Nebraska's D now wearing Blackshirts with pride


Nebraska's D now wearing Blackshirts with pride

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) At long last, Nebraska's defense turned in a Blackshirt-worthy performance.

Hard-to-please coach Bo Pelini said he actually thought the Cornhuskers were good enough against Northwestern the week before to merit the awarding of the iconic black practice jerseys traditionally worn by the team's defensive starters.

The players wouldn't accept them because they thought they could play still better - and they certainly did Saturday night in a 23-9 win over Michigan, holding the Wolverines to no touchdowns and 188 total yards. The win gave the No. 21 Huskers (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) a share of first place in the Legends Division with Michigan, but Nebraska owns the tiebreaker.

Afterward, defensive end Eric Martin met with reporters while modeling the Blackshirt that was hanging in his stall when the team entered the locker room after the game.

``I'm going to go home and sleep in it,'' he said.

``Blackshirts'' has long been known throughout college football as the alternate name for Nebraska's defense. It started in 1964 under coach Bob Devaney, who wanted to make it easier to identify his defensive players during practices.

Devaney sent an assistant coach to a sporting goods store to buy practice jerseys for the defense. Unable to get enough jerseys of one color to outfit the entire squad, the decision was made to give black ones to the first-string players.

The starters wear the black tops at practice and under their jerseys during games.

Devaney, Tom Osborne, Frank Solich and Bill Callahan would hand out the treasured tops before the season. Pelini waits until he believes his defensive starters have proved themselves worthy on the game field. One year it took until November.

It looked as though the defense might not get any Blackshirts this year after allowing 653 yards to UCLA the second game of the season and 498 yards, 371 rushing, in a 63-38 loss at Ohio State on Oct. 6.

Pelini thought the time was right after the Huskers held Northwestern to 301 total yards, shut down Kain Colter and forced 10 three-and-outs in a 29-28 victory.

But senior linebacker Will Compton, speaking on behalf of the defense, told Pelini to hold off.

``It shows the character of our kids and the type of standards that they have,'' Pelini said. ``They didn't want them last week. They said they hadn't earned them and we'll revisit it after the Michigan game. I think they earned them.''

So does defensive end Cameron Meredith.

``Ohio State was a tragedy,'' he said, ``and we had to prove ourselves before we got them. We said after this game, if we prove ourselves, we could wear the Blackshirts. They aren't just given out.''

The Huskers kept Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson under control until he left the game with an injury to his right elbow late in the first half. Robinson finished with 46 yards on 10 carries and was 6 of 11 passing for 55 yards.

Backup quarterback Russell Bellomy wilted when the Huskers turned up the pressure on him. He was sacked twice and intercepted three times. Michigan managed only 58 yards in the second half.

Redshirt freshman David Santos made a team-leading 10 tackles in his first start, and fellow linebackers Alonzo Whaley and Sean Fisher added eight and seven, respectively.

Ciante Evans and Martin had sacks, and the Huskers made a total of nine tackles for losses.

Because of the meltdowns against UCLA and Ohio State, Nebraska's season defensive statistics are modest. But the last two games the Huskers have given up and average of 137.5 yards rushing, 244 total and have allowed the opponent to convert just 10 of 35 third downs.

``It's come a long way,'' defensive coordinator John Papuchis said of his unit's progress since the Ohio State game. ``By no means is today perfect. That's the fun aspect of this job - coming to work and trying to get better.''

Quick Links

Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

USA Today Sports Images

Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

The Eastern Conference standings are so closely bunched as of today that the third-place Cleveland Cavaliers are only 1 1/2 games ahead of the sixth-place Philadelphia 76ers. With roughly a dozen games remaining for each NBA team, much can and likely will change over the next several weeks.

That is common for this time of the year, but a closer look suggests we could be in for some chaos in the final stretch. There are lopsided remaining schedules and impending personnel changes which could all contribute to one of the wildest regular season finishes in recent memory.

The Wizards are smack dab in the middle of the East playoff race and have their own circumstances to navigate. Let's take a team-by-team look at the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, knowing the top two seeds are all but locked up by the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics...


3. Cleveland Cavaliers (41-29, 12 games left)

Monday was a crazy day for the Cavaliers. First, they announced their head coach Tyronn Lue is taking a leave of absence to deal with an undiagnosed health issue. He will be replaced by associate head coach Larry Drew in the interim as he hopes to heal up before the playoffs.

