Category Archives: Huskers News

Husker notes: Jordan Westerkamp likely to return against Wisconsin

LINCOLN — Nebraska expects to get back receiver Jordan Westerkamp this week, which quarterback Tommy Armstrong said should be a big help to the offense.

The senior hurt his back against Illinois and missed the last two games.

“I saw him lifting yesterday, and I kind of gave him a thumbs-up, and he was excited about it,” Armstrong said. “He’s excited about just getting out there and doing stuff with us and just being part of the team again.”

Coach Mike Riley said it was about midway through last week when he felt good about Westerkamp possibly being ready for the Wisconsin game.

“The way he was running, moving, cutting, all that, it looked like that to me,” Riley said.

Brandon Reilly played in the slot last week for Westerkamp, who has 142 career receptions, 17 touchdowns and 2,176 receiving yards. Nebraska rarely has had Westerkamp, Reilly, Alonzo Moore, De’Mornay Pierson-El and Stanley Morgan healthy at the same time this season.

Riley said tight end Cethan Carter is still recovering from an elbow injury suffered in the Illinois game and won’t play at Wisconsin.

Riley’s review of Purdue game

Once again Monday, Riley gave his review of the previous game, this time a 27-14 win over Purdue. It was not one of Riley’s more glowing reports.

» The offense, Riley said, had 13 explosive plays — which is good — but they were so “sporadic” that it was hard to notice them. NU’s first-down run efficiency was poor, he said. Among offensive players, Riley said Morgan and running back Terrell Newby played well. Armstrong’s one interception, Riley said, was not a result of a bad read — Reilly was open on a post route — but an incorrectly thrown ball, which landed right in the hands of a Purdue linebacker.

“He threw the ball pretty flat … and it needed a little bit more air,” Riley said.

» NU’s defense gave up two long pass plays — including an 88-yard touchdown that Riley said was “totally unnecessary.”

“With the coverage that we were in, should’ve been an interception, and should’ve been all over that route, and we gave up a big play,” Riley said of the 88-yard score.

Among defenders, Riley singled out linebackers Josh Banderas and Dedrick Young, plus defensive linemen Ross Dzuris, Freedom Akinmoladun and Mick Stoltenberg for their strong play. Banderas, Riley said, has also joined NU’s special teams units and does well there.

» On special teams, Riley said Banderas, Luke McNitt, JoJo Domann, Brad Simpson, Chris Weber and Boaz Joseph played well. Riley also said linebacker Mohamed Barry made his first good play.

“Mohamed Barry made a tackle, and I’ve been waiting for him to kind of come out because he’s an explosive, good athlete,” Riley said. “Hasn’t done much up until last week, made a good play, and I’m glad to see that.”

Linemen playing through it

Riley would like to have the starting five on the offensive line as he had earlier in the season — left tackle Nick Gates, left guard Samuel Hahn, center Dylan Utter, right guard Tanner Farmer and right tackle David Knevel. Whether NU can roll out that line at Wisconsin depends on the health of Gates and Knevel, who are battling ankle injuries. Gates has played through two straight games with his injury. Knevel has left the last three games with his.

“How healthy they can get in a week will be important,” Riley said. “As you know, Nick Gates is hobbled. I really admire Nick for having played that last game because we contemplated not playing right up to the morning of the game. But he wanted to play and kind of battled through it. David Knevel has been off and on in the games and out of the games for I think three weeks now. I admire how he’s gone through it.”

Utter has been impressed by his teammates’ toughness.

“They always preach to us about grit and stuff like that, but as offensive line, you never want to let your teammates down, and I think that kind of fuels their fire,” Utter said. “If they can go, they’ll go, so they want to help us out as much as they can.”

Nebraska’s top two backup linemen are senior Corey Whitaker and sophomore Cole Conrad.

Freshman UW QB ‘poised’

Nebraska will see a different Wisconsin quarterback after Joel Stave started the previous three Husker-Badger matchups.

Riley said poise is one of the things that catches his attention about Alex Hornibrook, a redshirt freshman left-hander from West Chester, Pennsylvania.

“He is, I think, beyond his years that way,” Riley said. “You would not know that he is a freshman quarterback. And I like his arm, too. He looks very accurate, and he’s unfazed by the bigness of what he’s in.”

Both Hornibrook and Bart Houston have taken snaps for the Badgers. Hornibrook has thrown for 877 yards and five touchdowns while completing 56.5 percent of his passes.

Badger injuries

Wisconsin will be without its leading tackler against Nebraska after announcing Monday that linebacker Jack Cichy was done for the season.

Cichy suffered a torn pectoral muscle just before halftime at Iowa on Saturday. The junior returned in the second half before leaving in the fourth quarter.

