Category Archives: Huskers News

Huskers move up to 15th in both AP, coaches polls; Alabama, Ohio State keep Nos. 1 and 2 spots

In the latest Associated Press and coaches polls released Sunday, Alabama kept the No. 1 spot, with Ohio State remaining at No. 2. The Huskers, who beat Northwestern 24-13 on Saturday, moved up the rankings from 20th last week to claim the 15th spot in both polls.

Louisville was No. 3 in the AP rankings and fourth in the coaches poll, while Michigan was at No. 4 in the AP poll and ranked fifth by the coaches. Clemson was third (coaches) and fifth (AP). Wisconsin moved up to eighth in both polls.

The Big Ten has five teams in the AP Top 25: No. 2 Ohio State, No. 4 Michigan, No. 8 Wisconsin, No. 15 Nebraska and No. 17 Michigan State. The Iowa Hawkeyes were also receiving points in the poll.

The No. 15 ranking this week marks the highest ranking for NU since the Huskers spent one week at No. 11 in the AP poll late in the 2014 season.

This article includes material from the Associated Press. 

AP Top 25:

1. Alabama

2. Ohio St

3. Louisville

4. Michigan

5. Clemson

6. Houston

7. Stanford

8. Wisconsin

9. Texas A&M

10. Washington

11. Tennessee

12. Florida State

13. Baylor

14. Miami (Florida)

15. Nebraska 

16. Ole Miss

17. Michigan State

18. Utah

19. San Diego State

20. Arkansas

21. TCU

22. Texas

23. Florida

24. Boise State

25. Georgia

The coaches poll top 25: 

1. Alabama

2. Ohio State

3. Clemson

4. Louisville

5. Michigan

6. Stanford

7. Houston

8. Wisconsin

9. Washington

10. Texas A&M

11. Tennessee

12. Florida State

13. Baylor

14. Miami (Fla.)

15. Nebraska 

17. Mississippi

18. Utah

19. TCU

20. Georgia

21. Florida

22. Arkansas

23. North Carolina

24. San Diego State

25. Texas

Huskers overcome touchdown-killing fumbles, dance past Northwestern to open Big Ten play

EVANSTON, Ill. — Just after Nebraska’s 24-13 win over Northwestern Saturday night, offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh trudged through chewed up, spongy turf toward a trio of his offensive linemen. “Hey!” he barked happily at them. But they couldn’t hear him over the cheers of Nebraska fans who invaded the Big Ten’s quaintest stadium.

Cavanaugh settled for handshakes from the university president, Hank Bounds, and a line of Husker fans who leaned over the wall to congratulate him. Cavanaugh — along with the rest of the offense — had given these NU fans just what they wanted. A taste of Husker home cooking.

A fat 310 rushing yards.

That’s coach Mike Riley’s run-the-ball vision to a T. Run it and run it and run it, with six ball carriers, 47 times. All that was missing was a fullback trap. Nebraska coughed up two touchdowns on goal line fumbles and struggled at times in the first half to push around Northwestern’s front seven. But Nebraska (4-0 overall and 1-0 in the Big Ten) didn’t abandon the run game plan. It doubled down on it and eventually wore out the Wildcats.

“I thought our offensive line stayed with it and I thought, by the end, we were actually moving the pile the other way,” Riley said. “It took a long time in the game to do that, but when you do, the tide usually turns.”

In front of 40,284 fans — more than half in red — that tide turned in the third quarter, when Nebraska turned a 10-7 halftime lead into a 24-13 cushion with back-to-back touchdown drives of 80 and 79 yards. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who ran 13 times for 132 yards, had a keeper play for 17 yards and draw for 12 on the first scoring march.

On the second touchdown drive, little-used back Mikale Wilbon — a Chicago native — ripped off runs of 7 and 12 yards before two end-around plays. Tight end Cethan Carter gained 16 after a perfect downfield cut block from running back Terrell Newby. Three plays later, wideout Jordan Westerkamp — in his Chicago homecoming, with hundreds of family members and friends watching — took a reverse and had a barge of Huskers in alternate chrome white uniforms in front of him. He weaved his way into the end zone.

“I thought the perimeter was very good,” said offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf, whose unit produced 556 total yards. “Really good effort blocking downfield. We were springing some runs.”

Langsdorf’s willingness to stick with the run — and think of creative ways to get yards — allowed the Huskers to spring them. Last season, when Nebraska couldn’t move the pile much against Northwestern or a few other teams, the Huskers more readily embraced the passing game. Nebraska threw 48 passes against the Wildcats a year ago.

Saturday, just 29 passes. Some were very important — such as the 59-yard, double-move pass play from Armstrong to Alonzo Moore, which set up Nebraska’s second-quarter touchdown — but the main diet was to stick to the ground game. Langsdorf did.