Then, news broke they were getting Kevin Love back from a broken wrist after missing 21 games. Love returned to put up 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in a big win over the Milwaukee Bucks. 

The Cavaliers will be without their coach for an undefined period of time, but now have their second-best player back on the court. That makes their final part of the season extra fascinating.

The Cavs are the team to watch of this group. Even though this season has been filled with turmoil, they still have LeBron James. He and Love have helped form the core of the last three Eastern Conference champion teams. If they pick things up, it's not crazy to consider them among the favorites to get out of the East again.


4. Indiana Pacers (41-30, 11 games left)

The Pacers are mostly healthy as they only feature a slew of minor injuries to big men Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. But Indiana's remaining schedule is unusually tough and it could make the difference in where they end up.

With only 11 games remaining, the Pacers still have to play the first-place Toronto Raptors once and the Golden State Warriors twice. Six of their last eight games will be on the road. They also see the Heat, Pelicans, Nuggets and Clippers.

The Clippers are currently ninth in the West and battling to make the playoffs. The Pacers will play them twice.

Keep in mind the Wizards own the season series over Indiana and will have a playoff seeding tiebreaker if they end up with the same record. Also worth noting is the Pacers have been much better at home (24-13) than on the road (17-17) this season.


5. Washington Wizards (40-30, 12 games left)

Though the Wizards' schedule is finally letting up soon from the 13 straight playoff teams stretch they have had to endure dating back to February, they too have a tough road ahead. The Wizards still have to play the Spurs (twice), Rockets, Cavaliers, Celtics and Nuggets. Four of their last six games are on the road and they have three back-to-back sets in their final seven games.

That's brutal. They may not have to see the defending champions twice like Indiana does, but the Wizards don't exactly have it easy.

The Wizards will, however, get John Wall back at some point. The five-time All-Star is slowly but surely working his way back and could participate in a full practice by the end of the week. Ideally they will get some games under his belt before the playoffs, but any time an All-NBA player is coming back to your team it's a good thing.

The problem is that there is little room for error in the standings and head coach Scott Brooks will have to reinsert Wall into the lineup during a tough schedule and while Wall is on a minutes restriction. It will be a tricky task to balance his lineups. 


6. Philadelphia 76ers (39-30, 13 games left)

The Sixers may have the most ideal road ahead of these four teams, at least in terms of their schedule. They still have the Timberwolves, Nuggets, Cavs and Bucks. But none of those teams are the juggernauts that Golden State, Houston and Toronto are. And of their final 13 games, the Sixers will play nine against teams outside of the playoff picture.

Philly also does not have to reincorporate a major piece into their rotation, like the Cavs do with Love and the Wizards with Wall. Their biggest injury is to Markelle Fultz, the 2017 No. 1 overall pick. If he does return this season, it will likely be in a minimal role, at least to start.

What could work against the Sixers is their inexperience and recent struggles against good teams. The Sixers are relying on very young players who have never been here before to carry the way. And since Valentine's Day, Philly has just one win against a team above the .500 mark, when they beat the Cavs on March 1. During those 14 games since Feb. 14, they have beaten up on the bad teams but lost to the Wizards, Bucks, Pacers and Heat (twice), basically all the teams surrounding them in the standings. 

Philly also lost their season series against the Cavs and Pacers, tied with the Wizards and are down 2-1 against the Bucks with one game to go. They may go to the finish line without a playoff tiebreaker against all the teams they would want one against.

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Quick Links

Ryan Grant reportedly signing with Colts after failed physical with Ravens

USA Today Sports Images

Ryan Grant reportedly signing with Colts after failed physical with Ravens

It looks like Ryant Grant has found his new home, again.

After a failed physical with the Ravens, James Jones of NFL Network reports Grant plans to sign with the Colts.


Grant originally agreed to a four-year, $29 million deal with the Ravens, before the team pulled the offer citing an ankle injury that dated to the Redskins' final regular-season game, according to reports.

Baltimore eventually signed Michael Crabtree to a three-year deal, while Grant had visits with the Colts and Raiders.

His agent, Rocky Arceneaux, says Grant has been working out, running routes, and his ankle had been cleared by Dr. Robert Anderson in a second opinion.

In 2017 with the Redskins, he appeared in all 16 games, with 45 receptions for 573 yards and four touchdowns.