September 14, 2008

Red zone stop highlights defense's new attitude

In a way, Nebraska's defense came into its own in a span of 14 plays.

Leading 35-0 late in the third quarter on Saturday, the Huskers allowed New Mexico State to march 67 yards down the field to their own 2-yard line. At that point, they could have easily decided to cut their losses and let the Aggies finish their drive off with a touchdown.

Instead, Nebraska opted to put an end to the drive completely - three different times.

Despite two pass interference penalties that gave New Mexico State two fresh sets of downs inside of NU's 10-yard line, the Huskers were able to stand their ground until junior safety Matt O'Hanlon ended the drive with an interception at the goal line.

After the game, players and coaches alike pointed to that defensive stand as a potential turning point for Nebraska's defense. For them, the determination and resiliency they showed in those 14 plays was exactly what they've been waiting for.

"It seems like they turn their motor up in the red zone," defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said. "That was a great series. I thought we came of age a little bit there. We had a great pass rush, we had them covered down and just kept moving them backwards. They kept getting chance after chance with the interference calls, and we kept coming. That was exciting to see."

Whether that stand will spark a new level of defensive performance of the rest of the season remains to be seen, but the Huskers say it was a testament to their character as a defense.

It wasn't as if the defense was perfect on Saturday, as the Aggies were able to put up 339 yards of total offense. But they were able to show an ability not only to make a big play when need it the most, but also that they won't give up no matter how grim the situation - which was one of the biggest criticisms of the unit under former coach Bill Callahan.

"The intensity level is great, the effort's great, and you didn't see that so early on last year during the season," senior defensive end [db]Zach Potter said. "We're not pointing fingers anymore. We're not saying what if. We're just going out there and playing ball and we're having fun doing it."

Potter said the Huskers' red zone stand on Saturday was a perfect example of how much the defense's attitude has changed from a year ago.

"It was a great stand for us defensively," Potter said. "We had our backs to the wall. I think you saw a lot of the guys grow up on that series. I mean we faced adversity last week, but not something like this where we had our backs to the wall. It was a great series for us."

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