“We have faith and confidence in how we’re running,” Langsdorf said. “It’s important — it’s been important. We’re doing our best to stay with it.”

Center Dylan Utter said he liked the commitment and the faith a robust run plan showed in the offensive line.

“That was kind of our problem last year — we wouldn’t get those yards and then Coach wouldn’t really have our trust to run the rock,” Utter said. “But I think throughout the year, they gained more trust, and that’s what he’s done so far.”

The run game helped the Huskers possess the ball more than 35 minutes. That helped keep the pesky-but-mistake-prone Wildcats’ offense on the bench.

Northwestern (1-3, 0-1) stressed Nebraska’s defense at times with an up-tempo, no-huddle approach. Quarterback Clayton Thorson threw for 251 yards — but had two costly second-half interceptions — and ran for a 42-yard touchdown on a designed keep around Nebraska’s left flank that gave Northwestern its only lead at 7-3. The Huskers’ defense missed tackles and struggled a bit with their footing on Northwestern’s patchy, loose turf.

But the Wildcats also were flagged for two holding penalties on third-and-short plays, which eventually turned into punts. Kicker Jack Mitchell missed a 27-yard field goal and was not able to successfully execute the fake of another field goal attempt. Nebraska got four sacks — two from defensive tackle Kevin Maurice — and held Northwestern to just 5 of 14 on third down.

By game’s end, those Wildcat errors had partially offset the two lost Husker fumbles that should have been touchdowns. Newby romped 49 yards on the game’s third play, only to have the ball pop out of his hand at the half-yard line — and through the back of end zone.

“There’s no need whatsoever to do that with the football,” Riley said of Newby leaping to extend the ball toward the pylon.

In the second quarter, running back Devine Ozigbo lost a fumble at the half-yard line when he was stood up by Northwestern’s defense and separated from the ball.

Had the Huskers converted either of those chances, perhaps they’re not sweating a little at the end of a muggy night, but Riley liked the resiliency his team showed to overcome those mistakes. Last season’s team might not have done that.

“That stuff can throw you,” Riley said. “You’ve got two touchdowns early in the game and there’s no points on the board. So how are you going to react to that? So I’m really pleased with our reaction.”

So was Cavanaugh.

“I felt like we played a little bit slow in the first half, then we made some adjustments and did some good things in the second half,” he said.

It was Cavanaugh who set the hook in his offensive line in the week before the game. On the board inside his coaching room, he’d written the yards per carry Nebraska averaged last season against Northwestern.

The number was ugly: 2.16.

“That was all emphasized all week long — that it can’t happen again, or we’ll lose,” Utter said.

On Saturday, Nebraska averaged 6.59 yards per carry.

That’ll win a lot of football games.

Top-ranked Huskers rally from two-set deficit, top Michigan State in five to stay unbeaten

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State’s Jenison Field House is where Magic Johnson first became famous, and for the first two sets Saturday, there was plenty of magic left in the building for the Spartan volleyball team.

But if there’s a secret to reversing the spell cast by MSU’s home court, Nebraska seems to know it. Because for the third time in six years, the Huskers pulled a win from their sleeves by the slimmest of margins.

No. 1 Nebraska climbed out of a two-set hole to remain undefeated with a 22-25, 23-25, 25-20, 25-14, 16-14 win over No. 20 Michigan State before 4,175 fans. NU picked up its third five-set win in East Lansing since 2011.

The Huskers (11-0, 2-0 Big Ten) extended their winning streak to 27 matches despite Michigan State (12-2, 1-1) hitting .386 over the first two sets with six aces. The Spartans led 2-0 in sets despite NU’s .373 attack percentage before the intermission.

“Michigan State came out on fire. We hit .481 and lost (the first set),” NU coach John Cook said in a postgame radio interview. “We were hitting .370 and almost lost this thing in three.”

With the Spartans winning the serve-and-pass battle, Michigan State was able to get the ball to one of the tallest set of attackers in the country. Chloe Reinig, a 6-foot-4 outside hitter, led MSU with 16 kills, while 6-6 Brooke Kranda added 14 and 6-4 Alyssa Garvelink had 11.

Autumn Bailey got into the act, too, with three aces in the first two sets and 13 kills on the night.

But the momentum was fleeting for Michigan State after the Huskers rallied from a 13-8 deficit in the third set with a 7-2 run. One of Mikaela Foecke’s match-high 17 kills tied the set 16-16. The Huskers wouldn’t trail again, ending the set with two kills from Kadie Rolfzen, who had 16 kills on the night.

