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Published Sunday, September 9, 2001

NU awakens, conquers Irish
Big first half propels Huskers; Diedrick rushes for 133 yards, 2 TDs


Last modified at 12:46 a.m. on Sunday, September 9, 2001
  

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photo: HuskersHQ
Independent/Scott Kingsley
Nebraska's Wilson Thomas celebrates a tackle during first quarter action at Memorial Stadium.

By Bob Hamar
bhamar@theindependent.com

LINCOLN -- There were a few Notre Dame fans in Memorial Stadium Saturday night, but none of those Irish eyes were smiling.

Nos. 4 and 5 Nebraska blitzed the Irish for 17 first-quarter points and went on to a 27-10 victory over No. 17 Notre Dame before a record crowd of 78,117.

"Without question we were ready to play,'' Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. "Of course the opening drive, the opening quarter, that showed very well.''

Junior I-back Dahrran Diedrick led the Huskers (3-0) with 133 yards on 32 carries. Quarterback Eric Crouch gained 31 yards on 14 tries and completed 6 of 9 passes for 88 yards and a touchdown.

"We hadn't thrown the ball well throughout the course of the first two ball games,'' Solich said. "I thought Eric threw the ball well tonight. We were really pleased with that.''

The Huskers showed they were ready to play right from the opening kickoff. Nebraska took over on the 35 after a 33-yard kickoff return by Josh Davis.

Diedrick and Crouch did most of the damage on the drive, but Crouch also hit Tracey Wistrom with a 14-yard pass on a third and eight play for a first down on the 30.

Diedrick then went through a big hole on the right side of the line for 13 yards down to the 17. On the next play, fullback Judd Davies hammered up the middle for 11 yards for a first and goal on the 6.

An offsides penalty on Notre Dame moved the ball down to the 3. Diedrick got it down to the 2 on the next play, then scored from there to give Nebraska a 7-0 lead with 10:41 left in the first quarter.

"I think that the way we got down there and scored so quickly on the first drive really set the tone for the entire game,'' Diedrick said.

Notre Dame coach Bob Davie said his team wasn't prepared well at all.

"I know that early in the game adjusting to the speed of the game, not having played a game, I was worried about the first drive on defense,'' Davie said. "Nebraska takes it down and scores.''

Then it was the Blackshirts' turn to make a big play. On Notre Dame's first play from scrimmage, rush end Demoine Adams hit Terrance Howard behind the line forcing a fumble. Linebacker Jamie Burrow fell on the ball on the Notre Dame 22-yard line.

The Husker offense struck quickly from there. On the first play, Crouch found John Gibson in the right side of the end zone to give Nebraska a 14-0 lead with 10:19 left in the first quarter.

"I think getting off to a great start means a great deal in any football game,'' Solich said. "But the thing we stressed to them was that the game is four quarters. We could get off to a great start, it could be that they get off to a great start.''

The Huskers took advantage of a Notre Dame miscue to tack on another three points later in the quarter. The Irish faced a fourth down on Nebraska's 40 when Joey Hildbold dropped back to punt. The snap went way over Hildbold's head and bounced down inside the Irish 40-yard line.

Justin Smith finally picked up the ball on the 15 and got it down to the 8 before going down.

The Huskers tried three running plays but were unable to push it across the goal line. Sandro DeAngelis then kicked a 19-yard field goal for a 17-0 NU lead.

"We snap the ball over our punter's head and we are a team that last year I think had the best special teams in college football,'' Davie said. "It doesn't matter that it's a new snapper. It's no excuse.''

Notre Dame finally got something going in the second quarter when sophomore Carlyle Holiday took over at quarterback for sophomore Matt LoVecchio. Holiday, who was heavily recruited by Nebraska, carried three times for 20 yards and completed 2 of 3 passes for 9 yards as the Irish marched down to the Nebraska 7.

The drive stalled there and Nick Setta drilled a 29-yard field goal to put the Irish on the board with 6:57 left in the second quarter.

The Huskers struck back on their next possession. Davis set NU up in good field position with a 43-yard kickoff return all the way to the Notre Dame 49. The Huskers took nine plays from there to go 49 yards with Diedrick bursting through on a 3-yard TD run with 3:47 left in the half to give Nebraska a 24-3 lead.

Nebraska added another score before the half. After taking over on their own 49 with 2:03 left, Diedrick carried three straight times to get the ball down to the 38. Crouch then connected with Wistrom over the middle for a 14-yard gain down to the 24.

Solich said field position was key in the first half.

"I thought our defense controlled them so well in the first half that we had the field position we needed to put points on the board,'' he said. "I thought we did a pretty good job in special teams, which established field position for us.''

Solich said the offensive line played very well in the first half.

"It was obvious in the first half that they were really coming off the ball,'' Solich said. "The power plays were working. We were able to keep those drives alive with power-type plays and a few play-action passes.

"I was really disappointed when it was 17-0 and we had a couple of chances to maybe extend that lead and we did not get that done. I know that was disappointing to the team also, but we were able to overcome that.''

On the next play he hit Wistrom again for 20 yards down to the 4. That set up DeAngelis for a 24-yard field goal that gave NU a 27-3 lead at the half.

The Huskers dominated the first half in every category. NU had 112 yards rushing, including 87 by Diedrick, while Notre Dame had just 23. Crouch completed 6 of 8 passes in the first half for 88 yards while Holiday and LoVecchio combined to go 6 of 13 for just 20 yards.

"We needed to make sure we were able to execute,'' NU defensive coordinator Craig Bohl said. "We'd been practicing well, but I think our guys really stepped up to the plate tonight. We knew we were going to be challenged. There were times we were, and I thought our guys responded very well.''

Notre Dame dominated time of possession in the third quarter, but the Irish were unable to put any points on the board. Notre Dame, with Holiday at the controls, had a 10-play drive to open the half but only gained 13 yards and were forced to punt.

Nebraska picked up one first down, but also had to punt the ball back to the Irish. Notre Dame had the ball for nine more plays but again only moved to its own 42 before being forced to punt.

Notre Dame was set up in great field position to start the fourth quarter when Shane Walton broke through to block a Kyle Larson punt deep in Nebraska territory on the last play of the third quarter. Justin Smith fell on the ball on the NU 4.

The Irish took advantage of the opportunity. Three plays got the ball to about the half-yard line. On fourth down, Tony Fisher went around the left side for a touchdown to pull the Irish within 27-10 with 13:07 left in the game.

Those were the first second-half points the Blackshirts have given up this season.

The Huskers played things conservatively in the second half with just one pass attempt. Solich said with the big lead, that just seemed to be the thing to do.

"We probably didn't give our offense a real fair shake in the second half,'' Solich said. "With the lead we had, we were running the ball and trying to eat up some clock. The defense kept controlling the game. It just seemed to make sense not to try to get too fancy and too exotic and maybe turn the ball over quickly and let them have a quick score.''



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