Try 1 month for 99¢

Nebraska's special teams came up with three plays that led to 12 points for the Huskers on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. 

This is a newsworthy sentence. Because Nebraska's special teams haven't been especially prone to helping their own squad get on the scoreboard this year. Opponents? Yes. Putting the NU offense or defense in a tough spot? Yes.

And it wasn't perfect again, but for one of the few times this season, Nebraska's third unit wasn't a liability in a 54-35 win.

"About time," NU coach Scott Frost said. "We still have a long ways to go on special teams. As our team's depth improves and we add to the talent that we already have and that improves, it's going to keep getting better."

Yes, part of Nebraska's success was due to Illinois' inability to hang on to a punt, and on one case, the Illini's refusal to simply fall on the ball while it caromed down the field.

But there were Huskers in position to make plays, and in many ways, that was an improvement.

"It's nice and it was a fun time, even in general, just to have the opportunity to affect the outcome of the game," long snapper Chase Urbach said. "So anytime we get that chance is always a good thing."

Urbach came up with the first big play of the day when he got to the ground and ripped the ball away from Illinois return man Carlos Sandy after Sandy had muffed an Isaac Armstrong punt.

Installed at long snapper in large part because of his ability to cover down the field, Urbach's play gave Nebraska the first break in a game that had seen the teams trade touchdowns on the first five possessions.

"I thought the guys were assignment-sound today and opportunistic, and again, they gave us a couple gifts," Frost said. "But our guys were there to take advantage of them and we need to start, like every other facet of our team, we need to start having some success in those areas and building on it so we can start to build."

Later in the second quarter, a new Illinois punt returner, Jordan Holmes, muffed yet another Armstrong punt. Jeramiah Stovall, who has turned into a special-teams demon over the past few weeks, pounced on the ball to give NU possession at the Illinois 7-yard line, and Adrian Martinez found Jack Stoll for a touchdown with three seconds left on the clock to put the Huskers up 38-21 going into the locker room.

"That group is taking so much more pride in that than they've had in the past," senior captain Mick Stoltenberg said. "They have guys like Stovall, that's all he does, and he doesn't care. He gets to go out there and run into someone at full speed, and he gets super-excited about it.

"That group, they've really been working a lot harder and taking a lot more pride in that deal."

The final blow came early in the fourth quarter when Marquel Dismuke broke through the middle to block an Illinois punt and give the Huskers two more points with a safety. Had Tony Butler been able to corral the loose ball a second sooner, the Huskers would've had another touchdown on the board.

"Special teams showed up today. It was big to see. It was fun because the coaches are always talking about how we need to be making more plays on special teams and things like that," running back Devine Ozigbo said. "So to see them do that was great. It definitely makes the offense easier. You're starting with 40 yards to go, the whole playbook is open, and you can be very offensive and not have to worry about being backed up because you can just attack."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7436 or cbasnett@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.

0
0
0
0
0

Husker basketball reporter

A Ravenna native, Chris covers the University of Nebraska men's basketball team and assists with football coverage. He spent nearly 10 years covering sports at the Kearney Hub and nearly four years at the Springfield News-Leader in Springfield, Mo.

Load comments