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Slechta, Blackshirts make key plays at pivotal times
BY TODD HENRICHS Lincoln Journal Star
With Saturday's football game on the line, Nebraska defensive coordinator Craig Bohl "threw the kitchen sink" at Arnaz Battle.

And Jeremy Slechta made the play that kept NU's national title hopes from going down the drain.

"I was waiting for somebody to make a play on that deal," Bohl said after watching Notre Dame's quarterback dart for more than 100 yards against the Blackshirts. "Jeremy popped free and came up with the big play when we had to have it."

Slechta, a junior defensive tackle, sacked the elusive Battle with a shoestring tackle to force the field goal try in overtime that allowed top-ranked Nebraska to escape with a 27-24 victory at Notre Dame Stadium.

Unlike a week ago, the defense could in many ways take credit for the first road victory against a ranked team in Frank Solich's three years as head coach.

Only a week ago, questions surrounded the defense after San Jose State generated 346 yards of total offense against Nebraska. Running back Deonce Whitaker rushed for more than 100 yards, often running through would-be tacklers.

Battle was another test for the Huskers, who Bohl said had a better week of practice. Notre Dame, too, tried to line up and run at the Blackshirts, but had limited success.

Tailback Julius Jones ran for 52 yards on 15 carries. "I think we tackled better, but when you've got a quarterback like this and a running back like this, it's tough to bring them down," NU's Kyle Vanden Bosch said. "I think people will be having problems with these guys all year."

Linebackers Scott Shanle and Randy Stella seemed to gain the most from last week's experience. Shanle had a team-best seven tackles and Stella added six, including a crushing blind-side sack on Battle to begin the second half.

Stella, a junior from Omaha, said he was more disciplined this week with help from the Blackshirts.

"They made sure I had all my checks right," Stella said. "I wrapped up and made sure I did all the things I'm supposed to do."

Notre Dame was limited to 224 yards, 107 from Battle, who scrambled for 44 yards on one play. But Battle struggled throwing the football, completing just 3 of 15 passes for 40 yards. Joe Walker had NU's lone interception, but Blackshirts had a hand on his first three pass attempts.

NU's veterans stepped up in overtime, with Carlos Polk and Loran Kaiser making key tackles to set up the third-down play from the NU 4-yard line. Polk finished with six tackles and deflected the pass that Walker intercepted.

Slechta, who has been bothered by swelling in his knee this fall, called the sack his only big play of the game.

For Bohl, the most encouraging sign might be how his unit stood up under the weight of two kick returns for scores that ultimately forced the overtime.

"We had some young players out there and some of those guys have never been in that situation," he said. "But you saw some of our older players stand up and really make a statement on what Blackshirt defense is all about."

Reach Todd Henrichs at 473-7439 or thenrich@journalstar.com.

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