Wisconsin only recently got back linebacker Vince Biegel from a foot injury and lost Chris Orr for the season in September. Cichy had 60 tackles through seven games.

Wisconsin also will be without nose tackle Olive Sagapolu against the Huskers. Sagapolu also missed the Iowa game with a right arm injury.

Husker offensive schemes mirror those of Mike Riley’s Badger buddy Paul Chryst

LINCOLN — Nebraska coach Mike Riley spent an early part of Monday’s press conference outlining the strengths of No. 11 Wisconsin’s offense, delving into details that veered closer to chalk talk than general overview.

He knows the Badgers’ scheme well. In a sense, it’s Riley’s own scheme. Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst coached with Riley at three stops — in the World League of American Football, for the San Diego Chargers and at Oregon State — before embedding himself, for seven seasons, as the Badgers’ offensive coordinator.

Now, he’s running Wisconsin, the best team NU has faced to date.

“We coached many years together,” Riley said Monday. “Loved every minute of it. He’s a great coach. He’s a great friend. I love all my time being able to talk football with him. There are plays in his offense and our offense that are called the same thing. For sure.”

Defensive coordinator Mark Banker — who coached with Chryst in the NFL and college, called Chryst a “good friend.”

“We were on the same team for many years together, coaching together, and coaching against each other, actually, with spring balls and things like that,” Banker said. “He and the rest of his staff do a great job, and they’ve got a great scheme.”

Because Nebraska and Wisconsin have very different styles of quarterback, the offenses don’t exactly look the same.

The Huskers have Tommy Armstrong, who is second among Big Ten quarterbacks in rushing yards (380) and first in yards per carry (4.69). Wisconsin has played two quarterbacks — senior Bart Houston and redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook — who have combined for minus-61 rushing yards.

As a result, the Badgers, who have played four top-20 scoring defenses already this season, rely on running back Corey Clement — second in the Big Ten in rushing yards with 617 — and the right timing on play-action passes. The Badgers’ tight ends are especially dangerous; they have caught 34 passes for 409 yards and three touchdowns.

Banker’s defense wants to “cancel” the interior rushing lanes — or gaps — that force plays to the perimeter, where linebackers and safeties wait. Riley said Chryst’s scheme — and, ultimately, Riley’s — tries to alter defensive alignments with late shifts and multiple formations.

“You’ve got to be real sharp as you adjust your front, adjust your coverages,” Riley said. “You can be left without a guy in a gap if you’re not very sound in that, and that’s what they look for. And then, with every one of those things, they’ll throw a pass out of it. It’s all really tight, it’s well-though out, it’s creative in its way.”

Riley’s first-hand knowledge of Chryst’s style doesn’t mean Wisconsin won’t have some new tricks up its sleeve. Riley said it’s common in football to game-plan specifically for each opponent, so neither team will be in the other’s back pocket.

Chryst and Riley talk often, Riley said.

“We hate each other nowadays,” Riley joked.

Riley has coached against his own father, Bud, so he’s not unfamiliar with these kinds of matchups.

Last season, Wisconsin beat Nebraska 23-21 on a late field goal. Chryst, talking to Wisconsin media on Monday, called NU’s 2015 season “pretty unique.”

Nebraska has started 7-0, Chryst said, because Riley was “true to himself and what they believe in.” He said NU’s offense will stress Wisconsin’s defense in ways that some previous opponents have not.

Riley is comfortable keeping the focus on the two teams — even if there’s a lengthy midfield chat before the game between two close friends.

“It’s not Paul against Mike,” Riley said. “It’s the Badgers against the Huskers — and that’s the way it should be.”

Huskers making progress in drills; injured trio catching up, says Tim Miles

LINCOLN — Football isn’t the only sport at Nebraska shuffling lineups because of injuries.

Men’s basketball coach Tim Miles saw 6-foot-11, 275-pound freshman center Jordy Tshimanga sidelined for four practices last week with a mild concussion. He returned to work Monday.

“Jordy was diving on the floor for a loose ball,” Miles said. “He caught a knee, and that led to his head hitting the floor.”

Tshimanga should be full speed, having passed a five-day concussion protocol.

Slowly getting into action is freshman Isaiah Roby, who was shut down from basketball workouts in mid-July with a stress reaction in his pelvis.

The 6-8 wing practiced last week in 20-minute increments in three of five practices. That is set to grow to 30 minutes daily this week.

“Hopefully by Nov. 1, we’ll have him for an hour-plus,” Miles said. “We’re just starting to introduce him to some defensive drills and general build-up work.

“He thinks it’s not going well. It’s not going to go well because he’s been out 3½ months. He just needs to hang in there.”

Junior guard Anton Gill is experiencing some of the same things as Roby. The Louisville transfer practiced four times last week, after having been shut down for 2½ months with chronic knee pain.

