After going 7-7 in '02, Nebraska back on track with 4-0 record

But Solich doesn't want team getting complacent

National notebook

College Football

October 03, 2003|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Is Nebraska for real?

It's still a little early to tell, considering that the unbeaten Cornhuskers have played only one Big 12 opponent and the four teams they've faced are a collective 8-9. If anything, the good start has given embattled coach Frank Solich and his players some time to regroup after last season's 7-7 debacle.

Nebraska (4-0), which has moved up to 12th in the rankings after coming into the season unranked for the first time in 34 years, isn't taking tomorrow's game against Troy State lightly - not when the up-and-coming Alabama school beat Marshall, which had upset Kansas State.

But it might take awhile to get a true indication of what kind of season it will be in Lincoln.

"We have preached all along that we've got to be prepared every week," said Solich, who took a 49-16 record into his sixth season at Nebraska. "To be a successful football team, we cannot look down the road and get complacent. Up to this point, I think we have prepared like that on a daily basis."

Though there has been noticeable improvement by senior quarterback Jammal Lord, who has raised his completion rate from 47 to 55 percent, the focus has been on the defense. Under first-year coordinator Bo Pelini, Nebraska leads the nation in overall defense after being ranked 55th last season.

"Our guys have done a good job of being able to play with great enthusiasm," said Solich. "They've not had a lot of breakdowns. When you add those things together, you have a chance to play very, very good defense. Plus the fact that we're producing many more turnovers than we've had in past seasons."

The Cornhuskers have already forced 15 turnovers, compared with 21 all of last season. Pelini, who came to the Cornhuskers from the Green Bay Packers, is one of six new assistants on Solich's revamped staff. Pelini has brought a new attitude and some new, more aggressive schemes.

Pelini got the attention of his players during spring practice with his in-your-helmet style, but he got the attention of the rabid Husker Nation when he didn't hand out the coveted black shirts to the first team until three days before the opener.

"When you're playing good defense, it's team defense," said Pelini, who has already been mentioned as a possible candidate to replace John Mackovic at Arizona. "They're always going to put one or two guys out in the spotlight, and try to say they're the reason. It's a team game. If there are 10 guys handling their responsibilities, they're enabling those couple of guys to make the big plays."

In this case, the big plays are being made by linebackers Barrett Ruud and Demorrio Williams. Ruud, a junior, leads the Cornhuskers with 36 tackles, while Williams, a senior, has 35, including six for lost yardage. Williams is buying into Pelini's philosophy.

"If it wasn't the guys up front keeping linemen off of me, I feel like I wouldn't be making the plays," said Williams.

Irish need break

A week off might be the perfect remedy for Notre Dame, which has lost three straight after a season-opening overtime win at home against Washington State. Then again, considering the Irish's schedule, starting with next week's trip to Pittsburgh, it might just be a brief interruption from the agony.

Ty Willingham started 8-0 in his career in South Bend last season, but he has gone 3-6 since. Last year, it was the defense that fell apart down the stretch. This year, the offense has managed just four touchdowns in four games and defenses have teed off against a rebuilt offensive line.

"When you're 1-3, people look at the team different," Willingham said earlier this week. "But it's not so much the outside. It's the inside and how you feel about yourself."

Four of the five starters on last year's offensive line were drafted by the NFL, and the fifth, guard Sean Milligan, hasn't played in two weeks because of recurring back problems. Willingham also benched junior quarterback Carlyle Holiday in favor of freshman Brady Quinn.

Price update

Former Washington State coach Mike Price, who was fired before coaching his first game at Alabama this summer after allegedly lying about his involvement with a topless dancer, is expected to be at tomorrow's game in Pullman, Wash., against Arizona.

But it won't be on the Wildcats' sideline, even though the recently fired Mackovic said during his hasty departure from Tucson on Sunday that he was cleaning out his office "to make room for Mike Price."

Whether Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood, who hired Price at Washington State, considered making such a bold move seems to be moot now that his boss, university president Peter Likins, made it clear he wasn't going for the idea.

"It is correct that we will not consider [Price]," said Likins. "I don't want to condemn the man - I don't even know him - it's just that the cloud over him is not a cloud we can accept over us."

The Associated Press and other news organizations contributed to this article.

Three games to watch

Tennessee at Auburn: The seventh-ranked Vols are looking for their first 5-0 start since winning the national championship in 1998 but need to play better than they did in last week's overtime win over South Carolina. The 2-2 Tigers have been one of the biggest disappointments this season.

Michigan at Iowa: These 4-1 teams were both sloppy last week. The No. 9 Wolverines, coming off a loss at Oregon, committed four first-half turnovers before putting away Indiana. The No. 23 Hawkeyes fumbled three times in losing at Michigan State. Michigan wants payback after suffering its worst home loss in 35 years to Iowa last year in Ann Arbor.

Kansas State at Texas: The No. 16 Wildcats had a week to recover from their shocking home loss to Marshall, and quarterback Eli Roberson returns after missing a month with a broken bone in his hand. Behind quarterback Chance Mock, the 13th-ranked Longhorns took out their frustration from a home loss to Arkansas on Rice and Tulane.

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