BLACKSBURG, Va.— If people were looking for a big game to judge Roy Helu, they should be impressed by the Husker junior I-back’s statement Saturday.
He would have liked a better team result, no doubt. The 16-15 loss to Virginia Tech left the Huskers stinging as they walked to the team bus.
But Helu’s individual performance was a bright spot on a gray day for the Huskers, as he rushed for a career-high 169 yards. He also had 33 yards receiving.
“He ran well. He ran hard,” Husker coach Bo Pelini said. “There were some tough yards out there.”
Helu gashed the Hokies for big plays on several occasions, with four runs of more than 20 yards. He now has 14 runs of 20 yards or longer in the past eight games.
“You’ve got to love Roy,” Husker wide receiver Niles Paul said. “He played his hardest. He played like a warrior out there.”
After not seeing any action in the first two games, Husker senior Phillip Dillard got the start at WILL linebacker.
He played almost the entire game and finished with five tackles, including one for loss.
Dillard expressed confidence that this team would bounce back just like he has this fall.
“We’re still coming. We have no other choice,” Dillard said. “That’s what a real man does — keep going. Just like my name’s called, I had to be a man. I stepped up and had to come play for my teammates. We’ve just got to move on.”
Go for it?
Husker offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said coaches didn’t think about going for it on fourth-and-1 at the Virginia Tech 37-yard line with 1:51 left.
The Huskers were leading 15-10 and a first down would’ve sealed it. But coaches felt very good about the way the defense had been dominating.
“You don’t want to give them good field position,” Watson said. “(The defense) was holding them. And they weren’t getting much going. We were playing for a win.”
But Watson was disappointed his offense didn’t clinch the game on that series.
“You’ve got to get a first down. You’ve got to,” Watson said. “That was the purpose, to get one first down.”
The Hokies are glad to rid themselves of Ndamukong Suh.
The senior nose tackle had one of the best games of his career, recording eight tackles, including one for loss. He was also credited with half a sack.
But as impressive as anything were his four pass breakups, a record for a Husker defensive lineman.
It didn’t make Suh feel any better about the way the game ended. He said it was one of the toughest losses of his career.
“It reminds me of the Texas game in 2006,” Suh said. “We were that close and we just didn’t finish it.”
A kicker could not have a much busier day than junior Alex Henery did Saturday. He attempted five field goals and made them all, his longest being a 40-yarder to open the Huskers’ scoring.
He also had six punts, averaging 41.5 yards. He did shank one, but his first was a beauty. He fielded a bad snap, then avoided a rushing Hokie by running to his right. On the run, he launched a 76-yarder.
That kick tied as the fourth-longest punt in Husker history. The record is an 84-yarder by Sam Koch against Pittsburgh in 2005.
Dyrell Roberts broke Husker hearts at the end with his game-winning touchdown catch. But he also hurt Nebraska at the game’s start when he returned a kickoff from 5 yards deep in his end zone all the way to the NU 24.
Niles Paul returned the favor later in the first quarter when he returned a punt a career-long 55 yards to the Tech 22 to set up Nebraska’s first field goal.
Going away quote
Tech coach Frank Beamer offered plenty of praise for the Huskers.
“I think you give Nebraska credit,” he said. “People thought I was blowing smoke when I said they were back, but I think they are back. That is a tough way for those guys to lose, but I really believe they are back on course and are going to be a factor in the Big 12.”
This and that
Had Nebraska won, you would have had to go back to at least the World War II era to find the last time the Huskers won a game without scoring a touchdown. … The Huskers had passed for more than 200 yards in the previous 20 games until Saturday. Nebraska had 136. … The Huskers had four sacks, giving them seven for the season.