In a telephone interview with The World-Herald, Foecke said the third-set turnaround also brought a change in attitude. Through the first two sets and much of the third, Nebraska was lethargic. The Huskers found their groove after winning the set, and the Spartans wouldn’t record another ace over the final three sets.

“Prior to that it was kind of a relief to get a point,” Foecke said. “When that changed, we thought we would get the next one and the next one. It wasn’t do or die. We put the pressure on them.”

The pressure got to Michigan State in the fourth set, where the Spartans had 12 errors against nine kills. After coming off the bench midway through the third set, sophomore Olivia Boender had three kills in the fourth, and Nebraska cruised behind a late 6-0 run.

“(Assistant coach) Dani (Busboom Kelly) was yelling at me that we’ve got to get Boender in for energy,” Cook said. “She is an Energizer Bunny. That might have been another turning point right there when Olivia came in and she got a couple really nice kills.”

In the fifth set, Boender, Foecke and Kadie Rolfzen each had a kill to give Nebraska a 3-2 lead before the Spartans responded with four straight points and led 8-6 at the changeover. Michigan State maintained a two-point edge until Kadie Rolfzen and Boender scored out of system on back-to-back rallies to tie it 12-12.

Reinig’s final kill of the night gave Michigan State a match point up 14-13, but Nebraska stayed alive when Boender, from Waverly, Nebraska, ended a long rally with her eighth kill of the match.

“Liv came off the bench and did just so good,” Foecke said. “We couldn’t have asked for a better performance from her.”

Tied at 14, Michigan State went back to Reinig, but the senior hit it out of bounds to give the Huskers match point. The winning streak was saved on the next rally when Amber Rolfzen and Kelly Hunter combined to block Bailey and clinch the victory.

It was the 13th block of the match for Nebraska and the sixth each for Amber Rolfzen and Hunter. Briana Holman also had six blocks.

Hunter came away with a double-double, adding 10 digs to her 53 assists. Holman and Amber Rolfzen combined for 15 kills out of the middle blocker position, and Justine Wong-Orantes (14 digs) and Annika Albrecht (13) helped the Huskers outdig the Spartans 68-53.

It was Nebraska’s sixth straight win over Michigan State going back to 2013.

“That’s why they’re champs,” Cook said. “They’ve got the grit, or whatever you want to call it. The toughness. They work hard. They expect to win.”

Nebraska (11-0, 2-0)………………22 23 25 25 16

At Michigan St. (12-2, 1-1)………25 25 20 14 14

NU (kills-aces-blocks): Foecke 17-1-2, Hunter 2-2-6, A. Rolfzen 8-0-6, K. Rolfzen 16-1-3, Holman 7-0-1, Albrecht 3-2-0, Wong-Orantes 0-1-0, Townsend 0-0-0, Malloy 0-0-0, Maloney 0-0-0, Boender 8-0-0. Totals 68-7-13.

MSU: Bailey 13-3-1, Fitterer 9-0-3, Reinig 16-0-5, Minarick 1-0-1, Kranda 14-2-3, Garvelink 11-0-4, Washegesic 0-0-0, Brashear 0-0-0, Tompkins 0-0-0, Monson 0-1-0, Toliver 1-0-0. Totals 65-6-10.

Set assists: NU 62 (Hunter 53, Wong-Orantes 5, K. Rolfzen 2, Maloney 2), MSU 64 (Minarick 52, Monson 5, Bailey 3, Fitterer 1, Reining 1, Garvelink 1, Brashear 1). A: 4,175.

Huskers DaiShon Neal, Michael Rose-Ivey, Mohamed Barry kneel during national anthem

CHICAGO – Three Husker players knelt during the playing of the national anthem before Saturday’s game against Northwestern.

Redshirt freshman linebacker Mohamed Barry, senior linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey and redshirt freshman defensive end DaiShon Neal all took a knee and locked arms.

Those players are following other protests that have been made during the playing of the anthem before football games in response to a series of police shootings of African-Americans nationwide. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was the first player to take a knee during the anthem, and several players and teams have followed suit with similar displays since.

Rose-Ivey has been particularly outspoken about the topic on Twitter.

Two Lincoln Southeast players have knelt during the anthem before every game this season. Former Omaha U quarterback Marlin Briscoe, the first black player to start at that position in the NFL, also commented on the matter earlier this week.

Four other Huskers helped hold a big American flag on the field during the pregame festivities. They were junior kicker Drew Brown, sophomore wide receiver Zack Darlington, senior offensive lineman Sam Hahn and sophomore offensive lineman Nick Gates.

Huskers shut down Michigan attack in Big Ten opener

ANN ARBOR, Michigan — The matchup between the Big Ten’s two best attacking teams never turned into a shootout. Far from it, in fact.

