Nebraska Cornhuskers: Avery Moss

We're taking snapshots of each position group with each Big Ten team entering the spring. Up next: the defensive lines.

Illinois: This is a significant concern for the Illini, especially after the recent departure of Houston Bates, who started last season at the Leo (defensive end/outside linebacker) spot. Illinois also loses its other starting defensive end, Tim Kynard. The team will rely heavily on junior-college players such as Jihad Ward and Joe Fotu, but it also needs holdovers like Dawuane Smoot and Paul James III to step up on the perimeter. Illinois returns more experience inside with Austin Teitsma and Teko Powell, but there should be plenty of competition, especially with the juco arrivals, after finishing 116th nationally against the run.

Indiana: The anticipated move to a 3-4 alignment under new coordinator Brian Knorr creates a different dynamic for the line this spring. Indiana must identify options at the all-important nose tackle spot, and possibilities include sophomores Ralphael Green and Darius Latham, both of whom are big bodies. Nick Mangieri had a nice sophomore season and should be in the mix for a starting job on the perimeter (end or outside linebacker), while David Kenney could be a good fit as a 3-4 end. Defensive end Ryan Phillis is the team's most experienced lineman, and Zack Shaw also has some starting experience.

Iowa: This group should be the strength of the defense as Iowa returns three full-time starters -- tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat, and end Drew Ott -- as well as Mike Hardy, who started the second half of the season opposite Ott. End Dominic Alvis departs, but Iowa brings back almost everyone else from a line that allowed only eight rushing touchdowns in 2013. Junior Darian Cooper could have a bigger role and push for more playing time inside, and Nate Meier provides some depth on the perimeter after recording two sacks in 2013. Iowa is in good shape here.

Maryland: The Terrapins employ a 3-4 scheme and appear to be in good shape up front, as reserve Zeke Riser is the only rotation player to depart. Andre Monroe leads the way at defensive end after an excellent junior season in which he led Maryland in both sacks (9.5) and tackles for loss (17). Quinton Jefferson started at defensive end last season and recorded three sacks. There should be some good competition this spring at nose tackle between Keith Bowers and Darius Kilgo, both of whom had more than 30 tackles last season. The challenge is building greater depth with players such as end Roman Braglio.

Michigan: If the Wolverines intend to make a big step in 2014, they'll need more from the front four, which didn't impact games nearly enough last fall. Michigan's strength appears to be on the edges as veteran Frank Clark returns after starting every game in 2013 and recording a team-high 12 tackles for loss. Brennen Beyer, who started the second half of last season, is back at the other end spot, and Michigan has depth with Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton. There are more questions inside as Willie Henry, Chris Wormley and others compete for the starting job. Young tackles such as Henry Poggi and Maurice Hurst Jr. also are in the mix, and Ondre Pipkins should be a factor when he recovers from ACL surgery.

Michigan State: The Spartans return the best defensive end tandem in the league as Shilique Calhoun, a second-team All-American in 2013, returns alongside Marcus Rush, one of the Big Ten's most experienced defenders. Joel Heath, Brandon Clemons and others provide some depth on the perimeter. It's a different story inside as MSU loses both starters (Micajah Reynolds and Tyler Hoover), as well as reserve Mark Scarpinato. Damon Knox, James Kittredge and Lawrence Thomas, who has played on both sides of the ball, are among those who will compete for the starting tackle spots. If Malik McDowell signs with MSU, he could work his way into the rotation.

Minnesota: Defensive tackles like Ra'Shede Hageman don't come around every year, and he leaves a big void in the middle of Minnesota's line. The Gophers will look to several players to replace Hageman's production, including senior Cameron Botticelli, who started opposite Hageman last season. Other options at tackle include Scott Ekpe and Harold Legania, a big body at 308 pounds. Minnesota is in much better shape at end with Theiren Cockran, arguably the Big Ten's most underrated defensive lineman. Cockran and Michael Amaefula both started every game last season, and Alex Keith provides another solid option after recording five tackles for loss in 2013.

Nebraska: Other than MSU's Calhoun, Nebraska returns the most dynamic defensive lineman in the league in Randy Gregory, who earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in his first FBS season. If the Huskers can build around Gregory, they should be very stout up front this fall. Nebraska won't have Avery Moss, suspended for the 2014 season, and players such as Greg McMullen and junior-college transfer Joe Keels will compete to start opposite Gregory. The competition inside should be fascinating as junior Aaron Curry and sophomore Vincent Valentine both have starting experience, but Maliek Collins came on strong at the end of his first season and will push for a top job.

Northwestern: It will be tough to get a clear picture of this group in the spring because of several postseason surgeries, but Northwestern should be fine at defensive end despite the loss of Tyler Scott. Dean Lowry, Ifeadi Odenigbo and Deonte Gibson all have significant experience and the ability to pressure quarterbacks. Odenigbo, who had 5.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman, could become a star. The bigger questions are inside as Northwestern must build depth. Sean McEvilly is a solid option but must stay healthy. Chance Carter and Max Chapman are among those competing for starting jobs at tackle.

Ohio State: A total mystery last spring, the defensive line should be one of Ohio State's strengths in 2014. Noah Spence and Joey Bosa could become the Big Ten's top pass-rushing tandem, and the Buckeyes have depth there with Jamal Marcus, Adolphus Washington and others. Returning starter Michael Bennett is back at defensive tackle, and while Joel Hale might move to offense, there should be enough depth inside with Tommy Schutt, Chris Carter and Washington, who could slide inside. Nose tackle is the only question mark, but new line coach Larry Johnson inherits a lot of talent.

Penn State: Like the rest of the Lions defense, the line struggled at times last season and now much replace its top player in tackle DaQuan Jones. The new coaching staff has some potentially good pieces, namely defensive end Deion Barnes, who won 2012 Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors but slumped as a sophomore. Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan could form a dangerous pass-rushing tandem, but they'll need support on the inside, where there should be plenty of competition. Austin Johnson will be in the mix for a starting tackle spot, and early enrollees Tarow Barney and Antoine White also should push for time. Anthony Zettel provides some depth on the perimeter.

