September 26, 2009

Huskers get much-needed win in 55-0 blowout

Nebraska needed something good to happen on Saturday.

While it wasn't perfect, the Huskers got exactly what they needed in a 55-0 drubbing of Louisiana-Lafayette to improve to 3-1 on the season heading into conference play.

After a sobering performance last week against Virginia Tech, junior quarterback Zac Lee rebounded nicely, completing 15-of-18 passes for 238 yards and a touchdown against the Ragin' Cajuns.

Defensively, Nebraska pitched its first shutout since 2006 (Troy), holding ULL to 222 yards of total offense while also forcing three turnovers, including an interception for a score.

There is definitely still plenty the Huskers need to improve upon before opening the Big 12 Conference schedule, but if nothing else, they left Saturday night's game with a much needed restored sense of self-confidence.

"I said on Tuesday I was pretty confident how our football team would respond," head coach Bo Pelini said. "I said they'd come out and play with passion and play with great effort and that's what happened. I love the attitude of this football team and how they came back after the trouble we had last week. I liked the way they came out. We didn't play perfect by any means, but we did some good things in all phases.

"Now the season starts. Right now. That's the way we look at it, that's the way I look at it. It's time to put the foot on the gas pedal and go because we have a long season ahead of us and a lot of challenges coming up."

For Lee, who had one of the worst games of his career last week against the Hokies, just getting back into a rhythm and making some plays in the passing game was exactly the shot in the arm he needed.

Though his final numbers were fairly pedestrian compared to most Big 12 quarterbacks, it was the way he managed the Huskers' offense and produced touchdowns instead of field goals that made the night so good.

Last week, Lee and NU's offense were heavily criticized for not getting the ball into the end zone once despite several trips to the red zone. On Saturday, he led the Huskers to touchdowns on five of their first eight drives.

In fact, he was so efficient that Pelini opted to take him out of the game with 6:51 remaining in the third quarter.

"That was important for me personally," Lee said. "After Virginia Tech, I made an effort to be sharp and get back on track and make sure I refocus myself."

Defensively, it was yet another stout performance, as Louisiana-Lafayette couldn't get any sort of consistency going offensively.

Along with keeping the Cajuns off the scoreboard, the Huskers forced three turnovers, highlighted by a 74-yard interception return for a touchdown by senior safety Larry Asante in the second quarter.

Additionally, redshirt freshman defensive end Cameron Meredith snapped ULL's streak of three straight games with allowing a sack when he brought down quarterback Chris Masson in the second quarter. All together, the Huskers finished with two sacks and six quarterback hurries.

Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said he was obviously pleased with the big plays his defense made throughout the game, but he was most satisfied with the effort the unit showed until the final snap to seal the deal.

"That was a huge point of ours, was to finish," he said. "We have to learn how to finish, and it looks like they're starting to get it. You can't take a play off - you worry about that after the game is over. While you're playing, you've got to approach each game with great focus, and tonight we did that. It was good to see."

Nebraska now has 12 days to build upon Saturday's performance before heading out to take on bitter conference rival Missouri in a nationally televised Thursday night showdown on Oct. 8.

The Huskers haven't won in Columbia since 2001, and they've lost by an average score of 41-18 in their past three trips.

The game will obviously carry major implications in the Big 12 North standings, and it very well could determine who represents the division against the South in the conference championship game.

Confidence will be crucial in a game like that, and the Huskers got a whole lot of that back on Saturday night.

"There was a lot of spark, a lot of determination," senior linebacker Phillip Dillard said. "I'm not saying that we haven't had that, but we had a big chip on our shoulder. We said regardless of what happens, we (would) came out and prepare the way that we have been and we weren't feeling sorry for ourselves, nobody was, and we came out there with determination that we were going to get the job done as a team.

"That's what this team's goal was and that's what we did."

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