LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska’s defense isn’t expecting the pickings to be quite so easy against Jake Locker.
The No. 8 Cornhuskers’ five interceptions against Idaho’s Nathan Enderle on Saturday injected them with a big dose of confidence as they prepare for this week’s game at Washington.
DeJon Gomes and Rickey Thenarse ran back their picks for touchdowns, and the boys up front recorded seven sacks a week after head coach Bo Pelini called the defense’s performance an “absolute embarrassment” in an easy win over Western Kentucky.
Locker bounced back from an opening loss at BYU to pass for 289 yards and four touchdowns in the Huskies’ 41-20 home win over Syracuse. Locker can strengthen his Heisman Trophy bid with another strong performance against the defensive-minded Huskers.
Nebraska (2-0) has had at least three interceptions in four of its past seven games, and defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said his defenders will be ready for Locker.
“We played Reesing, we played McCoy. We’ve played great quarterbacks a lot in the Big 12. I don’t rank ‘em,” he said.
The Huskers made Todd Reesing, Kansas’ all-time leading passer, look average in their meeting last year. Texas’ Colt McCoy was intercepted three times and sacked nine times in the Big 12 championship game.
Nebraska also had five interceptions last season against Oklahoma’s Landry Jones.
Secondary coach Marvin Sanders said Locker’s all-around ability makes him extremely dangerous.
“If you don’t keep him boxed in, he can hurt you with his feet as well,” Sanders said. “He’ll probably be the first guy taken in next year’s draft, so he’s a special player. We’re going to have to do some things.”
Locker countered Syracuse’s pressure by throwing quick passes and letting his receivers amass yards after the catch. Two of Jermaine Kearse’s career-high three touchdowns came on short throws he converted into big plays.
Nebraska brought pressure up the middle and caused Enderle to hurry his passes. Jared Crick had 2 1/2 sacks and fellow tackles Baker Steinkuhler had 1 1/2 and Terrence Moore one.
“We’re every bit the pass-rushing team we were a year ago,” Carl Pelini said, referring to the Ndamukong Suh-led defense that tied for second nationally in sacks.
The harried Enderle was intercepted by P.J. Smith, Anthony West and Alfonzo Dennard in addition to Gomes and Thenarse.
“I thought that was a pretty good quarterback,” Gomes said. “He just made bad decisions.”
Conspicuously absent in the pick parade was cornerback Prince Amukamara. He tipped the ball that Smith came down with and made seven tackles.
“We’re talented back there,” Carl Pelini said. “We’re experienced. They understand routes, and they understand opponents. They know how to match routes, and they know what’s coming. I want to be aggressive like that.”
Carl Pelini said he likes how his unit bounced back after that undistinguished effort against Western Kentucky. The Huskers will need to be at least as good, and probably better, against Locker and the Huskies (1-1).
Carl Pelini said the performance against the Vandals was timely.
“That was important to me, putting it together early in the season and not waiting until the fifth or sixth game like we did the last two years,” Pelini said. “That, to me, is a great step forward.”