New Blackshirts trying to be like old ones

This seems to be a year for surprises, both good and bad. Lately though, the silver lining seems clearer now for the Huskers as a number of the young guns have contributed early and often. NU has more freshmen on the field as starters or back-ups than they have had in some time, but at least for the last 2 games, it's worked. Lannie Hopkins is one of those guys and his performance last week helped so that this week of practice, he's been wearing a whole new color.

This last week, two Huskers were dubbed "blackshirts", taking their status from defensive player to that of defensive star. You don't get these shirts by just starting, you have to perform, perform well and perform that way, often. Lannie has done that, his performances being highlighted by his game against Missouri where he had 4 tackles, one quarterback hurry and one scintillating sack that saw him chase Brad Smith from behind, tackling him for an 8 yard loss.

Count Lannie as one very happy young man. "It wears perfect." Lannie said of his new black jersey. "It fits perfect." Lannie even caught himself taking a glance here and there in the mirror. Who wouldn't though? When you look at the long list of almost legendary names attached to this jersey, a player has to be humbled as much as they are overjoyed. "I am just so thankful that I got it." Hopkins stated. "I worked hard for this. I mean, I worked hard. It's a blessing though."

Some players have said that once they do win the coveted shirt, it not only changes their spot on the roster, but it can have an immense effect on their attitude and also on something seemingly as simple as practice. "It puts a little extra jump in your step." Lannie said. And Hopkins also admitted that with this new title, there comes a new burden he must shoulder. "Now, a lot of guys will be looking up to me." Lannie said. "I got to go out there and play with a lot of emotion and fire."

Lannie showed that against Missouri and is looking forward to showing it down in Oklahoma against the Cowboys. There's only one problem. It's on the road. Did you ever think you would be talking about NU in such a context as them not being able to take a victory on the road? It's probably not so dissimilar to when the Huskers went on their bowl-losing streaks, but at least those were bowls. This is still the regular season. The importance of this game seems to go without saying, but players still have a lot to say about just how vital this up-coming weekend is. "We just have to get it done." Lannie said. "We just want to shut some people up, so we just have go out and get it done."

Not to confuse any of you, but if you follow the Husker teams abroad, you might recall a game that the Nebraska baseball team hosted last year against their in-state rivals, the Creighton Blue Jays. A game that literally did come down to the last at-bat and during a driving rain storm to boot. A call that was thought questionable at the time where Adam Riddle was called safe, sparked what was almost a brawl amidst a frenzied crowd and an even more frenzied weather front pouring down rain by the bucket. Everything did calm down, but the spark wasn't lost. In fact, NU baseball players still point to that game as what lit their fire for the rest of the season as they made it to their second straight college world series.

For the NU football team, was the Missouri game that spark? No, there wasn't a downpour and as far as I could tell, fists were not about ready to fly, but it was a performance that definitely seemed to get Nebraska out of the funk they had been languishing in for two out of their last three games. They were all over the place, flying, hitting and making plays. Was it a fluke or a sign of things to come? "We definitely needed that win." Hopkins stated. "We needed to go out there and show everyone that we are still the blackshirts and hush up everyone out there that says we aren't that good. Now, we just have to keep it going."

We've talked about how the blackshirts made their own goals for the game against the Tigers, coach Craig Bohl turning that responsibility over to the players. What it did was perhaps provide another spark where these athletes knew that whatever went on that board, because they put it up there, it was even more motivation to come through. "It was very important." Hopkins stated. "You can see by how we played what it meant to us."

The meaning of the play doesn't become overshadowed by what led to that, but the unity of this defense seems to be the factor that truly dominates why this "ploy" was even possible. A coach can leave a bunch of individuals in a room and when he/she comes back, the team might not be any closer to realizing what it can do than if the coach told them him/herself. With this defense though, once the coaches left the room, the true leaders took over and as Hopkins stated, that's what made the difference. "Chris Kelsay and DeJuan got up there and their leadership is awesome. Everyone wants to be like them and be that leader and we just listened to what they had to say."

What they had to say is what you saw on the field against Missouri and you can expect more of the same this coming weekend.

Many can speculate as to why something like this works. Was it players that thought they were being over-coached because people had pressed the panic button in Lue of two losses and were actually trying to coach too much to get back? Or, was it simply the players becoming so tired of the public floggings they had been taken, it was this time where they decided to take charge of their own destiny, coaches and fans be damned?

Either one of those is probably the extreme and your logical answers lies somewhere in the middle, but with a chance to actually end a streak, but this time in a positive way this weekend as they take another crucial road trip, the blackshirts are looking to make some more noise. Actually, they made a whole lot of noise themselves last week against the Tigers, but this week as they travel down to play Oklahoma State, they are looking to do enough so that when it comes to heralding how "for real" they are, NU's defense will have some company.

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