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Huskers defense tough, except against big plays

(c) 1995 Copyright The News and Observer Publishing Co.
(c) 1995 Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (Oct 12, 1995 - 19:24 EDT) -- Nebraska safety Tony Veland knows the finger of criticism has to be pointed somewhere, even with the Cornhuskers undefeated and ranked No. 2. Right now, it is pointed at the Husker defense.

Through five games, Nebraska has allowed an average of 226.6 passing yards and 325 yards overall, 27th fewest in the country. But ask Nebraska players and secondary coach George Darlington what bugs them and they'll point to the big play.

Eight of the 12 touchdowns scored against Nebraska this season have come on pass plays. The average scoring throw against the Huskers covers 27.4 yards and half have been longer than 30 yards.

That is a concern for Darlington with the Big Eight's four best passing teams -- Colorado, Kansas State, Kansas and Oklahoma -- still on the schedule. Missouri (2-3), this Saturday's opponent, is sixth in the league with 133.4 passing yards per game.

"We think they're going to try and run it and keep the ball," said Jared Tomich, Nebraska's rush end who has a team-high four sacks. "We should be OK. By the time you get to the point you want, it's usually a bowl game. We'd like to get to that point a little earlier."

Darlington said good coverage depends on a good pass rush. Tomich said Nebraska has faced quarterbacks this season who throw quickly, usually on one- or two-step drops, which may be the reason Nebraska has 11 sacks this season compared with 15 through five games a year ago.

Opponents have hit 49 percent of their passes, and two teams, Michigan State and Arizona State, have thrown for 290 yards. Washington State rolled up 278 passing yards in Nebraska's last game Sept. 30.

"When you play a lot of man-to-man, there's a chance that someone is going to get beat," Veland said. "But that's why we practice. We just need to concentrate more."

Forgive the Huskers if they lose focus. Nebraska has taken only 2:10 to score and has trailed just once this season. The Huskers lead the nation in rushing (491.2 yards) and total offense (656.2 yards) and are second in scoring at 55 points per game.

"It's good to have an offense that puts that many points on the board, but think if we didn't have that offense," Veland said. "How much criticism would we be getting?"