Published Thursday, November 14, 2013 at 9:11 pm / Updated at 12:50 pm
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.

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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    |   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.



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