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Published Sunday, September 9, 2001

No defensive letdown this time
Blackshirts maintain early cushion by dominating Irish


Last modified at 12:40 a.m. on Sunday, September 9, 2001
  

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  By Kevin Schuster
sportsdesk@theindependent.com

LINCOLN -- Nebraska junior cornerback DeJuan Groce remembers this road. The Huskers seize a 14-0 first-quarter lead. The pressure is on the defense to maintain it.

That's something Nebraska couldn't do at Oklahoma last season. However, it wasn't a problem Saturday night during a prime-time showdown with Notre Dame at Memorial Stadium.

The fifth- and fourth-ranked Huskers made sure the Irish eyes weren't smiling during their 2001 debut. The Blackshirts set the tone by forcing three turnovers in the first quarter, then continued to clamp down after halftime en route to a 27-10 victory.

"It was good that we got the 14 points real quick," said Groce, who recorded his second career interception to end Notre Dame's fourth drive. "But we went back to the Oklahoma game. We knew we couldn't have a letdown. We just wanted to execute our plays."

Oklahoma rattled off 31 unanswered points to stun the then top-ranked Huskers last October. The Blackshirts refused to allow an eerie déjà vu case.

"We were real fired up," Groce said. "Once we remembered the Oklahoma game, that kind of gave us a little more adrenaline to keep on going out there."

Nebraska let another two-touchdown lead slip away last year before it fell to the defending national champions. The Huskers blew a 14-point cushion at Notre Dame before they posted a 27-24 overtime victory.

"We just didn't want the same result from last year (at Oklahoma) or even the overtime," Groce said. "We didn't want none of that. We just wanted to come straight out and win."

Here's how Nebraska did that: Notre Dame was limited to 162 yards on 62 plays (2.6 average). The Irish rushed for just 43 yards.

"One thing the Blackshirts always take pride in is stopping the run," said middle linebacker Jamie Burrow, who paced Nebraska with a career-best 11 tackles. "We feel that there is no one in the country who can run on us if we come with our 'A' game, and we're playing the way we're capable of playing."

Nebraska has brought its 'A' rush defense in the opening three games. Defensive coordinator Craig Bohl's unit has allowed just 76 yards on 93 carries for a 0.8 yards per rush average.

"Coach Bohl, he does a good job telling us if something is moving, strike it," Nebraska senior left cornerback Keyuo Craver said. "As long as we keep up that mentality, we are going to be a good defense."

The Irish committed four miscues to push the Husker forced miscue total to eight on the young season.

Notre Dame didn't have a turnover problem in 2000. It set a NCAA record with just 0.73 turnovers per game. The Irish's eight turnovers a year ago tied a NCAA mark.

"The main focus was to get three turnovers," Groce said.

Notre Dame had to work for its points off the Blackshirts.

The Irish were limited to a 29-yard Nicholas Setta field goal with 6:57 left in the second quarter. That capped a 10-play, 64-yard drive.

Tony Fisher's 1-yard run with 13:07 to play completed a four-play, 4-yard drive that started when Notre Dame blocked a Kyle Larson punt.

"We were looking for a shutout," Burrow said. "But they're a great team, and we're happy with 27-10.



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