“He’s struggling to get up to speed,” Miles said. “I love him to death because he wants to do so well for us. I’ll ask him how practice was, and he’ll say, ‘Awful.’ And I tell him it wasn’t awful, he just needs time to catch up.

“He just needs to keep his self-confidence up. He’s going to be a good player for us. I love his athleticism and the fact he can shoot.”

Gill’s role as a scorer likely will grow as Nebraska tries to make up for the loss of the 16.6 points per game it got from wing Andrew White, who left Lincoln in late June and eventually transferred to Syracuse.

Miles said he discussed it with Gill during Gill’s rehab, and now is adding a different spin to it with Gill on the practice floor.

“Now when he gets into a situation in practice,” the coach said, “we can say, ‘Hey, that’s where you can look for a shot or here’s where you can drive.’ Having him get a feel for how to score out of our offense and actions is what’s important.

“It’s more that than just saying, ‘Here’s an idea: Score more.’ ”

Despite the injuries, Miles said, practice has been productive.

“But we’re going to need our full group to figure out what we’re about,” he said. “We’ve got a good idea anyway, but we’d like to see everybody involved at once.”

Nebraska has a “secret scrimmage” scheduled at Iowa State soon. No scores or statistics are to be reported from such events. The NCAA allows such scrimmages to replace an exhibition game.

The Huskers host Chadron State in their lone exhibition Nov. 7. The opening game of the regular season is Nov. 13 at Pinnacle Bank Arena at 7 p.m., against Sacramento State.

Huskers seek to maintain momentum after strong performances against top-five foes

LINCOLN — On this week last year, the Nebraska volleyball team felt like it was “in complete disarray,” and coaches worried that “the wheels had come off,” following a weekend where the Huskers lost home matches to Wisconsin and Minnesota, coach John Cook said.

The coin was flipped this weekend after Nebraska won its home matches against the Badgers and Gophers to move into a first-place tie at the halfway mark of the Big Ten schedule. Cook said Monday that prosperity can bring its own issues with five weeks remaining in the regular season.

“At about 3 in the morning, that’s what I was laying awake thinking about. How are we going to go on to the next phase of this?” Cook said. “Just like last year, we lost both these matches, it didn’t determine our season, and winning them doesn’t determine how we finish out.

“The challenge is going to be how will they respond after having success? Are we going to continue to work hard or do we think we’ve got it made now?”

Nebraska will enter preparations for this week’s matches against No. 24 Illinois and unranked Northwestern at the Devaney Center with plenty of reasons to boast. Huskers took home three of the Big Ten’s four weekly honors Monday with middle blocker Amber Rolfzen earning conference player of the week after tying her career best with 16 kills in each match this weekend.

After a school-record 35 digs against the Gophers on Sunday, Justine Wong-Orantes was the Big Ten’s defensive player of the week, and Kelly Hunter was named setter of the week for the fifth time in her career after a career-high 65 assists versus Minnesota.

The big weekend bolsters Nebraska’s resume not only for the Big Ten title, but for the goal of earning one of the four top seeds for the NCAA tournament, which would allow NU to host matches at the Devaney Center all the way until the final four.

After earning their seventh and eighth consecutive wins against top-10 opponents, the Huskers moved into the No. 1 spot in the NCAA RPI rankings on Monday, and Nebraska again was a unanimous choice for No. 1 in the coaches poll.

The second half of Nebraska’s conference schedule starts with a rematch Friday against Illinois. The Huskers hit .302 to sweep the Illini in Champaign on Sep. 28 led by 12 kills from Kadie Rolfzen. But the marquee match-ups come in November when the Huskers face Big Ten co-leader Penn State twice and have a rematch with Minnesota in Minneapolis on Nov. 23.

That’s three November matches against teams in the top 10, two of which come on the road. A rugged reminder there are plenty of potholes left to navigate on the road to a Big Ten title.

“You want to have those wins because those are all the teams that are battling to host that regional,” Cook said. “But, we’ve got a lot of volleyball left to go, and we’ve got to get some more wins.”

Match conflicts with football

Nebraska fans may have a difficult choice to make Saturday between attending the 7 p.m. match against Northwestern at the Devaney Center or watching the Husker football game at Wisconsin, which starts at 6:00.

NU attempts to reschedule home volleyball matches if they conflict with football, but it requires permission from the visiting team. The Huskers and Wildcats couldn’t reach an agreement to make their match an afternoon contest.

Cook said he understands Northwestern’s reluctance to move up the match time. The Wildcats play at Iowa on Friday night, and did not want to face the quick turnaround of playing again on Saturday afternoon.

“I would probably do the same thing,” Cook said. “I would want to give my team as much time to recover before the next night’s match.”