With the offenses slipping gears, it was the block and defense — plus an impressive Big Ten debut from middle blocker Briana Holman — that led No. 1 Nebraska to its 26th straight win, 25-22, 25-20, 25-18 at No. 22 Michigan on Friday night.

Holman, the junior transfer from LSU, started strong and stayed hot with a team-high 11 kills on .556 hitting. She also added five blocks to help the Huskers (10-0, 1-0 Big Ten) pick up their first sweep in Ann Arbor since 2011.

Opposite hitter Kadie Rolfzen added 10 kills and led the Huskers with six blocks, helping stymie an attack that had come into the match No. 6 in the country with a .301 average. The Wolverines committed 24 attack errors and hit a season-low .118 in front of 1,800 fans at Cliff Keen Arena.

Senior middle Amber Rolfzen also had five blocks, and junior Kelly Hunter had four to help add to a season-best 13 team

blocks.

“I’m relieved,” coach John Cook said in a post-match radio interview. “It’s a tough place to play. It’s hotter than heck in here. It’s the Big Ten opener, so I didn’t know how our team would respond, how Briana would respond.

“It’s just a little more something right now when it’s the Big Ten. Very happy to get out of here 3-0.”

Holman and Kadie Rolfzen were the only Huskers to reach double figures in kills on what turned out to be a meager night for Nebraska’s outside hitters. Left sides Mikaela Foecke and Andie Malloy combined to hit .060 on 50 swings, part of NU’s season-low .234 hitting percentage.

Still, Nebraska controlled the flow with several big runs, usually served by Hunter or libero Justine Wong-Orantes. Michigan led just once, at 18-17 in Game 1. That didn’t last long as Hunter served during a 4-0 run that included kills by Holman and Kadie Rolfzen, who also teamed up for a double block during the stretch.

Holman had five kills and three blocks in the opener and tied her season high in kills for the second straight match.

Wong-Orantes had both of her aces in a 5-0 run early in Game 3 to go up 7-2, and Nebraska was never seriously threatened in the finale. The senior libero also had a match-high 12 digs and added her first kill of the year on a deceptive front-row dump that gave the Huskers a 15-9 lead in the final set.

“She did a great job,” Cook said of Wong-Orantes. “I was more impressed with her serving. She blew open Game 3. She was getting runs every time she served. I don’t know what she was doing with her serve, but she had three where they passed it maybe two feet high.”

Nebraska focused much of its defense on Abby Cole, a 6-foot-5 middle blocker. Cole had six kills in Game 1, showing flashes of her 2014 match against NU when she had 19 kills in the 3-0 sweep in Ann Arbor.

But from there, the second-team All-American was slowed with three kills on 15 swings.

“We were putting two blockers on her,” Cook said. “We said, ‘We’re not letting her beat us.’ I’ve seen that before. We were not going to let that happen tonight. She’s their emotional leader. She’s their go-to. She fires them up, and if she’s not getting it done, the team goes with it.”

Senior Kelly Murphy led Michigan (11-2, 0-1) with 10 kills on 32 attacks to hit .125.

Though it wasn’t beautiful, the Huskers handled the pressure of a conference opener on the road. Now comes a 6 p.m. Saturday match at No. 20 Michigan State (12-1, 1-0), which hit .345 in a sweep of Iowa on Friday night.

It will be another test for the defense, but as NU showed Friday, the more it can shift the unease onto opponents, the more comfortable it becomes.

“I think what we’re trying to do is put pressure on teams,” Cook said. “And if you pressure them with everything you’re doing, serving, blocking, defense, siding out, eventually teams have a hard time playing at that level for a long period of time.

“Our M.O. is to pressure, to pressure, to pressure.”

Nebraska (10-0)……………25 25 25

At Michigan (11-2)…………22 20 18

NU: Holman 11-0-5, K. Rolfzen 10-0-6, Foecke 8-1-1, Malloy 6-0-2, Hunter 4-0-4, A. Rolfzen 3-0-5, Wong-Orantes 1-2-0

UM: Murphy 10-0-2, Cole 9-0-3, Davis 7-0-0, Lambert 5-0-0, Kiefer-Wright 3-0-1, Welsh 2-0-2, Mahlke 2-0-0, Crocker 0-0-3

Set Assists: NU 37 (Hunter 32, Wong-Orantes 4, Albrecht 1). UM 36 (Welsh 33, Lerg 2, Skjodt 1). Att: 1,800

Married … with love of home and game: Husker defensive end Ross Dzuris strives for consistency

LINCOLN — Ross Dzuris headed from the Nebraska locker room celebration to his family tailgate on Saturday, the same as he would after any Husker home game.