Purdue: The line endured a tough 2013 campaign and loses two full-time starters (tackle Bruce Gaston Jr. and end Greg Latta), and a part-time starter (end Ryan Isaac). Competition should be ramped up at all four spots this spring. Senior end Ryan Russell is the most experienced member of the group must take a step this offseason. Evan Panfil and Jalani Phillips will push for time at the end spots, along with Kentucky transfer Langston Newton. The group at tackle includes Ryan Watson and Michael Rouse III, both of whom started games in 2013.

Rutgers: Keep a close eye on this group in the spring as Rutgers begins the transition to the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights lose two starters in end Marcus Thompson and tackle Isaac Holmes, as well as contributor Jamil Merrell at tackle. Darius Hamilton provides a building block on the inside after recording 4.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in 2013, and end Djwany Mera is back after starting throughout last season. David Milewski played tackle last year, but both he and Hamilton likely need to add weight for their new league. Rutgers has some talent in the younger classes and needs players such as Sebastian Joseph, Kemoko Turay and Julian Pinnix-Odrick to emerge.

Wisconsin: Linebacker Chris Borland is the biggest single departure for the Badgers' defense, but the no position group loses more than the line. Wisconsin must replace several mainstays, most notably nose tackle Beau Allen, who performed well in the first year of the 3-4 set under coordinator Dave Aranda. Senior Warren Herring will step in for Allen after three years as a reserve. Konrad Zagzebski is a good bet to fill one of the end spots, but there will be plenty of competition with players such as Jake Keefer, James Adeyanju, Arthur Goldberg and Chikwe Obasih.
Tags:

Big Ten Conference, Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Northwestern Wildcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Penn State Nittany Lions, Purdue Boilermakers, Wisconsin Badgers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Maryland Terrapins, Noah Spence, Vincent Valentine, Avery Moss, Randy Gregory, Sean McEvilly, Marcus Rush, Malik McDowell, DaQuan Jones, Ra'Shede Hageman, Adolphus Washington, Antoine White, Shilique Calhoun, Maliek Collins, Greg McMullen, Nick Mangieri, Deion Barnes, Theiren Cockran, Tyler Scott, Darius Latham, Joey Bosa, Dave Aranda, Beau Allen, Carl Davis, Louis Trinca-Pasat, Houston Bates, Teko Powell, Ryan Russell, Bruce Gaston Jr., Joe Keels, Anthony Zettel, Drew Ott, Tarow Barney, Tyler Hoover, Jihad Ward, David Kenney, Ralphael Green, Larry Johnson, Micajah Reynolds, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Langston Newton, C.J. Olaniyan, Mark Scarpinato, Aaron Curry, Joel Hale, Joe Fotu, Scott Ekpe, B1G spring positions 14, Paul James, Alex Keith, Andre Monroe, Arthur Goldberg, Austin Teitsma, Cameron Botticelli, Chance Carter, Chikwe Obasih, Chris Carter, Damon Knox, Darian Cooper, Darius Kilgo, David Milewski, Dawuane Smoot, Dean Lowry, Deonte Gibson, Djwany Mera, Dominic Alvis, Evan Panfil, Greg Latta, Harold Legania, Isaac Holmes, Jake Keefer, Jalani Phillips, Jamal Marcus, James Adeyanju, James Kittredge, Jamil Merrell, Julian Pinnix-Odrick, Keith Bowers, Kemoko Turay, Konrad Zagzebski, Lawrence Thomas, Marcus Thompson, Max Chapman, Michael Amaefula, Michael Rouse III, Nate Meier, Quinton Jefferson, Roman Braglio, Ryan Isaac, Ryan Phillis, Ryan Watson, Sebastian Joseph, Tim Kynard, Tommy Schutt, Warren Herring, Zack Shaw

Moving to the midpoint in our five-day countdown of Nebraska players to watch in spring practice, we find the first newcomer to make the list.

He plays a position perhaps more in need of a boost than any other on the Nebraska depth chart. With no further ado:

Junior defensive end Joe Keels

Why to watch: For the junior college transfer's unknown factor. It’s natural for Nebraska fans to hope Keels can match the impact made last year by Randy Gregory, another juco transfer on the edge of the defensive line. Gregory quickly blossomed into an All-Big Ten performer. Keels, who played at Highland (Kan.) Community College last year after stints in Minnesota and North Dakota and a prep career in Kenosha, Wis., offers promise. He turned down Alabama, Missouri, Penn State, USC and picked the Huskers over Wisconsin.

What to watch: At 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, Keels lacks little in physical readiness to step into the role of a contributor. But how will he handle other aspects of the change, starting with the attention to detail necessary to compete against an increased level of opponent? For some juco transfers, it’s no big deal; others face an adjustment equal to freshmen. Through the 15 practices of spring, Keels ought to offer a few hints about the time required to complete his transition.

What to expect: It’s hard to imagine, one year after Gregory’s arrival, that the Huskers found another player of his caliber. But Keels, 43rd in the ESPN JC 50 before his January enrollment in Lincoln, would fill a huge need even if he can push for a starting spot. Nebraska lost Jason Ankrah after 2013, and Avery Moss, a high-impact redshirt freshman last season, is suspended. That leaves untested sophomore Greg McMullen, redshirt freshman A.J. Natter and little room for injuries. Look for Keels to immediately jump into the mix.

Countdown of Nebraska players to watch in spring practice:
No. 5: Terrell Newby
No. 4: Charles Jackson
This week, ESPN.com has counted down the Nebraska position groups with most room to improve. And at the top of the list, it's a group not here for its lack of talent; rather, the opposite. With high ceilings, though, come high expectations.

Read up on the defensive line:

[+] EnlargeRandy Gregory
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesRandy Gregory is a star on Nebraska's defensive line, but he needs help.
Major losses: Defensive end Jason Anrkah started 31 games over his final three seasons and achieved much-sought consistency last season to help lead a young front four. Tackle Thad Randle has been a fixture up front since 2010, fighting through chronic knee injuries to play his best football as a senior. Also gone in 2014 -- and perhaps for good -- is Avery Moss, who showed great potential last fall to earn a spot on ESPN.com’s Big Ten all-freshman team. Moss was banned from campus in January for one year, a ruling related to his conviction on a public-indecency count following a 2012 incident.

