Lincoln, NE - The Nebraska Cornhuskers put together their best defensive game of the season against Michigan State. They were well prepared, had a great scheme, and had the personnel to frustrate Kirk Cousins and crew.
But one play single-handedly set the tone for the game – the Nebraska defense jumped out to a fast start behind senior defensive back Lance Thorell's 26-yard interception on MSU's side of the field. It was just the Spartans' six play of the game and it set up a Rex Burkhead one-yard touchdown just seven plays later.
“I just happened to make a play, I didn't think it would be such a game changer,” said Thorell. “I saw the slant coming so I just stepped up and picked it off. I don't remember much after that. I think I blacked out.”
Thorell at the moment might not have known how big the interception would be, but Husker defensive coordinator Carl Pelini knew it had potential for big things.
“That was a huge momentum shift," Pelini told reporters after the game. "Early in the game, I thought we came out with a lot of confidence, but you still love for something good to happen like that, and it did. It just got us rolling."
Thorell was getting just his second start of the season. A native of Loomis, Nebraska, it's been an interesting road for the former walk-on.
After starting five games his redshirt freshman year in 2008, he only started one in 2009, and none last year. But it wasn't like Thorell was in the doghouse. He was constantly playing in nickel and dime packages and was a key contributor on special teams.
Now in his fifth year, Thorell is getting the opportunity to shine again – also collecting four tackles against Michigan State.
"We ask him to do a lot of different things. He has played well like he always does,” said Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini. “We ask him to step up and fill a role and he always steps up. He is a wonderful guy to coach, and I love having him on our team and what he does for us."
It would have been really easy for Thorell to never be heard from again. After getting such significant time with the first team four years ago, he didn't let less game reps bother him. He always felt he would get an opportunity again.
“I just everyday come in and work my tail off. You have to keep a positive attitude, when things don't go your way you can't get down on yourself and quit,” said Thorell. “You have to keep working day in and day out. That's what I have done.”
On Monday, he was rewarded for it. A native of Nebraska, Thorell grew up hearing about the Blackshirt tradition.
He can now call home and tell everyone in Loomis he knows about it first hand.
Lance Thorell is a Blackshirt.