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Published Sunday, April 15, 2007

New Blackshirts step up, play well

By Tony Chapman

LINCOLN -- The new Blackshirt experiment made its debut Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Joker included.

Nebraska defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove rolled out a new unit at the 57th Spring Game as the Red team -- made up of the No. 1 offensive and defensive units -- gave the White team fits, as they rolled to a 38-0 win.

The new Blackshirts came with a twist. Cosgrove played linebacker Steve Octavien as a pass rush specialist on third downs and he didn't disappoint. The lightning fast senior from Naples, Fla. led the Blackshirt defense with six tackles including two for a loss and a 13-yard sack.

"Did you like that?" Cosgrove asked one reporter after the game with a smile. "We are just looking for a player who can rush the passer and still cover. He can line up wherever he wants to and create a little havoc."

Most of the damage was done in the first half, as the teams played a scoreless, running clock second session.

The first half saw the Blackshirts dominate a White team that played Beau Davis and Patrick Witt at quarterback with converted defensive back Major Culbert and 17-year old freshman Marcus Mendoza handling the tailback duties.

The Whites managed a single first down -- via penalty -- and had minus-10 total yards, include a negative28 yards rushing as the Red marched up and down the field.

"I think we came out pretty well," said lineman Ndamukong Suh, who finished with four tackles, including three for losses. "We weren't on the field very much, but we made plays and got three-and-outs like we wanted to do.

"We still have some stuff to work on, but as a unit today we were pretty productive. We took a big step and showed we could play together."

Most pundits and message board junkies were anxious to see Suh and his defensive line mates. New defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt's group will replace all four starters; including sure-fire, first-day NFL draft picks Adam Carriker and Jay Moore.

Wyatt, who was on the White sideline during the game, said he liked what he got from the first unit.

"I thought we did some good things for just being vanilla," he said. "Guys made some plays, which is always good to see. We still have a ways to go, but I feel good about the direction we're going.

"But, they understand we've got a ways to go. We need to work to get better, work to get stronger in the weight room."

Wyatt was especially pleased with the play he got from Suh, who was named to the Big-12 All-Freshman team last year by The Sporting News.

"He's got a chance to be a really good player and leader for us," the first year coach said. "He works extremely hard on and off the field. (Football) means a lot to him; he wants to be successful. I really think he's going to be a good player for us."

The defensive line, which also includes new starters Zach Potter and Ty Steinkuhler, did little to disappoint the Spring Game crowd. The White team finished with just two first downs and nine yards of total offense and didn't have positive yardage until 9 minutes, 33 seconds remained in the game.

Wyatt even liked his new pass rusher, Octavien.

"I was on the other team so I didn't know they were going to do that," Wyatt said with a laugh. "That was a Coz move there. Steve is one of our more productive players on defense.

"We've got to put him in position to make plays. He's great rushing the quarterback."

Newcomer Larry Asante, a transfer from Coffeyville Community College in Kansas, also earned rave reviews from the defensive staff. Asante recorded two assisted tackles, but laid out many a White receiver attempting to cross the middle of the field.

"Larry likes football," Cosgrove said. "We are anxious to watch him when he's fully healthy and that's one of the reasons we kept him in there so long. We played our base defense today just to let the kids play and react to the football."

Wyatt, who arrived in December from Alabama, said his first April game experience in Lincoln makes him ready for the season a little early.

"This is second to none," Wyatt said. "I've been in a lot of places and at Nebraska the spring game is more like the real thing than any place I've ever been. The atmosphere was great."

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2007 Husker Schedule
09/01 Nevada @ Lincoln
09/08 Wake Forest @ Winston-Salem
09/15 Southern Cal @ Lincoln
09/22 Ball Sate @ Lincoln
09/29 #Iowa State @ Lincoln
10/06 #Missouri @ Columbia
10/13 #Oklahoma State @ Lincoln
10/20 #Texas A&M; @ Lincoln
10/27 #Texas @ Austin
11/03 #Kansas @ Lawrence
11/10 #Kansas State @ Lincoln
11/23* #Colorado @ Boulder
*or the 24th

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