Top returnees: Randy Gregory was Nebraska’s best defender as a sophomore. The defensive end finished his first year at Nebraska with 10 sacks, 18 quarterback hurries, 19 tackles for loss and 66 stops overall to earn first-team all-conference honors. At 6-foot-6, he dropped weight throughout the season, but his effectiveness never waned. Tackle Vincent Valentine stood out as a true freshman among a young group of returning interior players that includes Aaron Curry, Maliek Collins and Kevin Maurice.

Key question: Who fills the large hole left by Moss at the end position opposite Gregory?

Numbers to know: Since 2010, when Ndamukong Suh was chosen second overall in the NFL draft, just one Nebraska defensive linemen has been picked. The Huskers’ young linemen progressed a great deal last season, but they’ve seemingly only scratched the surface. After Oct. 1, Nebraska ranked 13th nationally and third in the Big Ten in allowing 3.36 yards per rush -- an impressive accomplishment after they surrendered 4.85 per rush through the first four games to rank 99th and 11th.

The outlook: Gregory is an All-America candidate. Valentine, at 6-foot-3 and 325 pounds, looks ready to grow into a great run stopper and anchor in the middle.

Others will fill the remaining spots, but whom? The Huskers hope to get some answers in the spring. In addition to Curry, Collins and Maurice, veterans Jay Guy, Tobi Okuyemi and Kevin Williams are back at tackle.

End Greg McMullen is largely untested but a candidate to fill Moss’ spot, as are redshirt freshman A.J. Natter and junior-college transfer Joe Keels, already on campus.

The Huskers will assess true freshmen Sedrick King, DeAndre Wills and Peyton Newell in August.

Countdown of Nebraska position groups with most room to improve:

No. 5: Secondary
No. 4: Quarterbacks
No. 3: Linebackers
No. 2: Tight ends

Check back next week for our countdown of Nebraska players to watch in spring practice.

Best B1G games of 2013: No. 4

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
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We're continuing our countdown of the top 10 games from the Big Ten in 2013. Remember that we're taking into account the stakes in the game, the excitement level, the quality of the performances and the atmosphere.

Next up on the list is the game that featured the craziest ending of 2013:

No. 4: Nebraska 27, Northwestern 24, Nov. 2

How it went down: With four seconds left, Northwestern called timeout. Nebraska had the ball on the Wildcats' 49, trailing by three. Barring a miracle, Pat Fitzgerald's team was going to get a big win in Lincoln to snap a four-game losing streak, and the Cornhuskers were going to face a lot of uncomfortable questions about Bo Pelini's job status.

[+] EnlargeJordan Westerkamp
AP Photo/Nati HarnikNebraska wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp catches the game-winning touchdown, a desperation heave from quarterback Ron Kellogg III.
But, of course, that miracle happened. Ron Kellogg III heaved the ball toward the end zone, and Jordan Westerkamp caught it off a tip for the improbable game-winning touchdown. Westerkamp had never caught a pass longer than 10 yards in his career and had no career touchdowns before that play, while the walk-on Kellogg came into the season as the third-string quarterback. So, yeah, it was crazy.

The game was also a pretty good one before the play that will live on in Huskers lore. Avery Moss' interception for a touchdown tied the game at 21-21 in the third quarter, while a Tyler Scott interception set up Northwestern for its go-ahead field goal with 1:20 left.

Ameer Abdullah had the unsung play of the game, catching a short pass on fourth-and-long and willing himself through tacklers to get the first down on the final drive. Abdullah's effort led to the play of the year in the Big Ten, helped introduce the public to Westerkamp's glorious mustache and added another chapter to Northwestern's misery.

Player of the game: Abdullah had 127 yards on 24 carries in addition to his key catch late in the game.

Stat of the game: Nebraska won despite losing the turnover battle 4-1. The Huskers' defense didn't allow a touchdown after early in the second quarter and held Northwestern to a field goal after the Wildcats had second-and-goal from the 1 with 1:34 to play.

They said it: “I didn’t even know I could throw it that far,” Kellogg said, “but thank God for Jordan Westerkamp.”

More best games

  • No. 10: Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 24
  • No. 9: Michigan 41, Notre Dame 30
  • No. 8: Arizona State 32, Wisconsin 30
  • No. 7: Ohio State 40, Northwestern 30
  • No. 6: Penn State 43, Michigan 40, 4 OT
  • No. 5: Michigan State 34, Ohio State 24

The loss of Avery Moss for the 2014 football season -- and possibly for good -- rates as a significant setback for Nebraska.

Moss has been banned from Nebraska campus for one year, he confirmed to the Omaha World-Herald, as a result of a 2012 incident in which he was charged with exposing himself to a campus convenience store worker. He pleaded no contest on Monday to one count of public indecency.

According to the newspaper report, Moss could appeal in December. If denied, he would face a four-year campus ban, which would eliminate his opportunity to play again at Nebraska.

As it stands, the chances appear less likely that he’ll continue his career in Lincoln. Moss would have to not only win the December appeal but also spend a year in limbo, delaying his football progress during a time in which he could spend in practice with another FBS program or play at a lower level.

Moss, as a redshirt freshman, displayed ability that would eventually make him a nice NFL prospect -- the caliber of talent that’s been in short supply on the Huskers’ defensive line since the 2009 departure of Ndamukong Suh.

Moss collected 36 tackles last season, including eight behind the line of scrimmage with 4.5 sacks.

The pairing of Moss with returning junior Randy Gregory, an All-Big Ten selection in his first year at Nebraska last fall, would have given the Huskers an experienced pair of ends next season on par with any duo at the school in the past decade.

With remade groups on the offensive line and in the secondary and a new full-time starter at quarterback, the front seven on defense must still serve as one of Nebraska’s top position groups.

So where do the Huskers turn without Moss?

Spring practice looms large for inexperienced, young ends Greg McMullen and A.J. Natter. The careers of upperclassmen Donovan Vestal and Walker Ashburn were cut short last year because of injuries. Beyond that, walk-ons dot the roster.

Gregory was a boon last season out of junior college. Maybe Joe Keels, the No. 4 juco defensive end prospect, can make a similar impact. And more than a week remains until signing day for Nebraska to win over another prospect to help at the position.

