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Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2002

Big 12 games this week:
SATURDAY

Nebraska at Oklahoma State, 11:30 a.m. (Fox Sports Net)

Texas A&M at Kansas, 1 p.m.

Baylor at Colorado, 2 p.m.

Iowa State at Oklahoma, 2:30 p.m. (ABC)

Texas at Kansas State, 6 p.m. (Fox Sports Net)

Missouri at Texas Tech, 6 p.m.

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KEN BLACKBIRD/Lincoln Journal Star
Freshman I-back David Horne (5) looks for running room. Horne gained 88 yards rushing Saturday.
MABRY COLUMN: Nebraska thriving behind its pair of 5's

I'm OK with this David Horne thing. Really Iam. He's pretty good. In fact, Ithink he's going to be really good.

He just needs a new number.

The Huskers can't have two guys -- one on each side of the ball -- flying up and down the field with a No. 5 on their jersey.

There are many other duplicate uniforms on the squad, but it's rare to find two of a numerical kind scoring touchdowns in the same game.

"It's like, dang, he's trying to take my deal," said the Huskers' other No. 5, DeJuan Groce, who really doesn't mind having a youngster Horne in on fiver fever.

One guy is a freshman. The other is a senior. One is from Ohio. The other is from Omaha.

They don't have a lot in common, except for the number and the minor fact that both could be vital to NU's fortunes the rest of the season.

Five is a great number. Iwore it when Iplayed baseball years ago because Iwas a left-handed hitter who idolized George Brett, one of the most famous No. 5s in all of sports.

You've got the Jackson 5. Party of Five. Speed Racer's Mach 5. Beethoven's Fifth. Hawaii Five-O.

Missouri fans know all about fifth down, and now the Tigers know all about the talents of DeJuan and David.

For Groce, it was simply a matter of doing what team captains do. He picked up his squad with a monster play that changed the game.

His 89-yard punt return midway through the third quarter was the clinching score in a game the Huskers had to win.

Groce caught Brock Harvey's punt at the Nebraska 11 before finding a big hole created by punt-team bullets Aaron Terpening and Pat Ricketts.

Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel knew at that point his coverage unit might be Swiss cheese.

"All of a sudden you're playing catch-up," Pinkel said, "and you don't do that against that guy."

Harvey made a gallant but futile attempt to corral Groce at the Missouri 42, slowing his man just enough to allow a few of his teammates to reenter the play.

Had it not been for the 30-yard escort provided by Ira Cooper, Groce might not have been able to escape the Tiger trio of Brandon Barnes, James Kinney and Marcus King.

But he did make it, allowing NU to take a 21-13 lead with his third punt-return touchdown of the season, one short of tying the NCAA record.

"There was just a big ol' hole right up the middle, and Itook a step up the middle,"Groce said. "And once Igot there, it was just all creativity, trying to beat the kicker."

The kicker? Do you really have to try to beat the kicker?

"It depends on the angle the kicker has and how far is he waiting for you. Some kickers will do a good job. Iknow (teammates) Josh Brown or Kyle Larson wouldn't let you go past."

The play was huge for many reasons. It came at a time when many Husker fans surely were wondering if NU was headed for what would have been the hardest home loss to stomach in many, many years.

It was a plop-plop-fizz-fizz of Alka-Seltzer for those wondering if this NUteam is the one destined to open the manhole to mediocrity.

"We don't want to be that team," Groce said.

Groce had extra incentive in the stands, where his mom (Debra), his dad (Warren) and his brother (Jemaul) watched during a rare visit to Memorial Stadium.

The Groce crew lives in Garfield Heights, Ohio, and only gets to a couple of Husker home games a year.

They picked a good one Saturday, another game that should go far in helping DeJuan continue his football career on Sundays next fall.

"If luck holds out," Warren Groce said, "and he stays healthy, and all the cards fall his way, that would be the greatest thing, that would be his dream."

The present feels a little like a dream for Horne, the former Omaha Central star who has skyrocketed to prominence in the Husker I-back picture.

The last time I heard the story, Ithink Horne was 43rd on the depth chart entering the season. Now he's No. 2 behind Dahrran Diedrick and could well be No. 1 before you know it.

Exaggeration or not, it's been a large leap for the young man.

"It's very surprising to me," he said. "I'm kind of shocked by it a little bit. It's like `Wham.'"

Horne entered the game Saturday in the middle of the Huskers' third drive. On his first play of the day, he made a great move to dodge Missouri linebacker Sean Doyle and picked up 13 yards with the blocking help of fullback Judd Davies.

Horne appears to find the path of least resistance better than any of NU's other backs. And you want speed? He's got speed.

"You see the spurt in him," said NUcenter John Garrison. "Iwas laying on the ground and the guy flew right by me. He had like a speed burst, like he was pushing some extra button or something."

The extra button produced a 30-yard run on NU's touchdown drive just before halftime.

Horne finished with 88 yards and his first college touchdown and might have just stolen the No. 1 spot from Diedrick.

Regardless of how the coaches see it, it's got to be neck-and-neck going into Saturday's game at Oklahoma State.

Horne said Diedrick, who had 61 yards against the Tigers, has been one of his biggest supporters.

"Whatever happens, he's all for it," Horne said.

If asked to start, Horne will be ready.

"If they call on me," he said, "I'm just going to have to be ready for that challenge to be No. 1."

Uh, David, that one's taken, too.

Reach John Mabry at 473-7320 or jmabry@journalstar.com.


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