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

Stephen Strasburg makes history at the plate against Atlanta

USA Today

Stephen Strasburg makes history at the plate against Atlanta

Stephen Strasburg had the best hitting performance of his career against the Braves Thursday night, going 3-3 at the plate with two singles and a 420-foot three-run bomb. 

He didn't just set personal records but reached rare air in baseball history. He's the second pitcher ever with at least three hits, a HR, and five RBI since the DH debuted in 1973 and the fifth pitcher in the last 50 seasons to get two hits in an inning including a home run. 

Strasburg set franchise firsts with his performance, dating all the way back to the Expos. 

An extraordinary milestone for the Nationals' ace, hopefully Strasburg's performance will inspire the team during a crucial four-game series with Atlanta. 


Quick Links

‘The Redskins love Alabama guys’: Washington could run old draft playbook in 2020 to fill huge need

USA TODAY Sports Images

‘The Redskins love Alabama guys’: Washington could run old draft playbook in 2020 to fill huge need

Perhaps no position group on the Redskins has more questions or uncertainty than the wide receivers.

Josh Doctson enters the final year of his rookie contract, and has yet to record over 550 yards in any of his three professional seasons. Washington signed Paul Richardson to a five-year deal in 2018, but he just played in just seven games for the Burgundy and Gold in 2018 before having season-ending shoulder surgery. Second-year receiver Trey Quinn is expected to fill the role in the slot after Jamison Crowder departed for the New York Jets this offseason but has yet to prove anything on the NFL level. 

The Redskins addressed the position during the 2019 NFL Draft, selecting Terry McLaurin in the third round and Kelvin Harmon in the sixth round. But it's unclear how much either one will contribute to the Washington offense in 2019.

So, it's likely the Redskins will need to address the position during the 2020 NFL Draft, and probably very early on it. Well, this works in Washington's favor, because the 2020 wide receiver class is loaded. 

On a recent episode of the Redskins Talk podcast, J.P. Finlay and Pete Hailey spoke with NFL Draft expert Jordan Reid (no, not the Redskins' tight end) about the top wide receiver prospects heading into next year's draft, and which players the Redskins could potentially target.

Before diving into the top 2020 prospects, Reid gave an initial assessment of the current Redskins' receivers.

"The Redskins just don't have that headliner, top go-to guy," Reid said. "They were expecting Josh Doctson to be that when they did draft him in the first round of 2016. But he's had some injuries, and he's already come out and said he's looking forward to free agency. That just not something you want to hear."

Reid was high on McLaurin, though, the first receiver the Redskins selected in 2019.

"They drafted Terry McLaurin in the third round, I liked him a lot even going back to the Senior Bowl," he said. "I think he's going to have a really good year, not just as a receiver but the special teams phase as well. He's going to flash in a lot of ways."

As far as the 2020 draft wide receiver class, one school stands on top, and it's a school the Redskins are very familiar with: Alabama. The Redskins used their first-round picks in 2017 and 2018 on 'Bama guys and signed another Crimson Tide alumni this offseason in safety Landon Collins.

"We know the Redskins love Alabama guys, and there's a lot of [wide receivers] coming out this year," Reid said. "It's not just Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs is another guy that's getting a lot of steam. They're going to have the chance to get the receiver they want. This is a very special wide receiver class."

Crimson Tide receiver Jerry Jeudy is the consensus top receiver in next year's class, but Reid believes his speedy teammate could challenge him for that spot by season's end.

"With Ruggs, I think he's a bit more as far as polished a route runner [than Jeudy]," he said. "I think his hands are a bit better, and I wouldn't be shocked if he runs below a 4.3 at the combine. He can absolutely fly."

If the pair of Alabama receivers currently hold the top two spots for best wide receiver prospect, there's another guy who's right on their heels: Oklahoma's Ceedee Lamb.

"He reminds me a lot of DeAndre Hopkins coming out," Reid said on Lamb. "He's not a thick guy, but he plays much stronger than what he indicates. Very reliable hands, and his body control is out of this world. He had a one-handed catch against UCLA, it didn't count, but it's truly amazing."

As a true sophomore, Lamb totaled 1,158 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2018. Sure, it may have helped to have Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray under center, but Lamb has proven he's an elite talent.

Two other prospects Reid is keeping an eye on are Colorado's Laviska Shenault Jr. and Texas' Collin Johnson.

"He's not as polished as some of these other guys, but he's more of a do-it-all type of receiver," Reid said on Shenault Jr. 

Where Shenault may be a do-it-all receiver, Johnson plays to his 6'6 size.

"He's a really good route runner," Reid said on Johnson. "It's just a matter of how consistently can he separate, and how fast he is. If he goes to the Senior Bowl, I think he can light it up."

While many of these guys seem like sure-fire guys, there's still a full season of football to be played before the draft. Players will rise, but just as many, if not more, will fall off.

"You just have to let this play out, that's what happens with the draft process," Reid said. "Guys fall off, and then you have guys that come out of nowhere. Quinton Williams from last year is a prime example. He was a 270-pound defensive end at this time last year; we had no idea who he was and he ends up being the No. 3 overall selection."

But if everything plays out close to how it's expected to, this wide receiver draft class will be one to remember. 

"This class is special man," Reid said. "I think it's going to rival 2014, with Odell Beckham Jr., Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and all those guys, Jarvis Landry, Davante Adams too. It's going to be very similar to that. It's very special."