The Huskers have decent depth at the interior line spots and lots of manpower at linebacker. Might Nebraska tinker in the spring with an alignment similar to the 3-4 look that worked well for Wisconsin last season? If so, it would mark a departure from the norm for coach Bo Pelini.

Regardless, the loss of Moss looms large.
New Year’s Day is near, along with the end to long layoffs for No. 22 Georgia and Nebraska.

Mitch Sherman and David Ching come together for a final discussion on the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, set for Wednesday at noon ET on ESPN2:

How motivated is Georgia to win this game and why?

Ching: That's the big question entering this game, isn't it? It doesn't feel like either fan base is particularly jazzed about this matchup since these teams just played in a bowl a year ago. It wouldn't be a surprise if the teams deal with the same problem. Georgia seems like the more talented team here, but the coaches have to convince the Bulldogs that this is a game worth playing their best.

Sherman: I don’t expect motivation to be a problem for Nebraska. The Huskers don’t want their streak of nine-win seasons -- a point of much discussion and pride -- to end. A victory over an SEC opponent would serve as boost for Bo Pelini’s program and the Big Ten. Moreover, it has been a long, trying season in Lincoln; playing well in the Gator Bowl could change the narrative and allow the Huskers and their fans to focus on positives.

What do you expect out of the quarterback position?

Ching: Hutson Mason has the benefit of already making one start in a huge game. He started slowly against Georgia Tech in the regular-season finale, but helped the Bulldogs rally for a double-overtime win. Nebraska has a talented secondary that will test him, but I expect Mason to perform well. He has waited his turn behind Aaron Murray, but is well prepared to become a solid performer as a senior in 2014.

Sherman: We saw at the Big House in November that Tommy Armstrong has a knack for playing well under the spotlight. And for a redshirt freshman with seven starts under his belt, New Year’s Day is big. Armstrong is motivated. His linemen are healthier than at any point since late October. His receivers are healed up, and while Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa won’t surprise Georgia with their athleticism after last year, look for the Huskers to make plays in the passing game.

Who holds the edge when Nebraska has the football?

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley, Ahmad Christian
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia tailback Todd Gurley has been effective since returning for injury, rushing for six touchdowns in his last five games.
Ching: Probably Nebraska. I know the Huskers have struggled on offense for most of the season without Taylor Martinez, but Georgia's defense has only dominated against the least of its competition this season. I expect Nebraska to produce decent yardage and point totals against the Bulldogs, considering how half of their opponents this season generated at least 400 yards of offense and eight scored at least 30 points.

Sherman: If we’re answering based off the second half of the season, it’s Georgia, despite its defensive injuries and propensity to allow chunks of yardage. Offensively, Nebraska simply hit a wall after mid-October, with the exception of the Michigan State game. The Huskers didn’t once scored 30 points after all-conference guard Spencer Long went down on Oct. 12 at Purdue. Injuries are the wild card, though. Long remains out, but most of the others who missed time are back. If Nebraska creates some momentum early, it could top 400 yards for the first time in five games.

Who holds the edge when UGA has the football?

Ching: Georgia. The Huskers haven't defended the run particularly well -- they're 60th nationally at 161.2 yards per game -- and that doesn't bode well for stopping Todd Gurley after he's had a month to allow his injured ankle to heal. Nebraska's defense has been fairly average in every way, so even with someone other than Murray at the helm, I expect Georgia's high-scoring offense to keep rolling in Jacksonville.

Sherman: Season-long statistics don’t tell the whole story of this Nebraska defense. The Blackshirts are much improved from September, when they were trampled in the opening quarter by an FCS-level foe. Since Nov. 1, the Huskers rank among the top 20 defensive units nationally. They’re especially strong against the pass. And with time to prepare, Pelini will devise a scheme to test Mason. As for Gurley, well, he could pose a problem. The Huskers will miss defensive end Avery Moss. And Big Ten results so far this bowl season don’t bode well for Nebraska.

Concern, optimism abound for Nebraska

December, 24, 2013
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LINCOLN, Neb. – The lows were low, and the highs, well, they were nice.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and many observers of the past season in Nebraska football relish a November that featured road wins at Michigan and Penn State after a miraculous finish at Memorial Stadium to beat Northwestern.

Others dwell on the reality that 14 years have passed since the Huskers’ last conference title and 12 since Nebraska played in a BCS bowl game. More so than any time in the past decade, the feelings about Nebraska football range from hope to despair.

Here’s a sampling of both as we review 2013.

Three reasons for concern

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
AP Photo/Nati HarnikBo Pelini knows a bowl win over an SEC power will cure a lot of ills in the Nebraska program.
Is this Groundhog Day? A sense exists that Nebraska is living the same season on repeat. Bo Pelini inserts new characters and varies the schedule, but the results look the same. Here are Nebraska’s final records since 2008: 9-4, 10-4, 10-4, 9-4 and 10-4. This year, with a win, the Huskers can reach 9-4. Like Bill Murray’s character in the movie, some Nebraska fans grow more frustrated with each cycle, particularly as the Huskers’ relevance on a national level diminishes. Alongside those records, here are Nebraska’s final rankings in the AP poll since 2009: 14th, 20th, 24th and 25th. This year, the Huskers are unranked before the bowl game. Notice a trend?

Fundamental errors. The problems that plague Nebraska often come back to basics -- ball security, discipline, tackling. This year, Nebraska sits minus-12 in turnover margin, better than only three teams nationally. Since 2008, the Huskers rank 109th at minus-32. And the timing of the turnovers couldn’t have been much worse this year. Nebraska lost the football five times in its own territory against Michigan State, handing 24 points to the Spartans. It was a similar story against Iowa. When the Huskers held on to the football, they couldn’t take it away. Generally, this team -- like others before it -- failed to get out of its own way.

Communication, or lack thereof. For all the sensationalism that accompanied the final weeks of the regular season, as media speculation turned rampant over Pelini’s job status, the problems began -- and could have ended -- within the athletic-department offices in the north wing of Memorial Stadium. The policy of first-year athletic director Shawn Eichorst to withhold comment during the season would have worked just fine if Pelini knew where he stood. No one need a weekly assurance of the boss’ stance on matters in the program, but some kind of internal communication could have served to prevent matters from reaching the boiling point they hit on the day after Thanksgiving. Clearly, Pelini and Eichorst must find a better way to understand each other.

