No. 9 Huskers’ defensive outing best in a decade

It might have been a first for the Brothers Pelini: Neither one
could find a nit to pick in ninth-ranked Nebraska’s defensive
performance against Kansas.

Granted, the Kansas offense the Blackshirts dominated in
Saturday’s 20-3 victory is the worst in the Big 12, that 35-point,
fourth-quarter outburst against Colorado a week earlier
notwithstanding.

It didn’t matter to defensive coordinator Carl Pelini, whose
charges held the Jayhawks to 87 total yards and five first
downs.

”I’ve never been involved in anything close to that,” Pelini
said. ”These days in college football, teams are hanging up 700
yards. So to hold a team to 200 or 300 is considered a good
defensive game. Holding a team to 87 yards is unbelievable.”

Coach Bo Pelini had said before the season that this year’s
defense could be better than the 2009 unit led by Associated Press
national player of the year Ndamukong Suh, Phillip Dillard and
Larry Asante.

Fans who have been waiting to see what Bo was talking about
finally saw it in the Huskers’ 10th game.

Jared Crick, the Big 12’s preseason defensive player of the
year, and Baker Steinkuhler led a big push up front that helped
produce six sacks of Quinn Mecham. Crick had nine tackles and two
sacks and Steinkuhler seven tackles.

Linebacker Lavonte David had 10 stops, including two sacks, for
his sixth double-digit tackle game. David forced Kansas punts with
big third-down tackles on four of Kansas’ first five
possessions.

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, playing for the first time since
sustaining a concussion Oct. 30 against Missouri, had his fourth
interception.

”I thought we had a good mix of blitz, four-man pressure,” Bo
Pelini said. ”Our guys executed and did what they were taught to
do. We covered well down on the field, and I thought we did a lot
of good things in that phase of the game.

”I didn’t see a guy out there defensively who didn’t play well.
You don’t hold somebody to that type of yardage without playing
well across the board.”

Of course, there’s a caveat.

”With that being said, I’m sure there are a lot of things we
could be better at and we could fix,” he said. ”There is always
room for improvement, trust me.”

But without looking at the film, Bo couldn’t put his finger on
one thing, and neither could his older brother.

Kansas’ 87 yards on 47 plays were the fewest by a Nebraska
opponent since Baylor managed just 84 yards on 56 plays in 2000. No
team had fewer first downs against the Huskers since Kansas had
four in 1997.

The Jayhawks’ yardage was their fewest since they gained 67
against Texas in 2001.

”It felt pretty good because our defense was just swarming
everywhere to the ball and trying to cause turnovers,” Dennard
said. ”Coach was talking before the game that he just wanted to
play a good, pressured defensive game, and that’s what it
was.”

Carl Pelini said he was most impressed with how the Huskers
reacted to new schemes the Jayhawks showed. Kansas employed several
different formations, had Mecham take snaps out of the pistol, ran
Brad McDougald out of the wildcat and used big personnel on spread
plays.

”Just like every week, it seems like people are throwing the
kitchen sink at us,” Pelini said. ”The guys are kind of used to
it now, knowing we’re not going to play on Saturday against the
offense we’re practicing against.”

The Huskers (9-1, 5-1) play at 18th-ranked Texas A&M (7-3,
4-2) this week. A win would lock up a second straight Big 12 North
title.

Carl Pelini said he hopes his defense builds off its performance
when it faces Ryan Tannehill and the No. 18 Aggies’ rejuvenated
offense. The rest will take care of itself, he said.

”You prepare and work hard and study your assignments and
technique and try to get better every day,” he said. ”It’s the
teams that start thinking about all that other (stuff) – bowl games
and BCS and conferences and all that – those are the teams that get
nipped, right?”