Husker survive rotation mix-up

If you took a close look at the end of the second set of NU’s win over Wisconsin on Friday, you may have wondered why 5-foot-8 defensive specialist Kenzie Maloney was playing in the front row.

It wasn’t an experimental lineup, but a mix-up in Nebraska’s substitution pattern. Cook was planning on using one of the last of his 15 allowed substitutions to send outside hitter Mikaela Foecke back into the match for Maloney, but back-row specialist Annika Albrecht, who is used to coming in to serve, approached the down official to enter the match instead.

“Once you run up there and ask for the sub, which (Albrecht) did, you cannot reverse it,” Cook said. “So she ran up there, but we were out of subs.”

That meant with Nebraska leading 23-19, Maloney had to rotate into the front row next to Hunter and middle blocker Amber Rolfzen. Wisconsin won three of the next four points, but the Huskers were bailed out when the Badgers’ Molly Haggerty, hitting over the 5-11 Hunter, sent a shot long to give NU the 25-22 win.

Monday, Cook said with at least a touch of sincerity the Huskers perhaps should have set Maloney a ball in the offense. The sophomore from Louisville, Kentucky, played outside hitter for the nationally recognized KIVA club program and has the highest vertical jump on the team.

“Wisconsin was confused,” Cook said. “They were trying to get three blockers on (Briana Holman). Kelly was trying to go help (block) with Kenzie.

“It was just chaos.”

Notes: Unbeaten start keeps Huskers on the rise in the polls

LINCOLN — The wins keep leading to advancement in the two major polls for Nebraska.

After improving to 7-0 Saturday, the Huskers assumed the No. 7 spot in the AP Top 25. They climbed one rung with Texas A&M falling from No. 6 to No. 9, and sit one behind Ohio State after its loss at Penn State.

Nebraska and Baylor share the No. 6 spot in the coaches poll, where NU was No. 9 last week. Ohio State and Texas A&M both slipped below the Huskers.

Nebraska wasn’t ranked in the AP Top 25 until beating Oregon on Sept. 17 and entering at No. 20. The Huskers moved up five spots after both the Northwestern and Illinois wins.

The rankings will be tested the next two weeks with Nebraska visiting AP No. 11 Wisconsin on Saturday and Ohio State on Nov. 5.

Welcome to the road, youngsters

The trips to Camp Randall Stadium and Ohio Stadium will test the mettle of some Nebraska underclassmen.

I-back and kick returner Tre Bryant is among the true freshmen who will travel, but Bryant said he can’t get caught up in the environment for either night game.

“I just try to not think about it like that,” Bryant said. “The coaching staff made a decision to put me on the field, so I try to take the mindset of I’m a veteran. Obviously I’m not, but you just try to bring that confidence to the game.”

Before NU played at Northwestern and Indiana, Bryant said, the biggest crowd he’d seen for any road game was maybe 3,000 in high school.

“It’s still football,” he said. “Just go out there and play football, and just lean on my teammates to be there with me.”

D-line finds way to quarterback

The Nebraska defensive line was credited with three sacks Saturday, but tackle Kevin Maurice said the Boilermakers made it tough to get to quarterback David Blough.

“It was kind of hard because it was a lot of people,” Maurice said. “They were max protecting. But when it’s time to hunt it’s time to hunt, and as a D-line that’s what we do.”

Maurice and end Ross Dzuris both were able to drop Blough. Tackle Carlos Davis also was credited with a sack when his pressure helped lead to an intentional-grounding penalty on Blough.

Dzuris leads Husker linemen with 4½ sacks. Maurice has three and defensive end Freedom Akinmoladun has two, and Akinmoladun tops the defense with five quarterback hurries.

Top-ranked Huskers outlast No. 3 Minnesota in five sets

LINCOLN — If you’d heard before Sunday that the match between No. 1 Nebraska and No. 3 Minnesota would be a broken record, maybe you’d have expected it to go five sets, a common occurrence when these teams meet.

But it was a slew of broken records that helped the Huskers survive a marathon worthy of the final four, beating Minnesota 24-26, 25-18, 26-24, 22-25, 15-8 to move into a first-place tie with Penn State in the Big Ten.

Playing one of the nation’s top offensive attacks, Nebraska (18-1, 9-1 Big Ten) funneled shot after shot at senior libero Justine Wong-Orantes, who came through with a school-record 35 digs, breaking a mark set by Maria Hedbeck in 1993.

“I just want to say that was a huge team win,” Wong-Orantes said. “We had some ups and downs throughout the whole match, but I think we just fought together as a whole team, and it was really great to see just offseason paying off and what we did in the summer. Everything truly came out in that match.”