Three reasons for optimism

An infusion of young talent. Even the most Scrooge-like among those who follow the Huskers must admit they made important strides on defense this year. It happened primarily because of the maturing group of youngsters that arrived at Nebraska after a refocused recruiting effort took shape two years ago. That’s when the Huskers signed linebacker Michael Rose and defensive linemen Vincent Valentine and Avery Moss. The trio of redshirt freshman teamed with newcomer Randy Gregory to help form an imposing front seven that ought to have its moments of dominance next year. More than anything, they’re built for the Big Ten. Nebraska has appeared, in its 2013 and under-construction 2014 class, to further capitalize on that enhanced recruiting vision.

Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Johnny Stanton. In place of injured senior quarterback Taylor Martinez, Armstrong made his share of mistakes this year, committing nine turnovers in seven starts. He also led a game-winning drive at the Big House to complete a 5-0 beginning to his career. He lost to Michigan State, then aggravated an ankle injury and sat for the final seven quarters of the regular season. But we saw enough to know Armstrong has got the moxie and a few other special qualities that could help push the Huskers over the hump. Stanton, who redshirted this fall, reputedly possesses many of the same traits. Their athletic strengths are different, but both QBs are proven winners and strong leaders. Ought to make for a fun spring.

Consistency. Say all you want about the stagnant nature of Nebraska under Pelini, but he has brought winning ways back to Lincoln. With a victory in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl over Georgia, Pelini would become the seventh coach of a BCS conference program ever to win nine games or more in each of his first six seasons -- and the first to do it after inheriting a team with a losing record. His staff has remained largely intact. The offensive system under coordinator Tim Beck has taken firm hold. With healthy players, it would likely flourish. Pelini is unwavering in his approach toward the game, on an off the field, and his players appreciate his straightforwardness. Now, with just a little more patience …

Season report card: Nebraska

December, 20, 2013
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We continue our delivery of the regular-season report cards with Nebraska.

It was an odd year in Lincoln, shaped by injuries and controversy but growth and promise, and it ended with a fan base largely divided. For every member of Husker Nation ready to hand out passing grades, there’s another who saw it in just the opposite way.

So at the risk of just adding to the confusion, here it goes:

Offense: B-minus

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsAmeer Abdullah, who ran for 1,568 yards, was one of the bright spots for the Nebraska offense this year.
Considering the bevy of injuries on the offensive line and the loss of quarterback Taylor Martinez for all but one game in Big Ten play, Nebraska gets the benefit of the doubt. Its replacements played well enough to keep the Huskers in every game -- if not for the turnovers.

Oh, the turnovers. Nebraska lost the football 28 times, most in the Big Ten, and often turnovers came at the worst times. There’s likely not a team in the country that could have handled four fumbles and an interception against Michigan State better than the Huskers did on Nov. 16. But it was still a 13-point loss.

Before the injuries hit, the Huskers’ running game was a force. And I-back Ameer Abdullah still finished with 1,568 yards, arguably the best season by a Huskers back since 1997. Freshman QB Tommy Armstrong enjoyed some nice moments. Receivers Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa did their jobs well.

Nebraska badly missed a playmaker at tight end. But no one will soon forget the Ron Kellogg-to-Jordan Westerkamp Hail Mary that beat Northwestern, a play that single-handedly nudges this grade upward.

Defense: C

Remember the fourth quarter against Wyoming and the first 15 minutes against South Dakota State? Too much bad stuff happened to bump this grade past the point of average.

Sure, the Huskers were young. They needed time to grow into their roles. Why is that, though? How did Nebraska find itself, six years into the coach Bo Pelini regime, in a spot that required a rebuilding job? In year two or three, we’d understand more easily.

There was also debacle in Minneapolis as Minnesota rushed for 271 yards and basically punched the Blackshirts in the face.

Nebraska responded well late. It played a great defensive game in the win at Michigan and a good one to win at Penn State. Even against Iowa, despite losing 38-17, the defensive play was decent.

When factoring the promise for next year -- with emerging stars like Randy Gregory, Avery Moss and Michael Rose -- this defense is better than average. But production doesn’t always meet potential.

Special teams C-minus

Bell on kickoff returns and place-kicker Pat Smith, who was solid all year and hit a game-winning field goal in overtime at Penn State, prevented a failing grade here.

Just too many mistakes and lack of adjustments.

Nebraska averaged 3.04 yards per punt return -- better nationally than only Mississippi State and 1-11 Cal. More than that, the Huskers fumbled a pair of punt returns and erred too often on decisions in the return game.

Additionally, Michigan State converted a key fake field goal against the Huskers, and Pelini’s ill-advised decision to fake a punt against Iowa proved costly.

Overall: C-plus

Nebraska sits 8-4 as it prepares for the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl against Georgia, leaving it with a chance to again reach nine wins. A loss on New Year’s Day would mark Pelini’s first season with five defeats and make this the second Nebraska team not coached by Bill Callahan since 1968 to miss the nine-win benchmark. The absence of key players, youth on defense, turnovers and other mistakes factor in the Huskers’ overall grade. None of it weighs heavily enough to sink this team to great depths, yet Nebraska hasn’t done enough, either, to get far above the industry average.
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Departing receiver Quincy Enunwa, who often plays with the aggression of a defender, likes what he sees from the guys he practices with every day.

“I’m very excited about the defense,” Enunwa said.

[+] EnlargeIowa/Nebraska
Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY SportsCorey Cooper, Nebraska's leading tackler, will be back for the Cornhuskers' resurgent defense next season.
The TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Jan. 1 against Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla., marks the final chance for this defensive unit to display the improvement that has served as a highlight for the Huskers amid a rocky season. In December practices -- Nebraska returned to work last weekend -- the promise of a dominant defense next year ranks as a driving force.

Nebraska heads into the postseason ranked No. 36 in total defense, allowing 367 yards per game, and 37th in yards allowed per play at 5.22. In the same categories at the start of October, the Huskers sat 107th and 108th, respectively.

What happened?

“They’ve grown up a lot, matured,” senior defensive end Jason Ankrah said. “The maturity brought the confidence out of them.”

The turnaround started, according to Enunwa, after a team meeting that followed the slow defensive start.

