Game Story: NU vs. Penn State Spet. 25, 2003
The aches and pains were already beginning to set in for Dan Vili Waldrop.
“I’ll be hurting tomorrow morning,” the senior offensive tackle said following Nebraska’s 18-10 victory against Penn State. “But it’ll be a good hurt,” he added.
Actually, the “good hurt” part should be attributed to Phil Peetz, a senior tight end.
Peetz always finds the positive in a situation, said Vili Waldrop.
“It’s a good hurt, Dan,” he told Vili Waldrop.
“So we’ll attribute that to Phil,” Vili Waldrop said.
Vili Waldrop, all 6-foot-5 and 350 pounds of him, was beginning to hurt because he and the rest of the offensive line had spent the evening pounding on Penn State defensive linemen.
The Cornhuskers ran 78 plays and 72 of the plays they ran were runs, nothing fancy, a majority between the tackles. “We just played Nebraska football,” is how Vili Waldrop put it.
“Our game plan was to pound it at ’em,” said sophomore tackle Richie Incognito. “We have a ball control offense. We really got after them. We definitely started wearing them down.”
Nebraska had a 19 1/2-minute advantage in time of possession, with more than 10 of that coming during the third quarter. Ah, the third quarter. It was vintage Cornhusker football.
One press box observer described the offensive assault as “four yards and a cloud of ground-up tire particles,” a reference to Memorial Stadium’s FieldTurf base. “We’re kind of playing to our strengths right now,” said Nebraska offensive coordinator and line coach Barney Cotton.
Even though Nebraska controlled the ball during the first half, it trailed at the intermission 10-9, a reflection of on-going red-zone problems, which saw the Cornhuskers get inside the Penn State 20-yard line three times but come away with only six points, on two David Dyches’ field goals.
Dyches kicked a third first-half field goal on a series that didn’t reach the red zone and added a fourth with 3:53 remaining for insurance that, as it turned out, Nebraska’s defense didn’t need. Though Coach Frank Solich was glad to have them, “we score way too many field goals,” he said.
What he was looking for was what the Cornhuskers did to open the second half. They drove 80 yards on 16 plays, to a touchdown — all of the plays were runs, including 10 by I-back Josh Davis, who finished with 179 yards on 32 carries. And the drive consumed 8 minutes and 12 seconds.
Quarterback Jammal Lord, who rushed for 100 yards on 20 carries, capped the drive with a 3-yard run. “We’re getting a pretty good production out of our running offense,” said Solich.
Plus, the production led to a reduction in offensive opportunity for Penn State. The Nittany Lions ran only five plays from scrimmage during the third quarter, 24 fewer than Nebraska for the game.
“That’s big,” Solich said. “We want to be able to continue to do that.”
The Cornhuskers also want to be able to throw the ball on occasion, something of which they didn’t do much against Penn State. Lord was 4-of-6 passing, with one interception. He threw only one pass in the second half, good for 12 yards and a first down to tight end Matt Herian.
The interception ended Nebraska’s second possession, on a second-and-12 at the Penn State 16-yard line, with wide receiver Ross Pilkington open in the end zone.
Lord also lost a fumble at his own 29-yard line to set up Penn State’s touchdown with 10:28 remaining in the first half. “In terms of taking care of the ball, it was not a good first half for Jammal,” said Solich. Had those problems continued, he might have turned to freshman Joe Dailey.
But “Joe did not have as good a week of practice as the previous week,” he said. Also, Dailey wasn’t feeling well the morning of the game, and a shoulder was bothering him.
The point was moot, anyway, because of Lord’s play in the second half.
Lord, as has been his custom, was quick to credit the offensive line: Vili Waldrop and Incognito, guards Mike Erickson and Jake Andersen and center Josh Sewell.
They all played nearly every snap, and certainly didn’t miss from weariness. Incognito went to the sideline briefly after taking a knee to the helmet. “We really got after them,” he said.
By the third quarter, and maybe even near the end of the first half, “they were starting to get on each other,” said Incognito. “What’s really satisfying is, we could feel the life getting sucked out of them.”
For the third consecutive game, Nebraska’s defense didn’t allow points in the second half and came up with big plays when they were needed, such as middle linebacker Barrett Ruud’s fumble recovery at the 50-yard line with the Cornhuskers clinging to a 15-10 lead and 6:49 remaining in the game.
Penn State had driven from its own 19-yard line to midfield, where it lined up first-and-10.
“I think he just dropped it, and it was lying under someone,” Ruud said of Penn State quarterback Zack Mills. “I just grabbed it. I had to dig it out and get the ref’s attention.”
The post-game statistics also credited Ruud with a team-high seven tackles.
He had to get a shot for a shoulder injury, “a little ding,” he said.
“It feels fine right now, but I’m sure it will hurt tomorrow.”
Everyone would be hurting the next day, to some degree. But no one was likely to be complaining. “I enjoyed that a lot,” said Vili Waldrop. “You can quote me on that.”
But he was willing to attribute the “good hurt” comment to Peetz.