As nightfall came — and the Nebraska victory parties were just getting started around parts of town — Dzuris headed back to his Lincoln apartment.

With his wife.

“We’re not too crazy,” Dzuris said. “We’re pretty laid back.”

There’s a consistency, steadiness and calming influence about the fifth-year senior as the only married Husker. He goes to school, goes through his football day, goes home.

Dzuris brings the same reliability to the football field — and at a position where the Huskers truly need it.

The defensive end has drawn regular praise from coach Mike Riley and defensive coordinator Mark Banker for his recent work, which includes at least four tackles in every game and ranking among the Big Ten leaders in sacks (3½) and tackles for loss (six).

“I’m still trying to get a little better each week,” he said. “The more consistent I am, the easier it is for everybody else to play off of me. So that’s kind of what we strive for — just kind of doing my job, not trying to do anything outside of myself.”

Nobody was giving Dzuris anything approaching preseason All-Big Ten mention over the summer. The former walk-on from Plattsmouth was only a part-time starter as a junior, after not playing a single snap the prior two years.

But when Kelly Stouffer of ESPN asked Banker before the Wyoming game who might be an unsung hero of this Husker defense, Banker named Dzuris.

“To say now, ‘Ross is going to lead in this, he’s going to lead in that,’ I’d be making that up,” Banker said. “But I know this — and it goes back to last year when we first started playing with Ross — that he works very hard, he knows what he’s doing, he has really good technique, he has a passion for the game.

“I think if you play hard, give great effort and you’re in the right place, you got a better-than-average chance of making plays, and that’s what he’s doing for us right now.”

Dzuris takes it all in stride. Other than the old-style mustache that naturally draws a second look, he doesn’t demand nearly the same attention off the field as he does on it.

That’s OK with him, too.

Ross and Noelle (Campbell) were married July 1, something they first talked about during the spring of 2015.

“I had told her that if I got a scholarship, I asked if she would want to get married,” Dzuris said. “She said yes. Toward the end of the season, I decided to ask her. We didn’t want to wait the whole year, like some people do, so we did it during the short time I had in the summer.”

Dzuris has a light academic load this semester before the business administration major graduates in December. Noelle is working full time in Lincoln. They have been a couple since high school.

“I just love going home,” Dzuris said. “I just love lying on the couch, watching movies together. We usually just like to chill at home.”

Dzuris said Noelle wasn’t necessarily a football fan or even a Nebraska fan before, but obviously has become one. He can talk about the team or practice or games, or whatever.

“She’s pretty easy to talk to,” he said. “She’ll listen.”

With his change in relationship status, however, comes a fair amount of ribbing. Even before his wedding, Dzuris said teammates called him “Old Man” or “Grandpa,” since he has been around the program since 2012.

Even assistant coach John Parrella gets into the action.

“He always makes fun of me, but he actually got married before his senior year, too,” Dzuris said. “So I think he knows where I’m coming from. He just likes to give me a hard time about it.”

Parrella said his old Husker defensive line mates never gave him much trouble about being married to Leigh back in 1992, “because my wife fed us.” Now they have five kids and have been married 24 years, and Parrella wishes the same good fortune for Dzuris.

“I just have fun with him about it,” Parrella said.

As with senior defensive tackle Kevin Maurice, Parrella said the years behind Dzuris have led to what he has become.

It’s the work ethic. Doing everything right every day. The passion for it. What Parrella calls being a consummate pro.

“Guys like that want to constantly get better, and that’s him,” Parrella said. “Today he wanted to get better. So that’s every single day with him. He’s not content by any way, shape or form with how he’s playing. We’re really happy with him, but I know he wants to continue to get better.”

Dzuris turns 23 in a few weeks. He goes home after big games. It’s not like a wedding really changed anything, though.

“It’s just one less thing to worry about, I guess,” Dzuris said. “I’m taking three credit hours, I just have a nice, easy life at home. So I’ve been able to focus on football all summer and fall, and it’s been great.”

#20 Nebraska at Northwestern

When: 6:30 p.m. (Pregame: 1:30 p.m.)

Where: Ryan Field, Evanston, Ill

Radio: B103 (103.1 FM)

Big Ten title would be new part of bigger Husker goals

LINCOLN — During last year’s NCAA championship season, the Nebraska volleyball team wore its big dreams in plain sight. The Huskers practiced in T-shirts that read “Destination: Omaha,” the site of the final four.

The grandiose goals are there again this season. Coach John Cook unveiled the team’s “Dream Bigger” mantra at the start of fall practice. But in addition to winning back-to-back national titles for the first time in program history, No. 1 Nebraska (9-0) opens Big Ten play this weekend eyeing another piece of unfinished business.