“We told them that we knew what they can do,” Enunwa said, “and they responded. The past three, four games, they were leading the team. They were the ones who were picking us up.”

That should continue next season with the Huskers set to return their top five tacklers in 2014, led by safety Corey Cooper and linebacker David Santos. But Cooper, a senior next year, and the rising junior Santos are just two of many reasons for optimism on defense.

An overall infusion of youth and athleticism, which figures to continue next season, tops the list.

Start with defensive end Randy Gregory, who led the Big Ten with 9 sacks as a sophomore in his first season at Nebraska out of junior college. An offseason in Lincoln figures to turn Gregory from a first-team all-conference pick into an All-America caliber defender.

“He brings a kind of athleticism to the defense that we haven’t had here in a while,” Ankrah said.

But it’s more than Gregory that excites Enunwa and the Huskers.

Fellow bookend Avery Moss earned all-freshman honors in the Big Ten, as tabbed by ESPN.com, along with middle linebacker Michael Rose, who emerged as a leader in the second half of the season. Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Vincent Valentine showed promise, as did freshman linebackers Josh Banderas, Nathan Gerry and Jared Afalava.

Speedy outside linebacker Zaire Anderson returns as a senior. Throw in Courtney Love, the defensive scout team MVP, and Marcus Newby, both of who redshirted, and you’ve got a deep and versatile group of linebackers.

Up front, Kevin Maurice and Maliek Collins played as true freshmen this year. Commitments from junior college tackle Terrell Clinkscales and end Joe Keels show that the Huskers aren’t slowing in their bid to stockpile man power.

“We have a lot of guys with a lot of great ability,” returning defensive back Josh Mitchell said. “We’re losing the most in the secondary, so that’s just a piece of the puzzle we’re going to fill in.

“But I think we’re going to be very explosive and very fast.”

Cooper and Mitchell, who has played multiple spots, return in the secondary in addition to part-time starting safety Harvey Jackson and promising underclassmen LeRoy Alexander and Charles Jackson.

The Huskers lose top cornerbacks Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, easily the biggest shoes to fill. Both intercepted four passes this year.

Secondary coach Terry Joseph will likely shift a few bodies, and the Huskers could rely on redshirt freshman Boaz Joseph or little-used Auburn transfer Jonathan Rose to compete for time.

Regardless, the challenges look minimal in comparison to the hurdles cleared this year.

And this month -- and New Year’s Day -- should only help springboard the Cornhuskers into next season, Mitchell said.

“It’s going to give us a jump on next year,” he said. “Everyone’s going to remember their last couple practices. So whatever you learn now and whatever we can improve on now, it will carry over into the spring.”
Earlier today, we presented our All-Big Ten team. Now it's time to honor the top freshmen from 2013 with our Big Ten all-freshman team.

Here it is:

OFFENSE
QB: Christian Hackenberg, Penn State (captain)
RB: Corey Clement, Wisconsin
WR: DeAngelo Yancey, Purdue
WR: Jordan Westerkamp, Nebraska*
TE: Maxx Williams, Minnesota*
TE: Jake Butt, Michigan
OL: Dan Voltz, Wisconsin*
OL: Ben Lauer, Minnesota*
OL: Jack Conklin, Michigan State*
OL: Jacob Bailey, Indiana*
OL: Kyle Kalis, Michigan*

DEFENSE
DL: Joey Bosa, Ohio State (captain)
DL: Austin Johnson, Penn State*
DL: Avery Moss, Nebraska*
DL: Willie Henry, Michigan*
LB: Michael Rose, Nebraska*
LB: Nyeem Wartman, Penn State*
LB: T.J. Simmons, Indiana
DB: Sojourn Shelton, Wisconsin
DB: Desmond King, Iowa
DB: Tyvis Powell, Ohio State*
DB: Matthew Harris, Northwestern

SPECIALISTS
K: Michael Geiger, Michigan State
P: Cameron Johnston, Ohio State
All purpose: Dontre Wilson, Ohio State

* -- redshirt freshman

It was a pretty strong year for freshmen in the league, highlighted by Hackenberg and Bosa. Shelton was terrific as well. ... Tight end is a promising position for the future. Penn State's Adam Breneman just missed, but he looks like a future star. And Michigan State's Josiah Price had a big impact in the Big Ten title game. ... Nebraska's young defense could really turn into something special. We also considered defensive lineman Vincent Valentine and linebackers Jared Afalava, Nathan Gerry and Josh Banderas. ... It was also a good year for rookie QBs, as beyond Hackenberg there was Purdue's Danny Etling, Nebraska's Tommy Armstrong and Minnesota's Mitch Leidner. ... Ohio State's Wilson didn't have a true position, but he did a lot of things and was a good return man, so that's why he gets our all-purpose slot. ... Some others we considered included Penn State receiver Geno Lewis and linebacker Brandon Bell, Purdue offensive lineman Jason King and Indiana defensive lineman Ralphael Green.

B1G bowl opponent primer: Georgia

December, 13, 2013
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We’re examining the Big Ten bowl opponents this week. Time to take a look at Georgia, Nebraska’s repeat postseason foe in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.

TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl
Jacksonville, Fla., Jan. 1, noon ET, ESPN2
Nebraska (8-4) vs. Georgia (8-4)

Georgia Bulldogs

Coach: Mark Richt (13th season)
Record: 8-4, 5-3 SEC
Combined opponents’ record: 90-56
Common opponents: none
Leading passer: Aaron Murray, 225-347 (64.8 percent) for 3,975 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Murray is injured. In his place, Georgia looks to Hutson Mason, 46-71 (64.8) for 648 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Leading rusher: Todd Gurley, 144 carries for 903 yards in nine games (6.3 per carry) and 10 touchdowns.
Leading receiver: Chris Conley, 42 receptions for 605 yards (14.4 per catch) and four touchdowns.
Leading tackler: Linebacker Ramik Wilson, 72 solos and 56 assists, 11 tackles for loss, four sacks and seven quarterback hurries.

