Published Thursday, November 14, 2013 at 9:11 pm / Updated at 12:50 pm
FOOTBALL
NU defense stepping up after turnovers

LINCOLN — Jason Ankrah had just removed his helmet and met up with his defensive mates on the Nebraska sideline when he heard the Michigan Stadium roar last Saturday.

Ankrah glanced at the video board to see that the Huskers had fumbled the punt after a defensive stop, and Michigan was back in possession of the football.

Time to answer the bell, thought the NU senior defensive end, as a sideline meeting with defensive coordinator John Papuchis ended just moments after it started.

“It was, 'All right, let's go get 'em off the field,' and we echoed that down the line,” Ankrah said. “From the linemen to the linebackers to the secondary, we all got on the same page and just made sure that, no matter what, they weren't going to get in the end zone.”

At a different time this season, maybe some heads would have lowered or some shoulders might have slumped. The Nebraska defense often didn't need anything else dropped in its lap.

This time?

NU safety Corey Cooper said the defense actually fed off the crowd noise and the challenge, which included the Wolverines taking over at the Huskers' 26-yard line with 10:03 left in a 10-10 game.

And for the fifth time in the past six quarters, the Blackshirts refused to let a turnover break the team's back.

“Actually, it fires us up,” Cooper said. “Their crowd got loud, they picked up a little momentum, and we just know that's our time where we've got to step up and give our offense another chance.”

Derrick Green ran for 1 yard on first down before David Santos tackled the Michigan tailback for a 2-yard loss on second. After a 4-yard run by quarterback Devin Gardner, the Wolverines settled for a 40-yard field goal.

Nebraska then followed with its 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to win the game before a deflated crowd of 112,204.

“We just know if we keep giving our offense a chance, they're going to deliver for us,” Cooper said.

MORE BIG RED TODAY UPDATES
Want the latest Husker headlines delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for email alerts!

The maligned Husker defense has had a huge hand in the past two wins by getting NU out of tough situations after offensive or special teams mistakes.

Since halftime of the Northwestern game, Nebraska has allowed just 31 yards and one first down on the five possessions by the Wildcats and Wolverines after NU turnovers — 16 of the yards coming on one play.

The past three possessions have started in Husker territory. And the two where NU held Northwestern and Michigan to field goals were immediately followed by the game-winning drives.

“I think we're tougher, in terms of just the mindset that we take the field with,” Papuchis said. “I think we've grown up. There's a little bit of a maturation with those guys. Even when we're in bad situations, there's a confidence that we're going to go out there and get our job done.”

Nebraska hadn't always had the same kind of defensive stubbornness.

Northwestern had turned an NU interception almost immediately into a touchdown in a 21-point first half in that Nov. 2 game. The week before at Minnesota, the Gophers took a key midfield fumble and traveled inside the 10 before a field goal put them ahead 17-10.

“Sometimes you are going to give up points, let's face it,” NU cornerback Ciante Evans said. “We were fortunate that we haven't given up touchdowns. You've just got to continue to fight, regardless of the situation.”

If the NU defense felt its back against the wall against Michigan, it was nothing like the week before after an interception against Northwestern. The Wildcats took over at the Husker 7 with 2:25 to go in a 21-21 game.

Northwestern got to the 1 on first down, but Nebraska actually pushed it backward and the Wildcats settled for a 21-yard field goal with 1:20 left, setting up the Huskers' winning finish.

“I was proud of our guys in this past game just like I was proud of them against Northwestern,” Papuchis said, “in that there was a moment in that game where it didn't look real good.”

* * *

Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini after Thursday's practice:

Contact the writer: Rich Kaipust

rich.kaipust@owh.com    |   402-444-1042    |  

Rich Kaipust is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and some general assignment tasks, including the College World Series and U.S. Olympic Swim Trials.

PHOTO GALLERY AND VIDEO »

 

< >
SPOTLIGHT »
2013 college football preview
View our 2013 college football preview, a 26-page, three-part section filled with coverage of the Huskers, Big Ten conference and more.
Big Red Bowl Retrospective
See complete historical results, game recaps and photo coverage from the Nebraska Cornhuskers college football bowl game appearances, from the 1941 Rose Bowl up to today.
Big Ten football recruits
The World-Herald's Big Ten recruiting database contains every football recruit that signed with a Big Ten school from 2002 to 2011, complete with color-coded interactive map representations, player information, high-concentrations recruiting clusters and more.
Devaney Center timeline
Check out a World-Herald timeline to see the evolution of memorable moments at the Devaney Center, complete with photos, videos, memorable quotes and more.
Follow OWHbigred on Twitter
Looking for the latest Husker sports news from The Omaha World-Herald and Omaha.com? Follow us on Twitter!
Husker scholarship distribution chart
Want to see how many scholarships NU has invested at each position? Wondering how the Huskers have appropriated their offers by class? Check out our handy chart to look further into how Bo Pelini has built his team.
Husker Signing Day 2013
The World-Herald's top-notch coverage of the Nebraska football's class of 2013, complete with videos, photos, articles, live recruit interviews, interactive components and more.
Husker turnovers: A slippery slope
Bo Pelini has coached 68 games at Nebraska. When NUís turnover margin is positive or even, the Huskers are 35-2. When they lose the turnover battle, theyíre 13-18. Why hasnít Nebraska joined the nationís elite? More than anything, itís turnovers.
Interactive: Bo Pelini's contract
View an interactive PDF of Pelini's revised contract signed by the NU football coach, complete with brief summaries of the legalese and insight into the document's finer points.
Interactive: Darin Erstad's contract (2012)
View an interactive PDF of NU baseball coach Darin Erstad's contract released in August 2012, complete with brief summaries of the legalese and insight into the document's finer points.
Interactive: Tim Miles' contract
View an interactive PDF of Tim Miles' contract signed by the Nebraska men's basketball coach on May 4, 2012, complete with brief legal explanations, comparisons to other Big Ten coaches and more.
Omaha.com's Big Ten coverage
Delivering the best news coverage and analysis of the Big Ten Conference, from Omaha.com and other top news outlets from around country.
Husker Recruiting: Changes shrink NU's sphere of influence
For decades, the Great Plains represented fertile recruiting ground for Tom Osborne's football program. Restoring that lost tradition won't be easy.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
BRT ON TWITTER »
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT »
< >