Nebraska has had a theme all this year in how they have won games. Defense stifles offense, offense chews up the clock. As the season has progressed, NU's offense has fallen off somewhat, but oh, how that defense has shouldered the load for the team. Today against Iowa State, it was defense again and special teams as NU intercepted, blocked and batted their way to their second shutout of the year.
Kind of ugly, defense dominates, special teams is not great, but pretty consistent. That's what Husker fans have gotten used to this year and this game was typical in resembling that. Well, except for special teams. From the outset, Nebraska sent a message that special teams was more than Kyle Larson and company in either kicking or returning the ball.
They can block to.
Twice actually as Demorrio Williams and Josh Bullocks each blocked a punt, Bullocks being the greedier of the two, taking Williams' block and jaunting into the end zone. Against Iowa State, Nebraska has gotten used to dominating the Cyclones early, taking the game away, seemingly before it's really even begun and this time, it was the same as Nebraska's offense having the short field took advantage of opportunities, putting it to the ‘Clones, scoring 28, what would be the total points NU produced all day.
Therein lies the problem?
When you see that NU put up 28 points in the first quarter and none from that point on, you think of an offense stagnated because of it's typical ineffectiveness not being able to do much but run. Nebraska did manage to total around 300 yards on the day pushing the ball down the field on the ground, but the real story was youth, even more than what fans are used to seeing.
As early as the second quarter, Nebraska substituted liberally, Joe Dailey seeing perhaps more time in this game than in all the games this year combined. The reason for the early play was Jammal Lord taking a hit, getting up gingerly, that prompting Solich to pull him for the remainder of the game, Joe finally getting some real time on the field. "He's really been banged up for the last 3 to 4 weeks." head coach, Frank Solich said of Jammal Lord. "So, when it got to be 27-0, it seemed to make sense to spell him and get Joe some time."
During that time, Dailey rushed the ball 15 times for 55 yards and was 2 for 4 passing, throwing one interception. It was a performance that didn't sparkle, but Solich said it wasn't entirely unexpected. "I think it was ok." Solich stated. "Not great, not poor. Joe probably has not had a great week of practice the last couple of weeks, so I think that when you add it all up, it was good for him to get this much playing time (and) I think he'll only get better."
Joe Dailey's take on his performance was about the same. "I'll give it a "C"." Dailey said of grading his performance today. "I got a chance to run the offense. I just didn't flourish as well as I anticipated." While the stats would back Dailey up in his overall effectiveness, Solich did excuse at least some of the offensive woes due to the fact that the early lead Nebraska was able to put on Iowa State allowed for some very early substitutions, almost across the board. "We did get a lot of time to guys that were second on the depth chart." Solich said. "Some played even more than a half."
In addition to Dailey seeing more time than any other game this season, Cory Ross was equal in the achievement, spelling both Horne and Davis more than at any point this year. On the day, Ross averaged 6 yards per carry, toting the ball 9 times for 54 yards. Ross however wasn't the leading rusher, though not even David Horne and Josh Davis could say that either. It was WR, Isaiah Fluellen leading the team in rushing with 78 yards, scoring one touchdown, most of the output coming on "reverse plays". Plays coach Solich said he thought could work against the ‘Clones.
"We thought going in that reverses had an excellent chance." Solich stated. "We had 3 different reverses ready for them in the game and a couple of them were pretty big plays for us. Isaiah's speed has been showing here since he's started playing on a regular basis. It's showing in the running game. It's showing in the passing game."
The extra time that Joe Dailey received was again, due to Lord being banged up, but it wasn't any one thing, rather one thing, another thing and another, all added together; leading up to pulling Lord as early as they did today. "It was just an accumulation of things through very physical football." Solich said of Lord's status. "You don't find many runners at the QB spot like he is. There's a few of them around, but not many."
What all this ended up meaning was an offense hampered by inexperience, slowed by a game Iowa State defense, but once again, frustrated by a team penalty-ridden, the procedure penalty being called an inordinate amount of times, some due to cadence issues with Dailey, but some, well, you've gotten used to that tune this year. In total, Nebraska had 9 offensive penalties, 5 of those being procedure infractions.
On defense, yeah, you guessed it and any shutout illustrates what happened without you reading a thing. The blocked punts set the tone for stopping Iowa State, the defense taking it the rest of the way. While the Cyclones haven't awed an inspired with their offense this year, the blackshirts managed to hold Iowa State under 250 yards in total, Dan McCarney's team managing just 70 yards on the ground.
And, it wouldn't be a Nebraska defense without turnovers, NU forcing 3, one a fumble forced on a Trevor Johnson sack and the remainders, interceptions made by T.J. Hollowell and Kellen Huston. For the first time this year, Josh Bullocks didn't get a pick in a game, breaking his streak of seven in a row. Bullocks did actually get one, but it was ruled out of bounds when he caught the ball.
Again and to beat a dead horse, today's game was a typical NU game as they have become accustomed to being thus far as it is. Great defense, opportunistic but somewhat inconsistent offense and in this case, exceptional special teams. The sum of it equals a shutout, but continues momentum for Nebraska as they face this up-coming weekend the best team they have faced all year.
While the Longhorns have been down, at least in respect to their usually high-flung expectations on talent, Texas has had Nebraska's number, even in Lincoln, Texas the team to break NU's longest home winning streak and always a thorn in the side of the Huskers. Now, it's down in their stadium, Nebraska facing a game that could determine the rest of their year.
It's a game that today's leading tackler, Barrett Ruud is looking forward to already. "Definitely." Ruud stated of the eagerness to head down to Austin. "I've never been in the stadium before and I hear it's a real good time. It's going to be a fun game, it will be nationally televised and we'll be real excited for it."
Next week's game will be another early one for NU as the game kicks off at 11:00 a.m. The game will also be televised by ABC.
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619