What to know: The Bulldogs fought injuries almost from the outset after a three-point, season-opening loss to Clemson. The low point came during the first three weeks of October, when Gurley, the sophomore tailback, missed time with an ankle injury as the Bulldogs snuck past Tennessee before losing to Missouri at home and at Vanderbilt. Since Gurley’s return, Georgia has won four of five games, losing only at Auburn on Ricardo Louis’ miraculous game-winning catch. Murray, the record-setting senior QB, went down with ACL tear against Kentucky, but Mason, a junior, stepped in nicely to throw two touchdowns against Georgia Tech. The receiving duo of Conley and Michael Bennett, both 6-foot-3 and back from midseason absences, will test the Nebraska secondary. It’s been an adventure for the Bulldogs on defense after replacing a talented, veteran group from a year ago. Eight opponents scored 30 points or more. Georgia was especially susceptible against strong aerial attacks and ranked last in the SEC in allowing 7.6 yards per passing attempt.

Key matchup: Gurley vs. Nebraska’s defensive front seven. As Nebraska gets healthy on offense and prepares to face a Georgia defensive unit that has struggled plenty this year, you might expect the Huskers to fare well in a shootout, especially with Murray on the sideline. Not probable. It didn’t work last year in the Capital One Bowl, won by Georgia 45-31 after a close 2 quarters. To succeed in Jacksonville, the Huskers likely need a strong defensive showing focused on Gurley, the bruising runner who finished strong with 122 yards and four scores against Georgia Tech. Nebraska was gouged on the ground by the likes of Wyoming, South Dakota State, Minnesota and Northwestern this year. Gurley is better than all of their backs. But the Huskers’ defensive front, notably first-year starters Randy Gregory, Vincent Valentine Avery Moss and Michael Rose, have shown rapid improvement and now rank as a strength of this team.
Michigan State visits Nebraska (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC-ESPN2) Saturday in a Big Ten Legends Division showdown. The winner owns the inside track to Indianapolis and the league title game. Statistics favor the Spartans and their No. 1-ranked defense, but the Huskers are 9-1 at home as a member of the Big Ten. And MSU is 0-7 all-time against Nebraska, including 0-2 as a division foe over the past two years.

[+] EnlargeConnor Cook
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsConnor Cook and the Michigan State offense will have to handle an imposing crowd and improving Nebraska defense.
1. With those numbers in mind, what makes these Spartans different?

Chantel Jennings: This defense is just going to give every team fits. I've been really impressed with Ameer Abdullah but he hasn't faced a front seven like Michigan State's. The pressure the Spartans get against the run game and on opposing quarterbacks just forces other teams into mistakes and poor decisions. They've allowed just 24 rushing first downs this season. The next closest defenses? Alabama and Louisville … with 46. Streaks are streaks, but I think the more impressive streak of note in this situation is that Michigan State has gone nine games without allowing an opponent to rush for more than 100 yards. That streak matters in this game way more than the fact that MSU is winless against Nebraska.

Mitch Sherman: While the Spartans haven’t exactly faced an elite offense this year -- save for perhaps Indiana, which scored 28 points on MSU -- don’t rank Nebraska among that group, either. The Huskers deserved consideration as a top-tier unit before quarterback Taylor Martinez went down, followed by both starting offensive guards and left tackle Jeremiah Sirles. This week, junior Mike Moudy, the replacement at right guard, is doubtful with a shoulder injury. Additionally, junior receiver Jamal Turner, who caught the winning touchdown in the final seconds last year at Michigan State, remains out with a hamstring injury. The Huskers have struggled recently to move the football against mediocre defenses, so this challenge could overwhelm Nebraska.

2. Nebraska is riding a wave of momentum after emotional victories over Northwestern and Michigan. Will it matter on Saturday?

Sherman: Much like a week ago at Michigan, it depends on how Nebraska starts. The Huskers arrived in Ann Arbor on a high and jumped to a quick 10-0 lead. The fast start helped neutralize the huge crowd and provided an extra shot of confidence for freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong and an injury-plagued offensive line. If Nebraska falls behind against Michigan State’s suffocating defense, the momentum will die in a hurry. But if the Huskers jump out, it might be the one-loss Spartans who have trouble handling the pressure.

Jennings: I totally agree with Mitch here. If Nebraska can get off to a really strong start, then that momentum can mean something. However, other teams have gotten off to good starts against MSU and it hasn't meant much. Michigan's first drive against Michigan State looked pretty solid (nine plays, 51 yards for a field goal). And then the rest of the game happened. But that game was played in Spartan Stadium and there's definitely something to be said for getting your fans in to the game. I think the Nebraska fans could affect the MSU offense more than it could affect the MSU defense, and even in a low scoring game, I think the experience of the Michigan State defense would find a way to win.

3. Connor Cook has brought stability to the MSU offense. How will he handle the environment in Lincoln?

Jennings: He's a confident kid and he told me earlier this season that he really doesn't get fazed by any of the external factors in those situations. I think the MSU offensive line has gotten better and better every game this season and those five guys are going to do everything they can to make sure Cook doesn't feel too much pressure. But getting to Cook will be the key here. The Nebraska defense is coming off a seven-sack performance against Michigan, but the MSU O-line has only allowed seven sacks all season.

Sherman: The Nebraska defense is making real strides this month. Confidence is growing as players improve at each level. Cook needs to keep an eye out for No. 44. Defensive end Randy Gregory sacked Devin Gardner three times last week, in something of a breakout game on the national level, but Gregory was well known to those who watch the Huskers closely. He's a force and will likely create problems for Cook and the Spartans. The sophomore quarterback would also be smart to watch out for fellow defensive end Avery Moss, plus blitzing safety Corey Cooper and cornerback Ciante Evans. And when the defense gets rolling, Memorial Stadium turns intimidating for a visiting QB.

4. So what must each team do to win?

Sherman: For Nebraska, it’s all about playing a clean game. The Huskers lost the turnover battle against Michigan and Northwestern. They lost important field position by failing to field a late first-half punt last week. And penalties killed a pair of late drives against the Wildcats. None of this can happen against the Spartans, who will make Nebraska pay for its mistakes. The Huskers might not need -- and likely won’t get -- a great deal of offensive production, but if the chance arrives to capitalize on a short field, they must cash in.

