No. 9 NU defense looks Blackshirt-worthy

Associated Press
Posted Oct 31, 2011


It looks as though Nebraska's defensive starters will be back in black Monday.

It looks as though Nebraska's defensive starters will be back in black Monday.

The ninth-ranked Cornhuskers shut down Kirk Cousins and Michigan State on Saturday with a dominating performance that would have made any Blackshirt of the past proud.

Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini held up one of the coveted practice tops during the locker-room celebration after the 24-3 win - undoubtedly a sign that he believes the defense has arrived.

In the last 10 quarters, Nebraska has allowed three touchdowns and a field goal.

The Huskers held Ohio State to 105 yards in the second half of a 34-27 win. After a bye week, they limited Minnesota to 254 yards in a 41-14 win. Michigan State managed just 187 yards.

“Everybody wanted to temper what we did last week and say, `Well, it was Minnesota,”' Pelini said. “Truth of the matter is, we've been practicing well and playing well since the bye week. I kept telling our guys I know we're ready to take that jump. I wasn't surprised how we played. I kind of expected it.”

The Huskers (7-1, 3-1) moved into a three-way tie for first place with the Spartans (6-2, 3-1) and Michigan (6-2, 3-1) in the Big Ten's Legends Division.

Defense has been the cornerstone of Nebraska's program since Bo Pelini, Carl's younger brother, took over in 2008.

But after losing three defensive backs to the NFL, the Huskers proved vulnerable the first half of the season. Fresno State and Washington each gouged them for more than 400 yards and 29 and 38 points, respectively.

Then Wisconsin hammered the Huskers 48-17 in the Big Ten opener, and Ohio State led 20-6 at halftime before the Huskers won after coming back from a 21-point deficit.

“After Wisconsin, we had a lot to prove,” safety Daimion Stafford said. “It started the second half of Ohio State. We worked hard through the bye week.”

Carl Pelini approached the bye week as a second preseason camp, re-teaching fundamentals and coverage schemes and working individually with struggling players.

“We got things done,” linebacker Lavonte David said. “We had lights-out practices,”

Carl Pelini said: “I knew it would translate on Saturday when we got into a big game, and it did.”

Nebraska's defense upstaged a Michigan State defensive unit that ranked second nationally.

Cousins said Michigan State's offense couldn't establish any rhythm.

The Huskers successfully used a four-man rush and, Carl Pelini said, never blitzed on third down. That allowed the Huskers to use double coverage on MSU career receptions leader B.J. Cunningham, who didn't catch a pass.

Cousins completed 4 of his first 16 passes and finished 11 of 27 for 86 yards. He was intercepted once and nearly three other times as he often threw into double coverage.

“Yeah, I tried to force some,” Cousins said. “I felt that with how physical they were being that I needed to put the ball there, so we get some pass interference calls ... We really felt like they were playing physical, and credit them that they never really got flagged, and they won that battle.”

David expects to find a Blackshirt in his locker stall when he shows up for practice.

It might seem odd that a piece of black cloth could hold such meaning. “Blackshirts” is known throughout college football as an alternate name for Nebraska's defense. Players have been known to cry when awarded a Blackshirt.

It started in 1964 under coach Bob Devaney, who wanted to make it easier to identify his defensive players during practices.

Devaney sent an assistant coach to a Lincoln sporting goods store to buy practice jerseys for the defense. Unable to get enough jerseys of one color to outfit the entire squad, the decision was made to give black ones to the first-string players.

Devaney, Tom Osborne, Frank Solich and Bill Callahan would hand out the practice tops before the season.

Bo Pelini waits until he believes his defensive starters have proved themselves worthy on the game field. Sometimes it takes until November.

“You saw today that we played at the standard we want to play at,” safety Austin Cassidy said. “That is how we want to play defense here.”

The Huskers finish with a difficult stretch of games. They play Northwestern at home this week, then go to Penn State and Michigan before hosting Iowa.

“It's meaningless if we don't finish the season,” Carl Pelini said. “That was the message after the game: `You've got to do it again next week against Northwestern.' They're all big now, when you get this late in the season.”


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