With All-America opposite hitter Kadie Rolfzen bottled up with nine kills and eight errors, a number of other Huskers stepped on to center stage in the fifth five-set match between the programs since Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011.

The NU middles put together their best offensive night of the season behind Briana Holman, who set career bests as a Husker with 17 kills and 10 blocks. Amber Rolfzen also tied her career high with 16 kills for the second straight match, as Nebraska’s middle duo bested the Gophers’ three-headed middle blocker set of Hannah and Paige Tapp and Molly Lohman, who combined for 21 kills.

NU’s middle attack has “come a long way,” Holman said.

“And I think it does still have a ways to go,” she said, “but we have a long way to go in the season, so we’ll see where it ends up.”

Husker setter Kelly Hunter smashed her old career high with 65 assists, many of which went to sophomore outside hitter Mikaela Foecke, who led Nebraska with 20 kills to go swing-for-swing with Minnesota’s Sarah Wilhite, the Big Ten leader in kills.

Wilhite matched Foecke with 20 kills on a career-high 68 swings, while freshman outside hitter Alexis Hart added 15 kills for Minnesota (15-4, 7-3), whose three conference losses have all come in five games on the road.

“A classic, final four-type atmosphere, a final four-type match,” coach John Cook said. “Two great teams just battling point by point. It was actually a lot of fun just to watch this match.”

A match that stretched more than 200 rallies boiled down to a few key stretches. The Huskers seemed in control of Game 1 with a 14-7 lead, but Minnesota rallied to tie it 18-18 before pulling it out on a pair of Nebraska hitting errors.

After taking the second set, the Huskers got payback for the early collapse at the pivotal end of Game 3. Minnesota used a 6-1 run to earn three set points leading 24-21 before NU put the brakes on the Gopher momentum.

Amber Rolfzen pounded a kill, and after a Hart swing sailed long, Rolfzen blocked a tip try by the Minnesota freshman to tie it 24-24. Kadie Rolfzen then sent an ace through the hands of a Gopher passer, and on the Huskers’ only set point, Amber Rolfzen and Hunter again stuffed Hart to give Nebraska a 2-1 lead in sets.

“I think we all had the mindset that we can’t give up because that’s the easy way out,” said Wong-Orantes, who had 12 digs in Game 3. “Shoutout to Kadie for going back to the service line, and trusting her serve, and getting us back into that game.”

Nebraska couldn’t come all the way back from an eight-point deficit in the fourth set, but parlayed some late momentum into inducing a Minnesota meltdown in Game 5. Kadie Rolfzen’s two early kills and a block by Andie Malloy put Nebraska in front 5-0, and the Huskers weren’t threatened as the Gophers hit minus-.087 in the fifth.

After dropping home matches to Wisconsin and Minnesota last season, the Huskers wondered if the sun would come up the next week.

But putting both matches in the win column this year lets Nebraska steer its destiny for the Big Ten title, and proved that if one Husker star is struggling, there are still plenty of hands to take the wheel.

“For this group, sometimes we rely on our talent and don’t win as a team,” Cook said. “Tonight, we won as a team, and that’s what the big takeaway is from this match.”

Minnesota (15-4, 7-3)………..26 18 24 25  8

At Nebraska (18-1, 9-1)……..24 25 26 22 15

M (kills-aces-blocks): Wilhite 20-2-4, Hart 15-0-2, H. Tapp 10-0-5, Lohman 10-0-8, P. Tapp 1-1-4, Seliger-Swenson 1-1-4, Rosado 0-1-0.

NU: Foecke 20-0-3, Holman 17-0-10, A. Rolfzen 16-0-6, K. Rolfzen 9-1-5, Malloy 8-0-2, Hunter 3-1-3, Albrecht 2-0-0, Boender 1-0-0.

Set assists: M 56 (Seliger-Swenson 50, Rosado 3, Schau 1, Goehner 1, Lohman 1), NU 73 (Hunter 65, Albrecht 3, Wong-Orantes 3, Foecke 1, Townsend 1). Att.: 8,363.

Huskers move up to 6th in Coaches Poll, 7th in AP rankings

The Huskers moved up to No. 6 in the Coaches Top 25 Poll — in a tie with Baylor — and to No. 7 in the AP Top 25 Poll in new college football rankings released Sunday.

Ohio State, meanwhile, dropped four spots to No. 6 in the AP Poll after its first loss of the season, and Penn State moved into the AP rankings for the first time since 2011 after upsetting the Buckeyes. Ohio State dropped to eighth in the coaches’ rankings.

Alabama is No. 1 again in both polls, with Michigan moving up to No. 2, Clemson at No. 3 and Washington at No. 4. The Crimson Tide received 60 of the 61 possible first-place votes in the AP Poll, and all 63 votes for No. 1 in the Coaches Poll.

