Word leaked Friday night throughout downtown Lincoln — and across cyberspace — that Nebraska defenders finally had their Blackshirts.
The coveted practice jerseys, longstanding symbols of starting status, had been awarded after Friday’s meetings.
“We worked hard. I thought we deserved them,” defensive end Pierre Allen said. “The coaches thought we deserved them.”
And after Saturday?
“We might not have them after this game,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said.
One guy who could shed some light on the subject wasn’t in any mood to discuss Blackshirts in the wake of No. 15 Nebraska’s 31-10 loss to Texas Tech.
“Quit worrying about the Blackshirts. Get over it,” coach Bo Pelini said. “We didn’t play well enough. It had nothing to do with Blackshirts or yellow shirts or white shirts, or whatever the hell it is.
“We got our butts kicked. It’s not about Blackshirts. It’s about executing on game day when we’re out there in red and white, and we didn’t do that.”
Statistically speaking, though, Nebraska shut down Texas Tech like few teams have.
The Red Raiders entered Saturday’s game ranked No. 2 nationally in passing offense (443 yards per game) and total offense (521). The Blackshirts held Tech to 234 passing yards and 259 total yards
What’s more, the last time Texas Tech had fewer than 260 total yards — and won — was in coach Mike Leach’s first game at the school, a victory over New Mexico in 2000.
“It’s a hard pill to swallow,” Nebraska secondary coach Marvin Sanders said. “But you’ve got to give them credit. They made the plays when they needed to.”
Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini declined post-game interviews, but Sanders confirmed that coaches awarded “12 or 13” Blackshirts on Friday, including to players in nickel and dime packages.
“It was a staff decision,” Sanders said. “We thought it was time.”
Sanders said the Blackshirt hoopla didn’t affect the defense’s mindset Saturday.
“Our guys have been businesslike all year,” he said. “And when we handed them out, I think that’s what they thought: ‘We’ve got a game ahead of us, and regardless of what we have on our backs, we have to perform on the field on Saturday.’”
Bottom line, though, is that Texas Tech scored 31 points, the most allowed by Nebraska this season.
Never mind that Nebraska’s offense accounted for one of Tech’s touchdowns.
“It happens. It’s football,” Allen said. “We just didn’t execute. We didn’t get it done as a whole.”
Suh: We didn't play up to Blackshirt level
Steven Sheffield, making his second start at quarterback, completed 23 of 32 passes and one touchdown, that coming on Tech’s opening drive. But Nebraska sacked him five times, including three times in the first quarter.
“Our pass rush was great,” Allen said. “We came with a different approach this week. We’re usually cautious pass rushers because we usually face quarterbacks who can get out of the pocket, but this week we just wanted to turn it loose, and that’s what we did.”
Nebraska, though, allowed Tech to convert on third-and-13 and third-and-17 on the Red Raiders’ 80-yard touchdown drive to open the game. Lyle Leong caught a 34-yard pass on the first conversion after cornerback Alfonzo Dennard got a hand on the deep pass, only to see Leong slip by and catch the deflection.
Sheffield connected with Detron Lewis for a 22-yard completion on the second conversion.
“He made a good throw but we were out of position,” Sanders said. “We were expecting that throw to be made and we allowed that guy to get outside of us.”
Sheffield’s longest completion was 58 yards, that coming when Lewis caught an out pass in front of the Nebraska bench, broke the grasp of Amukamara and darted another 35 yards. That set up a field goal with three seconds to go in the first half.
“We talked about it all week that they’re going to have some catches,” Sanders said, “but we’ve got to make our tackles in the open field.”
The Blackshirts held Tech to one first down in the third quarter. The Red Raiders, with the help of a 40-yard kickoff return, scored their last touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“I know early on we did some things that we weren’t proud of,” Sanders said, “but to watch how they battled back in that second half, I’d say that was a symbol of what we have the ability to do.”
Reach Brian Rosenthal at email@example.com or 473-7436.