On a day Nebraska wasn't its best on either side of the ball, it was the play of the Blackshirt defensive line that keyed a second half defensive effort that held San Jose State to just three points and 30 yards rushing after halftime in a 35-12 Nebraska win on Saturday.
Ndamukong Suh, Ty Steinkuhler, Zach Potter and Pierre Allen, playing for injured starter Barry Turner, combined for 25 tackles and six tackles for loss but their presence was felt more than in the stat column.
Suh, a 6-foot-4, 300 pounder recorded his second career interception and his first career touchdown when he snagged a tipped pass and raced 49 yards to the endzone in the first quarter.
Potter, not to be outdone after having tipped the pass Suh scored on, recorded his first career interception in the third quarter. Potter looked poised to score on the play before being brought down by a shoestring tackle.
"If Zach Potter had the speed of our defensive tackles he might have scored too," Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini quipped after the game.
The play of the Nebraska defensive line on Saturday was a sharp contrast to the more sedate "read and react" scheme utilized by former defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove the last four seasons.
Since his hiring last winter Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini promised a defense that would attack and control the line of scrimmage. In the second half, the fans got a glimpse of that promise.
After limited use of a what Carl Pelini called the "30 front" in the first half - with Steinkuhler playing over the center, Suh and Potter split wide as defensive ends and Allen working as standing rusher behind the defensive line - the Blackshirts found success with a three man front in the second half. The Huskers blitzed almost exclusively from the front when the Spartans went to an empty backfield with quarterback Kyle Reed in the shotgun.
"They did a good job of that and took their opportunities," Carl Pelini said of his defensive line. "A lot of times when we're in that 30 front we're rushing three guys but they were real patient and waited for the opportunities. And that's not always easy to do with a quarterback that can run like that because not only are you rushing the quarterback you have to be very careful to maintain your rush lanes so he doesn't scoot out on you."
Reed gained 45 yards on 10 carries in the first half but was bottled up after halftime for six yards on five carries. The Spartans also converted just 5-of-14 third downs and managed just 15 totals yards inside the red zone in the game.
Suh's touchdown in the first quarter put the Huskers up 14-6 with 4:26 to go in the half and the Spartans driving. Pelini, also Suh's position coach, said the touchdown was a nice gift for a defensive lineman but it was better for the team at a time in the game the Huskers' were struggling to hold on to the game's momentum.
"It was a team touchdown," Pelini said. "It doesn't matter to me. I love Suh and I love coaching him but it doesn't matter what position scores touchdowns. I just love touchdowns."
Suh said the last time he scored a touchdown was a fumble recovery in high school. Suh becomes what is believed to be just second 300-pounder to score a touchdown in Nebraska football history.
"They're huge," Suh said of defensive touchdowns. "That's one thing our coaches preach to us: If one unit is down, the other two units need to pick us up and make sure that we're carrying the load and give the offense a chance to get their own rhythm and they did. I think the offense last week took most of the toll and helped us out quite a bit last game. It's reversed roles with defense and special teams this game."
Linebacker Cody Glenn summed up the play of the Husker defensive line the best.
"They were some beasts today," said Glenn, who recorded four tackles on Saturday. "They played great and they made our jobs a lot easier."