This article includes material from the Associated Press.


Rank, Team (First-place votes), Record, Points 

1. Alabama (60), 8-0, 1,524

2. Michigan (1), 7-0, 1,446

3. Clemson, 7-0, 1,382

4. Washington, 7-0, 1,373

5. Louisville, 6-1, 1,276

6. Ohio State, 6-1, 1,143

7. Nebraska, 7-0, 1,083

8. Baylor, 6-0, 1,063

9. Texas A&M, 6-1, 1,007

10. West Virginia, 6-0, 997

11. Wisconsin, 5-2, 980

12. Florida State, 5-2, 725

13. Boise State, 7-0, 716

14. Florida, 5-1, 654

15. Auburn, 5-2, 641

16. Oklahoma, 5-2, 626

17. Utah, 7-1, 584

18. Tennessee, 5-2, 572

19. LSU, 5-2, 352

20. Western Michigan, 8-0, 349

21. North Carolina, 6-2, 328

22. Navy, 5-1, 251

23. Colorado, 6-2, 207

24. Penn State, 5-2, 193

25. Virginia Tech, 5-2, 110


Rank, Team, (First-place votes), Record, Points

1. Alabama (63), 8-0, 1,599

2. Michigan, 7-0, 1,486

3. Clemson, 7-0, 1,485

4. Washington, 7-0, 1,434

5. Louisville, 6-1, 1,321

6. Nebraska, 7-0, 1,194

6. Baylor, 6-0, 1,194

8. Ohio State, 6-1, 1,137

9. West Virginia, 6-0, 1,007

10. Texas A&M, 6-1, 979

11. Wisconsin, 5-2, 963

12. Florida, 5-1, 821

13. Boise State, 7-0, 776

14. Florida State, 5-2, 767

15. Oklahoma, 5-2, 692

16. Utah, 7-1, 664

17. Auburn, 5-2, 552

18. Tennessee, 5-2, 523

19. LSU, 5-2, 424

20. North Carolina, 6-2, 388

21. Western Michigan, 8-0, 352

22. Navy, 5-1, 243

23. Colorado, 6-2, 242

24. Houston, 6-2, 144

25. Virginia Tech, 5-2, 116

After slogging past Purdue, Huskers’ focus shifts to Badgers: ‘We want to prove something’

LINCOLN — Nebraska’s 27-14 slog over palooka Purdue was full of massive, intractable piles of Husker and Boilermaker linemen. So it made sense that, at game’s end, NU and PU’s collection of wide bodies wrestled, shoved and committed personal fouls to a steadily emptying Memorial Stadium.

The teams had tired of each other. Husker fans had tired of a four-week appetizer of overmatched Big Ten foes who tried — and failed — to put a wrench in Nebraska’s undefeated season.

Even smilin’ Mike Riley had to admit he sounded like a “broken record.” He was happy to win. He wish it had looked a little cleaner than it was.

The game itself resembled a broken record.

The Huskers started OK, slumped for a quarter, revived themselves and eventually wore down and wore out a lesser, unranked team. The performance often left the 90,546 fans at Memorial Stadium sounding less raucous than like leaves rustling across an autumn lawn.

You’re ready for a new tune, and you’re about to get two: major road games at Wisconsin and Ohio State. The No. 10 Badgers — 17-9 winners at Iowa Saturday — are first. Control of the Big Ten West division will be at stake.

“It will be great for our team and great for our league,” Riley said.

“Of course we need it,” wideout Stanley Morgan said. “We want to prove something. That’s the time to prove it.”

These last four wins — even road victories at improving Northwestern and Indiana — haven’t been a proving ground so much as pop quizzes designed to test Nebraska’s sharpness and consistency.

NU tends to ace certain sections and struggle with others. That was true again on Saturday.

>> The offense eventually produced 409 yards and had its share of splash plays — including a 40-yard, third-quarter touchdown pass from Tommy Armstrong to De’Mornay Pierson-El — but the run game was a muddle. NU ran for 157 yards, but 74 came in the fourth quarter, and I-back Terrell Newby was often left searching for holes in a Purdue defense that stationed eight and sometimes nine defenders within five yards of the line of scrimmage. PU had 10 tackles for loss, creating scrum after scrum with Husker linemen.

“There weren’t any,” offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf deadpanned when asked why Newby couldn’t find good running lanes. “The lanes he’s trying to hit are covered.”

Purdue’s defensive linemen “were doing a good job of stunts and different pressures and stuff like that,” tackle Cole Conrad said.

Nebraska’s beat-up offensive line couldn’t muscle the Big Ten’s worst run defense, which, on top of being not good, was also missing its best player, tackle Jake Replogle. Husker left tackle Nick Gates started, but seemed severely limited by an injured right ankle. Other healthy starters looked about as good as Gates did. Right tackle David Knevel left hurt for the third straight game.

