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Husker defense finds its groove in second half


The Grand Island Independent
Posted Oct 25, 2008 @ 11:38 PM
Last update Oct 26, 2008 @ 01:22 AM


Settle down.

It was a simple message from Nebraska's defensive coaches to their players at halftime. It helped turn the tide against a fast-starting Baylor offense Saturday.

The Huskers limited Baylor to zero points and 116 yards in the second half en route to a 32-20 victory at Memorial Stadium.

"I go back to three big plays they had in the first half were our mistakes," Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said. "We told our guys, ’Make them execute. Make ’em block us. Make ’em execute the throwing game and we'll be just fine.'

"We really didn't make an adjustment," he said. "Our guys just settled down and started playing according to our concepts and our rules."

The Huskers (5-3, 2-2 Big 12) dictated the second half by stopping the Bears (3-5, 1-3) in short-yardage situations.

Baylor, which racked up 234 first-half yards en route to a 20-17 lead, was 1 yard from a two-score lead midway through the third quarter.

But on third down and goal from the 1-yard line, Zach Potter and Larry Asante stopped Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin for a 1-yard loss. Ben Parks then clanked a 19-yard field goal attempt off the left upright.

Nebraska answered with an 80-yard drive that started a 15-0 run to end the game.

"When it comes to executing, we knew that they would have a hard time running the ball right at us, and our guys responded and had a great goal-line stand at a key point in the game," Pelini said.

Juniors Asante and Colton Koehler provided more defensive highlights in the fourth quarter.

Asante sacked Griffin for a 4-yard loss on fourth down at the Husker 31 with 12:53 remaining, while Koehler hit Jay Finley for a 2-yard loss that produced a safety with 6:59 left.

"We didn't execute real well defensively in the first half, and we made some mistakes," Pelini said. "They came out in the second half with confidence and adjusted to all the different things, and they played a much better half. I was proud of how they responded in the second half."

Big plays propelled Baylor to a 20-17 halftime lead.

The Bears had three runs of 40 yards or more in the first quarter and a 35-yard pass play late in the second. Griffin, a true freshman who had 255 yards in offense (134 passing and 121 rushing), ran for 99 yards on five attempts in the opening 15 minutes.

"He was really fast, no doubt about it," Potter said. "You don't really have to get used to it, you just have to settle yourself down and play your technique and hone in on your skills."

Sophomore running back Jay Finley, who rushed for 88 yards, busted free for a 43-yard run to tie the game at 7 with 7 minutes, 3 seconds left in the first.

On Baylor's next possession, Griffin had a 40- and 47-yard run. The latter came on fourth down to give the Bears a 14-7 lead to cap a five-play, 96-yard drive late in the first.

After consecutive punts, Baylor was successful on a two-minute drill to take the halftime lead.

A Cody Glenn face mask penalty  --  the second personal foul against the Husker senior linebacker in the first half  --  and junior wide receiver Ernest Smith's 35-yard reception keyed the six-play, 80-yard drive.

Baylor led at the intermission despite starting three of its opening six drives inside the Bear 10-yard line. The Bears also stayed in the game despite going 0 for 10 on third-down conversions.

"We gave up too many big plays," Glenn said. "We can do a lot better job containing mobile quarterbacks in the future. But, I mean, we got the win. That's our main goal today.”

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