Nebraska 35
San Jose State 12

Sept. 6, 2008 • Memorial Stadium, Lincoln

1 2 3 4 T
San Jose State 6 3 0 3 12
Nebraska 14 0 0 21 35

Tension breaker: Big plays, strong fourth quarter save NU’s day

Nebraska's Niles Paul breaks away on his 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against San Jose State. JEFF BUNDY/THE WORLD-HERALD

LINCOLN — Check the statistics from Nebraska's 35-12 win over San Jose State, and one might conclude that the Spartans should have been celebrating after the game.

But two momentum-shifting plays enabled Nebraska to overcome an afternoon of surprising offensive mediocrity and some matador defense to subdue a game visitor from the Western Athletic Conference.

Afterward some were still left wondering how to square what had just happened on the field with the final tally on the scoreboard. Count NU senior offensive lineman Matt Slauson among those a bit miffed by it all.

"The football gods were looking upon us," Slauson supposed. "It was amazing. There was a point in the game where they had doubled our yards, and we were still up. I don't know how that works."

Slauson's teammates on special teams and a defense that seemed to improve as the game wore on can take the credit for keeping San Jose State from seizing momentum and turning Saturday into a disaster for the Huskers and most of the 84,146 NU fans packed into Memorial Stadium.

Start with junior Ndamukong Suh. The defensive tackle returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. End with sophomore Niles Paul. He electrified his team and the crowd with the first big play of his NU career, adding seven more points with his 85-yard kickoff return in the fourth.

"That's one thing that our coach preaches to us," Suh said. "If one unit is down, the other two units need to pick us up."

It's just that the Nebraska offense isn't supposed to be the unit that needs a boost.

The Huskers entered Saturday with a streak of six games with 400 or more yards. As the starting quarterback, senior Joe Ganz hadn't thrown for fewer than 300 yards. After last week's opener, the only legitimate criticism about the Huskers' 47-point, 483-yard offensive output on that day was that the rushing attack wasn't consistent enough.

But by the end of the third quarter against San Jose State, Nebraska looked like a different team. The offense had managed just 183 total yards and a touchdown, allowing the Spartans to stay close in a game some assumed would be a blowout.

"We just couldn't find a rhythm," Ganz said. "Once we did one thing right, we would do a couple things wrong. We just can't keep putting ourselves in that situation."

After taking a 7-6 lead with 5:16 left in the first quarter, the Huskers went scoreless on their next six drives, punting four times and turning the ball over twice.

The Huskers totaled just 315 yards, 99 on the ground and 216 in the air. They were outgained by San Jose State, which finished with 353 total yards.

After Suh's interception return with three minutes left in the first quarter, the San Jose State offense answered by driving to the Nebraska 24-yard line. But junior kicker Will Johnson missed a 41-yard kick.

Senior kicker Jared Strubeck replaced Johnson, who already had missed an extra point, and made a 41-yarder with about seven minutes left in the second quarter. But Strubeck's 32-yard field-goal attempt at the end of the first half hit the right upright.

Add those seven points, and San Jose State could have been leading 16-14 instead of trailing 14-9 at the break.

But Spartan coach Dick Tomey said after the game that he was pleased his team found a way to stay close, even by the start of the fourth quarter.

"That's what you hope to do in every game, and we were right there," Tomey said. "As I said, Nebraska deserves the credit for shutting the door on us and making plays of their own in the fourth quarter, and we didn't get it done."

Despite the early adversity, coach Bo Pelini said there was no sense of panic from his players.

"I thought that they reacted well," Pelini said. "There's no finger pointing. There's nothing like that. I liked the demeanor, how the team stuck together."


More coverage

World-Herald post-game coverage (PDF)

Box score (PDF)

Game stats

Opp NU
Penalties-Yards 12-103
Rush yards 137 99
Rush attempts 34 30
Yards per carry 4.0 3.3
Pass yards 216 216
Comp.-Att.-Int. 19-33-2 18-27-1
Yards/Att. 6.5 8.0
Yards/Comp. 11.4 12.0
Fumbles 0 1

Series history

Nebraska is 2-0 all-time against San Jose State.

See all games »

2008 season (9-4)

Western Michigan Aug. 30
San Jose State Sept. 6
New Mexico State Sept. 13
Virginia Tech Sept. 27
Missouri Oct. 4
Texas Tech Oct. 11
Iowa State Oct. 18
Baylor Oct. 25
Oklahoma Nov. 1
Kansas Nov. 8
Kansas State Nov. 15
Colorado Nov. 28
Clemson Jan. 1

This day in history

Nebraska has played 4 games on Sept. 6. See them all »

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