“We’re pretty thin there right now, but we’re not going to talk about that too much, because when we go out there we expect to look better than that and play better than that as a group,” said Riley, clearly tiring of the narrative that Nebraska’s offensive line can’t do any better because of its injuries.

NU was eventually bailed out by its receiving corps — Brandon Reilly, Pierson-El, Morgan and Alonzo Moore — who each had a play longer than 20 yards. Moore’s came on a 24-yard jet sweep that scored the final touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Moore tiptoed the sideline to stay in bounds.

“My pinkie toe is smaller than the rest of my toes,” said Moore, offering a joke and a fact.

>> The Husker defense caused a turnover on the game’s first play — when safety Kieron Williams picked off an ill-conceived quail of a halfback pass from running back Markell Jones — that set up an Armstrong 22-yard touchdown run just 16 seconds into the game. NU’s secondary was then torched by quarterback David Blough, who hit a 44-yard post to set up one touchdown and a slant pass to wideout DeAngelo Yancey that turned into an 88-yard touchdown. Purdue took a 14-10 lead with that score.

“Just a bust in coverage,” said Williams.

After that, the Blackshirts suffocated Purdue (3-4 overall, 1-3 in the Big Ten). The Boilermakers’ final nine drives netted just 126 yards. Just two reached Husker territory, and none closer than the 37. Williams got another interception. NU forced four punts, and Nebraska got three fourth-down stops, including its dousing of an elaborate fake punt pass.

“We just got back to ourselves,” said linebacker Josh Banderas, who had a game-high 13 tackles.

Purdue gained just 24 yards rushing.

“They gave up on it quick,” said defensive tackle Kevin Maurice, who had one of NU’s three sacks. “They had success throwing the ball early, and they kind of fell in love with it.”

After its opening touchdown, Nebraska (7-0, 4-0) often threw the ball out of necessity. It wanted to love the run, but couldn’t. Newby’s first five runs of the third quarter went as thus: 0 yards, 0, 3, -2, -1.

So the passing game took center stage.

Armstrong — who finished 17 of 31 for 252 yards with one touchdown and an interception — became the school’s all-time completions leader on a 28-yard pass to Morgan, whose leaping third-down grab exemplified NU’s day.

The Huskers converted 7 of 15 third downs — a good ratio — but often did so on third-and-long. Reilly caught a 28-yarder on third-and-9 and a 24-yarder on third-and-16. Sam Cotton caught a 12-yarder on third-and-12.

Can Nebraska really get away with this at Wisconsin? A spate of personal foul penalties gives some pause, as does a bizarre rugby rollout by punter Caleb Lightbourn that resulted in a NU’s third blocked punt of the season. This one rolled forward 28 yards.

Two years ago, NU similarly slogged through a 35-14 win with Purdue, then lost 59-24 in Madison.

Different time, different team. Different result?

Banderas thinks so. He sees in Nebraska a team with a will to win. It has revealed itself in the fourth quarters of games, which, thus far in 2016, the Huskers have owned. They did again on Saturday, possessing the ball for more than 11 minutes and outgaining the Boilermakers 114-52.

“These games, they haven’t been pretty,” Banderas said. “My heart’s been going in a lot of them.”

Big Red blood will be pumping this week. Nebraska’s Big Ten top 10 test is finally here.

“We’ll be working overtime,” Langsdorf said.

Nebraska at Wisconsin

When: 6:00 p.m. Saturday (Pregame begins at 1:00 p.m.)

Where: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wisconsin

Radio: 103.1 FM

Game notes: Bankers ‘backers make big plays; stopping Purdue’s run game; Boilers brought focus

Mark Banker typically doesn’t heap praise until he watches film.

But based on a simple rule of football, Nebraska’s defensive coordinator was able to talk about the success of his linebackers Saturday.

“Obviously if people aren’t running the ball, the  ’backers are doing a good job,” Banker said.

Senior Josh Banderas and sophomore Dedrick Young combined for 24 tackles in the 27-14 win.

Banderas finished with 13 stops, a season high and one short of his career high. He had 12 of those tackles in the first half.

“Every one of those tackles is because of my teammates, trusting that they’re going to be in the right spot so I can be in the right spot, too,” Banderas said. “We don’t have to do anything special, just everybody do their job like we’ve practiced since fall camp. And you can see it ended up working those last two quarters.”

Banker said that the linebackers “also played an integral part in the passing game, too,” in underneath coverage. Six of Banderas’ first-half tackles came on pass plays.

No running!

It was no surprise that Nebraska shut down Purdue’s running game. And Banker said it had to be that way.

