henery.
Henery added two more 44-yarders in the second half, making the sophomore 12 for 12 on field goals for his career.
Ganz really hit his stride late in the third quarter, taking just two plays to push Nebraska's lead from 37-17 to 44-17. The senior showed nice touch and accuracy on a 55-yard completion to tight end Dreu Young and a 19-yarder to Lucky.
Nebraska got a defensive boost from Glenn, the former I-back making his debut at weakside linebacker. Glenn stuffed quarterback Tim Hiller for a 2-yard loss on Western Michigan's first play and later forced a Bronco fumble that was recovered by Eric Hagg.
The other turnover forced by the NU defense came with 9:16 left in the game when cornerback Anthony West intercepted Hiller. A blitzing Prince Amukamara hit Hiller just as he was throwing.
Ganz called the play of the Husker defense "awesome.''
"Those guys played hard,'' Ganz said. "They're a couple plays away, a couple mistakes away, from being really good.''
Glenn finished with 12 total tackles, including nine unassisted, and broke up three passes.
"I kind of dreamed of getting involved early and getting the nervousness down so that I could just play and feel like I have in practice all the time,'' Glenn said. "It worked out really good.''
|Yards per carry||0.3||4.5|
Nebraska is 1-0 all-time against Western Michigan.
|Western Michigan||Aug. 30|
|San Jose State||Sept. 6|
|New Mexico State||Sept. 13|
|Virginia Tech||Sept. 27|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 11|
|Iowa State||Oct. 18|
|Kansas State||Nov. 15|
Nebraska has played 4 games on Aug. 30. See them all »
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