AMES, Iowa — He’d been knocked down, but that wasn’t enough to count Rickey Thenarse out.
Instead, the junior safety with a nose for big hits got up, ready to lay his own hard knock.
“I thought in my head, I got to make a fumble,” Thenarse said. “He wasn’t even looking at me. He was just running and hit the hole real hard, and I put my helmet right on the ball and at least 95 percent of the time it comes out when I do that.”
It came out this time. Thenarse’s fourth-quarter hit on Iowa State punt returner Devin McDowell provided the big blow to help Nebraska put away Iowa State 35-7.
Niles Paul recovered the fumble at the Iowa State 39-yard line and Nebraska was on its way to a game-clinching score.
Before winning the scramble for the ball, Paul said he actually helped knock an Iowa State blocker off Thenarse, freeing him to make a play.
When Thenarse got up, he saw McDowell running free.
“If I don’t get up, that dude scores, man,” Thenarse said. “I just know, being on special teams for three years, never give up. Because, most of my plays I make is when I get stopped or someone gets a good lick on me and I get back up and always make the play. Never give up.”
The play came at a critical juncture. Nebraska led 21-7 but had been unable to close the door on the Cyclones. The fumble recovery shut it.
Asked if a big hit like that hurt at all, Thenarse said: “No, it felt good. It felt good.”
It felt even better since Thenarse has been battling a shoulder injury, limiting his time at safety.
“That was my opportunity to show that I can still make those big hits,” he said.
It was one of two fumbles caused by the Huskers, who came into the game not having forced a turnover in the last three games. Nebraska had just recovered one fumble in the previous 13 games.
But Saturday, the Huskers recovered two. Before Thenarse’s big hit. Pierre Allen knocked the ball loose from a Cyclone at the Nebraska 26 late in the third quarter. Cornerback Armando Murillo scooped it up to stop an ISU drive.
A good day for the Husker defense in that regard. But Nebraska’s offense also couldn’t keep a grip on the ball, fumbling five times and losing three of them.
“We had given up a couple (fumbles), it was time for us to get one,” Husker coach Bo Pelini said. “Rickey laid the wood on that guy. We got a couple takeaways on defense but we also let at least one or two slip through our hands. We lost the turnover battle today. That’s an area we’ve been preaching and talking about and that’s an area we have to get fixed. And I mean both sides of the football.”
Swift still shining
For a while, it looked like a game of backyard catch between two seniors: Husker quarterback Joe Ganz and wide receiver Nate Swift.
Swift finished with eight catches for 112 yards and a touchdown, all coming in a busy first half.
On NU’s first scoring drive, Swift had three catches and one rush — totaling 64 yards. He finished the drive with a 19-yard TD catch in which he pinballed off an ISU defender and dove into the end zone.
“I just kind of tried to make someone miss,” Swift said. “I ended up going head-up with the guy. I just know I ended up looking straight ahead at the end zone, so I went and scored. Obviously, I got spun around a little bit. I was definitely seeing stars after that play but I’m just glad I got in the end zone.”
Swift is now just seven catches from tying Johnny Rodgers’ school career record for receptions. His performance Saturday also gave him 2,021 career yards, second only to Rodgers’ 2,479 yards.
Some added juice
Paul said he got fired up when Ganz went out twice as a wide receiver and did some blocking while NU direct-snapped the ball to running back Marlon Lucky.
“What got me juiced up was when they put Joey at receiver and let him go get a little crack at one of the safeties,” Paul said. “That juiced me up to know that Joe was going to put his body on the line for the team.”
This and that
The seven points allowed by NU are the fewest against a conference opponent since a 21-3 win against Kansas State in 2006. … NU’s first scoring drive was 92 yards, the longest of the season. … The 283 first-half passing yards by Ganz tie his career best for a half. He threw for that many in the second half against Kansas State last year. … Nebraska used two punters Saturday. Jake Wesch got the start but Dan Titchener also saw action. Wesch punted three times with an average of 35.3 yards. Titchener punted twice with an average of 39 yards.
Reach Brian Christopherson at 473-7439 or firstname.lastname@example.org.