Jennings: I have a feeling this is going to be a relatively low-scoring game. So, each team is going to have to go for the big plays when it can. The MSU defense stacks the box and gets as much pressure on opposing quarterbacks as it can. The Nebraska offense will have to do is find a way to force MSU out of that game plan. If Armstrong can take some shots down field or Abdullah breaks out for a few big runs, then the Spartans won't be able to keep 10 guys up there. The same -- to a lesser degree -- is true of Cook and running back Jeremy Langford.

Planning for success: Nebraska

November, 14, 2013
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LINCOLN, Neb. -- The first two questions posed to Nebraska cornerback Ciante Evans during his turn this week at the Huskers’ news conference focused on the Michigan State defense.

Evans shrugged them off. He is concerned, you see, only with the Spartans’ offense.

[+] EnlargeZaire Anderson
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesLinebacker Zaire Anderson and the Cornhuskers defense have been much improved over the last two games.
But it’s an unavoidable topic as No. 16 Michigan State prepares to visit Lincoln on Saturday -- the nation’s No. 1-ranked defense is coming to Memorial Stadium. Listening to the buzz around this Legends Division showdown, you’d wonder if MSU fields an offensive unit.

Alas, it does. And while so much of the hype involves Pat Narduzzi’s swarming group, Evans and the Nebraska defense have hatched plans of their own. The Blackshirts, much improved over the past two weeks, figure if they play to their capabilities, Nebraska can match the vaunted Spartan D.

The Huskers have come of age as a defensive unit over the past two weeks against Northwestern and Michigan, allowing 251 yards per game. In its first seven games, opponents gouged Nebraska for 410 per game.

“The biggest thing is, we’re playing as 11 guys,” defensive coordinator John Papuchis said, “and we’re playing well together. We haven’t made very many mistakes. We’re communicating better. And when we’re all on the same page, we’re pretty good.

“I said it a long time ago, when we were struggling a little bit on defense, it wasn’t wholesale. It was usually one guy. That guy was different from play to play. But if we could ever find a way to clean that up, we’d be pretty good.”

At each level of its defense, improvement is evident. Defensive ends Randy Gregory and Avery Moss have developed into playmakers for Nebraska. Linebackers Michael Rose and Zaire Anderson are growing up fast.

In the secondary, Evans and fellow corner Stanley Jean-Baptiste remain consistent. Safety Corey Cooper has taken a step forward, especially in defending the run.

”The level of execution is increasing but really not to the level that I’m comfortable with yet,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “Our guys are getting better. They are playing harder, and they are gaining confidence.

“I think you can see, with the type of athletes that we have, that if we can play fast, we can be pretty good.”

More than the stats, Papuchis pointed to late-game situations against Northwestern and Michigan in which the Nebraska defense faced short fields after turnovers.

Both times, with the score tied, the Huskers forced field goals. Both times, the Nebraska offense came back to score winning touchdowns.

On Saturday, Papuchis said, the Huskers need to do more.

“We’re going to need some takeaways in this game,” he said.

Do it, and maybe then, they’ll start talking about the Nebraska defense.

What we learned: Week 10

November, 3, 2013
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LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska escaped Memorial Stadium with a 27-24 victory over Northwestern on Saturday. Here’s what we learned:

1. There’s some fight left in these Huskers: Moments existed on Saturday during which Nebraska, on both sides of the football, appeared to have cashed in its chips. The Huskers missed more than a dozen tackles on Northwestern’s opening possession, including about six on a third-down, 10-yard run by Kain Colter, and allowed touchdowns on three of four drives to start the game. Offensively, little went well in the second half until Jordan Westerkamp’s Hail Mary reception from Ron Kellogg III to win the game. But when Nebraska needed big plays, it made them on both sides. In this way, the Huskers remain a positive reflection of coach Bo Pelini, whose fight has never been questioned.

2. For better or worse, Nebraska is sticking behind quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr.: Pelini didn’t hesitate after the game when asked about his plan at QB as the Huskers move toward Michigan. Nebraska has decidedly moved away from senior Taylor Martinez to Armstrong and Kellogg. Even if Martinez gets healthy, Pelini appears set to stick with the inexperienced guys. Nebraska needs consistency at the position, a characteristic Martinez has not provided this season. Armstrong, who struggled in the passing game for a second consecutive start on Saturday, offers the promise of improvement. And apparently, he’s the future -- short-term and long.

3. The Blackshirts remain a mystery: Just when we thought we knew it all about the Nebraska defense after its dismal showing last week against Minnesota and a bad first quarter on Saturday, it stepped up big to contribute to this victory. Northwestern, hampered by injuries on the offensive side that grew worse in Lincoln, gained just 166 yards in the final three quarters and 104 after halftime. The Huskers largely contained Colter after his hot start. Defensive end Avery Moss scored on an interception return in the third quarter, when the Huskers needed a big play, and the defense stoned the Wildcats from the 1- and 3-yard lines to force a late field goal, allowing Westerkamp’s catch to win it.

Week 10 helmet stickers

November, 3, 2013
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LINCOLN, Neb. -- Top Nebraska performers on Saturday in the Huskers’ 27-24 win over Northwestern:

QB Ron Kellogg III and WR Jordan Westerkamp: No matter the outcome of this season or their careers at Nebraska, these two will forever be linked for the final play on Saturday. Kellogg's heave to from midfield toward the south end zone bounced off the hands of a Northwestern defender and straight to the redshirt freshman Westerkamp for a 49-yard touchdown. Kellogg earns extra praise for his management of the game-winning drive, which included a 16-yard connection with Ameer Abdullah on fourth-and-15.

RB Ameer Abdullah: Speaking of the junior, he shook a sore ankle to rush 24 times for 127 yards and caught three passes for 31 yards. His big catch on the final drive featured an extra effort to move the chains. Abdullah pushed his season rushing total to 1,108 yards, the first Husker to reach 1,000 yards in the first eight games of a season since Ahman Green in 1997. He's also the eighth player in Nebraska history to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.

DE Randy Gregory: Nebraska's high-impact sophomore made two plays that loomed large in the second half. Gregory crushed Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian on a third-quarter rush, forcing the interception taken back 25 yards for a score by Avery Moss. Later, after Northwestern reached the 1-yard line on second down in the final two minutes, Gregory made the second of two stops, hitting Kain Colter for a 2-yard loss, to keep the Wildcats out of the end zone.

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