7:00 PM ET, September 7, 2002
Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, NE), Lincoln, NE
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -- Three games into the post-Crouch era, Jammal Lord and the Nebraska Cornhuskers are showing steady improvement on offense.
Utah State quarterback Jose Fuentes is sacked by Nebraska's Barrett Ruud during the first half.
"There's been a big improvement,'' Lord said. "Everybody's starting to jell a little bit.''
DeJuan Groce intercepted two passes for the second straight week and Dahrran Diedrick ran for 93 yards for the Cornhuskers (3-0), who looked better than they did in lackluster wins over Arizona State and Troy State.
The 'Huskers, who barely topped 300 yards in the first two games, finished with 418 yards of offense on a night when they kept it simple, even by Nebraska's conservative standards.
It wasn't exactly an offensive outburst, but with a game at Penn State looming next weekend, the 'Huskers didn't need to do anything fancy to beat the Aggies (0-2).
"Even though we weren't putting a great number of points on the board in those first two games, they remained a pretty confident bunch,'' Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. "But this certainly had to build some confidence within them.''
The 'Huskers scored on six of their first eight possessions in the 250th consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium, which drew a record crowd of 78,186. Nebraska's previous high was 78,118 against Notre Dame last year.
Instead of relying on the option, the 'Huskers punched the ball up the middle and broke free on end runs.
Lord pitched the ball only once on the option and finished with 59 yards on nine carries. The first-year starter got a chance to work on his passing in three quarters of work.
His touchdown tosses were for 23 yards to Wilson Thomas and 33 yards to Matt Herian.
"I'm feeling really good right now. The line is doing great. If the line is doing great, I'm doing great,'' Lord said.
Kevin Curtis scored Utah State's only touchdown on a pass from Jose Fuentes. The play ended an 80-yard drive late in the first quarter, and it was the only time the Aggies moved the ball consistently until Nebraska started substituting midway through the second half.
Curtis had six catches for 102 yards and Fuentes was 16-for-38 for 214 yards with three interceptions. Fuentes was also sacked six times.
"They brought in a lot of pressure. I tried to move around, and it did not work,'' Fuentes said. "I didn't have much time.''
Good defense by Nebraska and shoddy punting by the Aggies quickly gave Nebraska the early lead with two short touchdown drives.
The first started at Utah State's 22 when the Aggies were called for interference on a punt return. Nebraska would have opened the drive at its own 35 after a 49-yard punt by Steve Mullins, but a holding call forced him to punt a second time. Judd Davies scored later on a 1-yard run.
The second short drive started when Mullins had to kick from deep in his end zone and Groce returned it 17 yards to the 23. Lord hit Thomas for a touchdown on the next play.
"We left them a short field, and they scored a lot of points,'' Utah State coach Mick Dennehy said.
Lord found a wide-open Herian over the middle for another TD on the first play of the second quarter, then Groce set up another touchdown with a leaping interception at the Utah State 38.
Lord ended that drive with a 1-yard run to make it 31-7 Nebraska. He added a 28-yard run near the end of the second quarter that gave Nebraska a 37-7 halftime lead.
"It felt good to have 37 on the board at halftime. It calms you down,'' Lord said. "You know you're going to win the game.''