NU’s last — and only — Big Ten title came in 2011, before any current Husker was on the team. Adding a conference championship is the lone piece of hardware missing for this group of players. But, setter Kelly Hunter said, instead of looking at the big picture, winning the Big Ten will require a smaller, more granular focus.

“We’re not necessarily worried about going back-to-back right now,” Hunter said. “We’re worried about winning each point. Not even each game, each point. And that will translate into winning sets, into winning games, into winning the Big Ten.”

The first steps toward that goal will come away from home, starting with Friday’s 6 p.m. match at No. 22 Michigan (11-1) followed by a 6 p.m. meeting Saturday with Michigan State (11-1).

Hunter, a junior from Papillion-La Vista South and the team’s lone captain, steers Nebraska’s point-by-point focus. The challenge for the team coming into the year was how to fit two newcomers into the starting lineup who both had been the focal point of their previous teams.

But Nebraska’s offensive balance is at least an early sign that Hunter is succeeding. Going into this weekend’s Big Ten opener, NU’s five starting attackers average between 3.2 and 1.9 kills per set. Each is hitting at least .286.

“Our balance is incredible, how balanced we are,” Cook said. “I don’t even talk to her about that. It’s just a natural feel.”

“We have the weapons at all positions, so we’d be stupid not to use all of them,” said Kadie Rolfzen, NU’s All-America opposite hitter. “I just think that’s one thing we’re really good at this year, is anybody can kill a ball from anywhere.”

The balance has tangible and intangible benefits. Keeping opposing blockers guessing leads to NU hitters attacking against more efficient one-on-one matchups. After last weekend’s Ameritas Players Challenge, the Huskers moved up to No. 1 in the country with a .349 team attack percentage.

It also tamps down the possibility of any player piping up that they think they should be getting more swings, threatening a chemistry that fueled last year’s title run.

“On any team,” Hunter said, “if someone is the star player, or whatever, people naturally just kind of are ‘Oh, whatever. Why is it not me?’ We definitely don’t have any egos or anything.”

That chemistry may get tested during the tumultuous 10-week run through the Big Ten. But if it does, Hunter knows to bring everything back to basics.

The building blocks of Nebraska’s bigger dreams of a Big Ten title and another NCAA championship are the hundreds of points played between now and December, with the most important point being the next one.

She’s seen something special be built that way before.

“We know how to do that now,” Hunter said. “We’ve been through it, we know what we’re doing. We know what it takes to get there, and so that’s what we’re going to work on, every little thing it takes to get there.”

Blackshirts know they can’t let Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson break free again

LINCOLN — Of all the game tape that was hard to watch last season for the Nebraska defense, two snaps in particular against Northwestern might have tempted Husker players to turn away.

Two runs by quarterback Clayton Thorson produced 117 of the Wildcats’ 333 total yards that Saturday — and either some or most of the yards could have been avoided.

To recap:

» In the first quarter, Thorson takes a brief look from the pocket, then takes off through a gap on the right side and makes a move on linebacker Josh Banderas about 5 yards downfield. Two other Huskers get tied up by the same receiver, and Thorson goes 68 yards before getting pushed out at the Husker 2.

» In the second quarter, the pocket collapses, but Thorson escapes, and this time makes safety Nate Gerry miss in the open field. One linebacker loses containment, another defender takes a bad angle and a 49-yard run moves Northwestern to the 11.

Ever blunt and often humorous, NU defensive coordinator Mark Banker didn’t bother sugarcoating either play this week as the Huskers prepared to see Thorson again.

“We gave up an early quarterback run with five people chasing him, and we looked like Moe, Larry and Curly plus two,” Banker said. “And then later on, we did the same thing. We had a nice right rush, and two of the linemen kind of banged each other off the play, but we were loafing on the back side of the play.”

Northwestern converted the two Thorson runs into 10 points, contributing to its 30-28 win at Memorial Stadium.

Thorson finished with 126 rushing yards and a touchdown — and has the Blackshirts’ attention for Saturday night’s rematch at Northwestern’s Ryan Field.

“I think everybody just has to do their job and not try to overcompensate,” NU safety Kieron Williams said. “I’m not saying that’s what happened last year, but I think we’ve been best this year when everybody’s just done their job and everybody’s been focused.”

Nebraska got some practice for a running quarterback last Saturday against Oregon senior Dakota Prukop, who had 20 carries for 97 yards. His long run was a 22-yarder on a zone read.

But Thorson hurt the Huskers more last year when plays broke down.

“He’s a good scrambler,” NU linebackers coach Trent Bray said. “He’s smart when he takes off, and he’s got some elusiveness that is surprising. You wouldn’t watch him run and go, ‘Well, that guy’s a good runner,’ but he finds a way to make guys miss and get there.

