The tradition of the blackshirts spans back more than forty years. In that time, legends have been born by individual effort, but each has had that "blackshirt" stapled proudly in association. All those that were part of that group grimaced at last year's defense as it looked like anything but what this tradition was meant to illustrate.
I doubt that any fan looking at the game coming up and the opponent would have forecasted the kind of performance by the defense that was seen by all the Scarlet and Cream colored crazies. Even the most ardent ‘homers" had to conceded that an offense anchored by a Heisman contender, the guy that got him the ball and a running back that managed to miss almost half a season and still rushed for over a thousand yards, well, it was going to be tough to stop.
Stop is just what they did.
Going into the game, you would have had to figure that Woods was going to get his as you just don't shut down someone that good. Well, Woods did indeed get OSU's lone score, but that's all he got in the end. Catching 5 balls for less than 50 yards, a young man who hits triple-digits in yards receiving with almost unequaled ease, found nothing easy as Bo Pelini's mostly "zone" defense collared him and the rest of OSU's scoring machine.
Josh Fields or rather the pressure that he received was no small part of it as it started with hits right after the release of the ball. And, then it segued into quarterback hurries and while only 1 sack was officially tallied against the Cowboys on this day, to watch the game, you would have thought the blackshirts of NU were in the backfield of OSU almost as much as OSU themselves.
Fields, another young man who's statistical prowess last season helped OSU to wins over teams like Nebraska, Texas A&M, Souther Miss and Oklahoma was, like Woods, shut down to the tune of not even reaching the century mark in yards. To make matters worse, the one NU sack by Jerrell Pippens, caused one of 5 total turnovers by the Cowboys, 4 of them forced.
As the game wore on, Fields looked like a deer in the headlights, hurrying his passes more as the game wore on, no time for him, no time for Bell and that means, no time for OSU.
Tatum Bell was all but ineffective as well, also not reaching the century mark, having most of his success on a single drive, the middle of the defense for the Huskers proved as stout as predicted. They were the immovable object, but OSU didn't have the irresistible force. That also, was NU.
Fabian Washington probably put it best when he said, "The game plan going into the game was to stop Rashaun Woods and Tatum Bell and that's what we did."
They did that by utilizing a lot of zone and as the game wore on, they wore on the OSU offensive line, a line that especially at the tackle-spots was sorely outmatched by Nebraska. "We had great schemes all day." Barrett Ruud said, giving credit to the coaches for the plan of attack on Saturday. "Obviously, he's (Pelini) got a great system going." he said. "It's a real fun system for the players."
"All it is, is about effort, doing our job and going to find the ball."
Something that again, the defense did 5 times, 3 interceptions, one on the sack by Jerrell Pippens and the last one, a ball that RB, Tatum Bell coughed up at the line of scrimmage, Barrett Ruud scooping it up and taking it in for the score. "Somebody on the corner made the strip and I was just running to the ball." Ruud said. "All I was worried about was scooping it up, because you don't want to kick it out of bounds or nothing like that."
"I knew that if I picked that up, I would probably get a touchdown."
It was a score that put up only 6 points, but it was what set the theme for the game and broke the back for the Cowboys as momentum switched to NU and stayed there, the defense only picking up the momentum from that point forth.
To have seen the second half, you would have thought you were watching one of the old Husker defenses and not one that was maligned almost game in and game out last season. Not a bad turnaround, even for a guy straight from the NFL. Much like the players though who opted to give much of the credit to the coaches, defensive coordinator, Bo Pelini opted to do the same. "I thought the players played their hearts out." Pelini stated. "For the first time out, in a new system and against a challenging offense that gives you multiple formations, shifts and personnel, they kept their cool, they applied their roles, they communicated and they did a great job."
"It was nothing magical we did as a staff. It was the players playing hard and playing with passion. It was great to see and I am proud as heck of them."
A pride that the defense as a whole isn't trying to keep, but to regain and this game, it would appear that NU went a long ways into doing just that. Pelini wasn't quite ready to say that himself however. "(We) got a lot of work to do though."
"I know that when we watch film, there are going to be a lot of mistakes. The most important thing is that our guys learn from their mistakes and that will make you better."
For the first game of the season, coming off of an entire off-season of fielding questions, not really being able to answer any questions, "better" is probably an understatement compared to what most expected. Hype aside, most fans just wanted a win. That's what they got, but amidst that, they got a defensive performance that can make the Big Red faithful smile with expectations already.
As Demorrio Williams stated before this game what he wanted everyone to know, "The blackshirts are back.".
Steve Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-730-5619