Purdue hit the midseason point averaging 136.2 rushing yards per game, No. 13 in the Big Ten and No. 106 nationally.

“If they ran the ball against us, it would have been a real problem,” Banker said. “They had given up on the runs in some of the previous games because they had gotten behind so early. It looked like we did a good job. We’ll see.”

The Boilermakers finished with 24 rushing yards on 22 attempts, though that figure was hurt by losing 32 yards on three sacks. Jones had 36 yards on 10 carries and quarterback David Blough had their longest run at 9 yards.

Taking his pick, minus boasting

There was a reason why safety Kieron Williams was more sheepish than boastful when reflecting on his interception to start the game.

“It was a trick play and I actually was not in the right spot,” Williams said. “I don’t know how good that’s going to go over tomorrow. But I saw the running back putting his arm up and getting ready to throw it, and I was like, ‘I’ll just try to go get it.’ ”

Purdue tried some trickery on its first snap with tailback Markell Jones running right and throwing, but he forced a pass right to Williams near the Purdue sideline. Nebraska took over on the 22-yard line and scored on the next play.

“The guy that picked the ball was supposed to be deep with the receiver that was running down the field all by himself,” Banker said without mentioning Williams’ name. “I remember telling those guys, ‘Hey, now listen, I got you, but we just used up one of our chips. I don’t know how many we have today, but that’s one right there.’ ”

Williams added a fourth-quarter interception, and leads the team with four.

Though the play didn’t turn out the way the Boilermakers hoped, interim coach Gerad Parker said he doesn’t regret the call.

“I wanted to come out and let everybody know we were going to be aggressive and play with house money,” Parker said.

“I told Markell, ‘Thank you.’ He said, ‘I just wanted to make it a little tougher today,’ and we laughed about it.”

Emotions no problem

There were plenty of tough moments around the Purdue football offices this week after the firing of Darrell Hazell. Much of that was set aside Saturday, though.

“Instead of hanging our head a whole bunch,” Parker said, “I thought the guys communicated with each other and our energy on the sideline was better.

“Whether anything went good or bad, just keep going. That’s what everybody wants to see.”

Bits and pieces

This is NU’s first 7-0 start since beginning 2001 11-0. … NU has won eight straight games overall, marking the Huskers’ longest streak since winning 13 straight spanning the 2000 and 2001 seasons. … It’s the first 7-0 start of Mike Riley’s college coaching career. The eight straight victories are also the most for him. … Nebraska improved to 4-0 in Big Ten play for the first time. Overall, it’s Nebraska’s first 4-0 conference start since beginning 7-0 in Big 12 play in 2001.

Nebraska overcomes sluggish first half to pull away from Purdue, move to 7-0

LINCOLN — Nebraska protected its unbeaten record Saturday after Purdue briefly threatened it, pulling away for a 27-14 victory at Memorial Stadium.

The Huskers trailed 14-10 at halftime before a crowd of 90,546, struggling against a team that had fired its head coach six days before.

Nebraska then scored the final 17 points to improve to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the Big Ten, where it leads the West Division. The last 10 came in the fourth quarter, giving the Huskers a 98-13 scoring advantage in that quarter for the season.

Purdue stunned the Huskers with an 88-yard touchdown pass from David Blough to DeAngelo Yancey with 10:52 left in the first half for its 14-10 lead. Blough already was 9 of 11 for 191 yards after that third-and-11 throw.

But the Boilermakers (3-4, 1-3) failed to score again in their first game with Gerad Parker as interim head coach after replacing Darrell Hazell.

Tommy Armstrong threw an interception on the last possession of the first half, and Nebraska came up empty to start the second despite a 59-yard kickoff return by Tre Bryant.

The decisive stretch followed as the Huskers scored 17 points on their next three possessions.

Armstrong connected on a 40-yard touchdown pass to De’Mornay Pierson-El to get NU the lead back at 17-14. It then followed with an 11-play, 82-yard scoring drive, which receiver Alonzo Moore capped with a 24-yard run to make it 24-14.

After Nebraska thwarted a fake punt by the Boilermakers, Drew Brown kicked a career-long 51-yard field goal with 11:10 left for the 27-14 lead.

NU junior safety Kieron Williams intercepted Blough on the next Purdue series, allowing the Huskers to run a bunch of clock and help with starting to salt the game away.

Williams had intercepted a halfback pass on the Boilermakers’ first play Saturday to help Nebraska strike first. It took the Huskers’ just one play, with Armstrong taking off on a 22-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead.

Purdue immediately answered by driving down the field and scoring on a 1-yard pass from Blough to Yancey on fourth-and-goal.

Brown made a 30-yard field goal for the 10-7 lead that Nebraska held until the 88-yard Blough-to-Yancey score.