“We’ve got to do a better job than we did last year of, one, keeping him in the pocket, and two, taking better angles to go get him when he does leave.”

Thorson ran for 397 yards and five touchdowns last season as a redshirt freshman, but the Nebraska game stood out to him for obvious reasons.

“I think it was just taking advantage of opportunities,” Thorson said. “I just kind of found a hole and just took it, and kind of the pieces fell into place. Some guys missed tackles, I had some good blocking downfield, and those were two huge plays in the first half.”

Both plays followed Nebraska scores, swinging momentum back to the Wildcats. On his second run, Thorson went out of bounds with just eight seconds left, and Northwestern nearly had a touchdown pass before kicking a field goal.

The Wildcats have struggled to find a rhythm offensively to start the season — ranking last in the Big Ten in total offense — so it’s an emphasis for Nebraska not to let Thorson ad-lib for yardage.

“Obviously it’s a weapon he has, and last year we just didn’t make any plays on him,” Husker defensive end Ross Dzuris said. “We missed a lot of tackles, so obviously just contain the pocket and just make tackles when he gets out in the open.”

#20 Nebraska at Northwestern

When: 6:30 p.m. (Pregame: 1:30 p.m.)

Where: Ryan Field, Evanston, Ill

Radio: B103 (103.1 FM)

Husker notes: Northwestern bends but is hard to break; Ground and determined; Shaky start, strong finish and more

LINCOLN — Northwestern’s defense ranks 13th out of 14 Big Ten teams in yards allowed per game, and the Wildcats are battling injuries in their secondary.

But Nebraska offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said Wednesday night after practice that he’s been impressed with Northwestern’s ability to keep opponents off the scoreboard. The Wildcats rank third in the league, allowing just 14.7 points a game.

“They’re playing with a lot of different guys and they’ve had some injuries,” Langsdorf said. “They’ve held teams down pretty well. They’ve given up a lot of yards but they have not given up a lot of points, so scoring against them has been a challenge for people. They’ve been rotating some different guys in that back end. They’ve kind of bent, but they haven’t broken very much.”

Langsdorf said Nebraska will have its “work cut out for us”scoring points Saturday.

Ground and determined

A key tweak at halftime of the Oregon game — to substitute a wide receiver onto the field for a tight end, spreading out the Ducks’ defense with a three-wide look — helped the Husker run game get going.

“It depends on the defense, but they were loading us up pretty good in their bigger personnel groups and bringing those safeties down tighter,” Langsdorf said. “If you can spread ’em out, that can be a benefit. We want to be able to run the ball out of three wides as well as our big people. We had that in the plan — we just got to it more against Oregon.”

I-back Devine Ozigbo, who got the majority of the second-half carries, said the change by Langsdorf “softened the core” of Oregon’s defense.

“It gave us some creases to hit,” Ozigbo said. “In the first half we did some under-the-center stuff and they were packing the box pretty well. That kind of made it challenging, but after we spread them out, the creases were there.”

Running backs coach Reggie Davis — who praised Ozigbo’s “added physicality” and his improved ability to “run behind his pads” — said the Huskers were “pretty determined” to run the ball.

Who lit the fire under the offense to run the ball so well?

“That’s a secret we leave in the locker room,” Davis said. “We talk every time at halftime, absolutely.”

Trial run

The footing will be important for everybody Saturday night, but definitely big for Nebraska I-backs as they try to make cuts on Ryan Field’s grass surface.

As before any game, Ozigbo will try to get a feel for it during warmups.

“You’ve just got to walk the field on any away game,” Ozigbo said. “Even if it was a turf field, I would still go out there and just test it, see what it was like, and get my footing right.”

The last time Nebraska played on natural grass, Ozigbo had 20 carries for 80 yards in the Foster Farms Bowl against UCLA. He said he played most of his high school games in Texas on turf, but remembered some playoff games on grass.

“Some grasses are different,” said Ozigbo, who is averaging 80.7 yards per game and 4.6 per carry to start the season. “I heard this grass takes a little adjustment to get used to it. But overall it shouldn’t be much to overcome. As soon as you get used to it, you’ll be fine.”

Shaky start, strong finish

Nebraska saw its average per carry go up every quarter against Oregon, reaching 5.8 yards per attempt in the fourth.

“I thought we kind of started a little bit slow, and then we geared it up as the game went on,” line coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “So obviously you’ve got to like that. We’ve got to continue to be a physical group and move people.”

The down side was NU averaged 2.4 yards per carry in the first quarter.

