NU FOOTBALL: Alexander finds
BY STEVEN M. SIPPLE Lincoln Journal Star
Nebraska I-back Dan Alexander dutifully slipped into his visualization mode Friday night and quickly became alarmed at the sight.
The purpose of the mental exercise, of course, is for athletes to visualize themselves performing great feats. But Alexander closed his eyes and envisioned fumbles and stumbles.
"I quit after about five minutes," he said.
Alexander felt better vibes Saturday morning. And by late afternoon - after rushing for a career-high 208 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-13 win against San Jose State at Memorial Stadium - he could smile as he recounted his frightful Friday night.
"Sometimes I think that happens," he said. "Sometimes you really start to doubt yourself. You let other people get you down. But (Saturday) morning I was able to block all that out."
Alexander, a 6-foot, 245-pound senior, reached the 200-yard mark with a 56-yard touchdown sprint on top-ranked Nebraska's first series of the second half. He then retired to the bench for the day.
Alexander's previous best output was a 180-yard effort last November at Colorado.
"I think he's an amazing back," Nebraska Coach Frank Solich said.
Solich thought back to that game at Colorado, a 33-30 overtime win. He recalled his team wearing down late in the game. But not Alexander.
Alexander dazzled San Jose State on a 100-degree day.
"He just kept going and was as strong at the end as he was early in the game," Solich said. "He's a guy who's in great physical condition and he's just able to keep going.
"Today he took a lot of hits, gave out a lot of hits and had a lot of big runs. He did about all you could ask a back to do."
Alexander notched the sixth 100-yard rushing day of his college career, all of them occurring in the last nine games. He became the first Nebraska I-back to top the 200-yard mark since Ahman Green churned out 206 against Tennessee in the 1998 Orange Bowl.
Nebraska coaches have been saying Alexander is doing a better job of following his blocks, and he seems to be getting more mileage out of his stiff-arm. In short, he's running more like an I-back and less like a fullback.
Alexander said he felt nervous before Saturday's season opener. Nebraska won the coin toss and chose to receive. The Huskers, determined to put points on the board right away, turned to Alexander.
He rumbled 8 yards on a pitch to the left side. He powered 5 yards up the middle. Then 9 yards on an option pitch right. Then 5 more yards up the middle. Three plays later, he sped 39 yards to set up Nebraska's first touchdown.
The Huskers' line appeared in midseason form. The tone had been set.
Alexander reached the 100-yard mark on Nebraska's third drive.
Business was good, but it could have been better, Alexander said.
"Their cornerbacks were playing very soft - even their linebackers were playing soft," he said. "Instead of using my stiff-arm a lot more, I tried to lower my shoulder. Of course, they were (tackling me) low, and I was basically falling over on my face. Finally (I-backs) Coach (Dave) Gillespie got mad at me and told me to stop running them over - to stiff-arm them."
Gillespie, stationed in the press box, called Alexander on the sideline phone after his 56-yard TD run and told him he would play one more series.
"Then he called back and said, 'Well, we just checked your stats and you have 200 yards, so you're probably not going to play anymore,' " Alexander recalled.
Which was fine by him. He had his 200 yards. His backup, classmate Correll Buckhalter, piled up 117 yards, averaging 9.0 per carry. The option game clicked. The power game was potent. And neither fumbled.
In fact, Nebraska didn't fumble at all after losing 25 last season. Perhaps the Huskers put the issue to rest.
"It's gone, I hope, forever," Solich said.
The coach said Nebraska played well "in stretches." He opted for the bright side, and Alexander arguably sparkled the brightest on offense, though he kept talking about the scuff marks.
"I knew I'd be rusty," he said. "I knew I'd do some things wrong and make some mistakes, but I know I can grow from it. It's under my belt. I can say I had a 200-yard game, and that makes me happy."