“I like that we’ve found a groove, but we need to get things going earlier, too,” left guard Sam Hahn said. “Those three-and-outs we’ve started with these games, that’s just not something we should be doing.

“It’s good to see we can maybe kind of wear on some people sometimes and get going. But now we’re going into Big Ten play, and you guys know how that is. You’ve got some warriors in there, and they’re not going to wear down maybe as easy.”

Nebraska will be tested by the Northwestern defense. The Wildcats won the line of scrimmage a year ago, holding the Huskers to 82 rushing yards.

“We’ve got to play physical football on Saturday night,” Cavanaugh said. “Trust our technique and finish blocks. This is a good defense we’re going against.”

One lineman Cavanaugh hasn’t had to worry about is left tackle Nick Gates. Cavanaugh said the sophomore from Las Vegas has been “nails” this season, leading the Huskers in pancakes and knockdowns.

“He’s setting a great example and setting the bar high,” Cavanaugh said. “He can still do some better things, too. I think if he plays with better leverage, I mean, he’ll be rolling a lot of people.”

NU’s big Bison fan

Hahn texted a few former North Dakota State teammates Saturday morning with a simple message: “Win.”

The Bison did just that, beating Iowa 23-21 on the road on a last-second field goal. Hahn was at NDSU for the 2012 season before transferring to Nebraska, and remains friends with former roommate Landon Lechler.

“I told Landon, ‘You guys can move the ball on ’em. Just run power and you’ll be fine,’ ” Hahn said. “That’s what they ended up doing, pretty much. North Dakota State’s just that good, because Iowa’s no slouch, obviously.”

Hahn has a suggestion for teams that might be thinking of playing the Bison in the future. “I’d advise any team, never schedule ’em.”

Tommy impresses Wildcat LB

Northwestern linebacker Anthony Walker said the Huskers caught his attention with what they did offensively in their 35-32 win over Oregon.

It didn’t surprise him to see Tommy Armstrong throw for 200 yards and run for 95 against the Ducks, with a hand in four touchdowns.

“Tommy looks good, I can say that right now,” Walker said. “He looks a lot healthier. He ran the ball really well last week, and made some big plays.

“I think the offensive line was really good, especially running the ball and getting up to ’backers. The running backs looked good, and Jordan Westerkamp looks really, really good. We’re definitely going to have to bring our A-game all across the field.”

A year ago, Walker said, the Wildcats were able to pressure Armstrong during a 30-28 win, and “kept him uncomfortable a little bit.”

“We were able to control the line of scrimmage and stop the run, which was big,” Walker said. “And I think we were able to get off the field when we needed to.”

Injury update

» Nebraska wideout Brandon Reilly (hamstring) practiced again Wednesday, while wideout Alonzo Moore (shoulder) was held out for a second straight day.

LSU kicker in car when Sam Foltz died honors late Husker with customized cleats

Colby Delahoussaye, the LSU kicker that was riding with Sam Foltz the night he died, will carry the memory of his late friend with him every time he takes the field.

Delahoussaye tweeted a picture Tuesday of customized cleats designed to honor the former Husker punter and Mike Sadler, the ex-Michigan State punter who also died in that crash. The cleats feature the names “Sam” and “Mike” on the soles with each player’s jersey number on the side.

“This is for my two boys, I got you guys always with me! This season is for y’all! Love and miss you two,” Delahoussaye said in the tweet.

Delahoussaye was in the backseat of the car, driven by Sadler with Foltz in the passenger seat, when it skidded off a wet Wisconsin road July 23. He has since said he believes he lost consciousness during the accident and awoke only after he began to feel a burning sensation on his leg. Delahoussaye escaped from the burning vehicle and dialed 911 from his shattered cellphone.

The New Iberia, Louisiana, native has recovered from the injuries he sustained that night and is the Tigers’ starting placekicker. He made the only field goal he’s attempted this season and is 8 of 10 on extra points.

Tributes to Foltz from other teams have poured in since his death.

Wisconsin’s Rafael Gaglianone, who made a game-winning field goalagainst LSU on Sept. 3, changed his jersey number to No. 27 before the season. Oregon kicker Matt Wogan and coach Mark Helfrich placed a bouquet of flowers at the 27-yard line before the game Saturday.

Fresno State declined a delay of game penalty in the season opener when Nebraska came out with 10 men for its first punt without Foltz, and Northwestern plans to wear a special helmet decal Saturday as a tribute to Foltz when it faces the Huskers.

LSU kicker Colby Delahoussaye was in the backseat during the car accident that took the life of Husker punter Sam Foltz. (AP)
LSU kicker Colby Delahoussaye was in the backseat during the car accident that took the life of Husker punter Sam Foltz. (AP)
Sam Foltz
Sam Foltz