LINCOLN — Before the Nebraska defense forced three turnovers Saturday night against Miami, it had been 13 games since a Husker opponent had forked over the ball that many times.
NU defensive end Greg McMullen doesn’t want to wait that long again.
“The mentality is that we’ve got to keep it going,” McMullen said. “We don’t take our foot off the gas. We keep going. We don’t let up.
“We get one turnover, we want to go out there and get more. That’s what we did. That’s a great feeling.”
Nebraska broke out with the two interceptions and fumble recovery in the 41-31 win against Miami, with another interception negated by a penalty. The Husker defense had accounted for one turnover in the first three games, and that was a desperation pass by McNeese State that was intercepted as time ran out.
NU hadn’t forced three in a game since last September against South Dakota State, and it actually finished last season with four in its final seven games.
Husker defensive coordinator John Papuchis shrugged Saturday night when asked if there was any building frustration with the shortage of takeaways.
“You just keep playing — and keep playing hard and keep playing with as much technique and fundamentals as you can — and those things are going to happen,” he said.
Are there more to come?
Linebacker David Santos said the emphasis won’t change, but it won’t hurt to have some success.
“We see it as a positive,” Santos said. “We’ve got some things we need to get cleaned up defensively and offensively. We’re not where we need to be. But there were some bright spots with how we played, and we take that and work on it some more.”
The turnovers might have saved the Huskers (4-0) on a night the defense allowed 435 total yards — especially given their timing and location on the field.
» Santos’ interception was on a first-down play from the NU 28 in the first quarter after Miami had gained 52 yards on its previous four snaps.
» Miami had second-and-3 from the NU 47 in the third when Trevor Roach stripped the football from Duke Johnson and cornerback Josh Mitchell returned it 57 yards for a touchdown.
» Josh Kalu’s interception in the fourth stopped the Hurricanes’ drive from their own 25 to the NU 35 and protected a 34-24 lead.
“They definitely changed the momentum,” Husker defensive tackle Maliek Collins said. “We needed those stops and we came up with them, and gave the offense the ball back.”
Santos’ pick was an athletic, diving play after he had stayed inside tight end Clive Walford down the Miami sideline. “I used to play running back back in the day,” he said, grinning.
As for Roach’s strip of Johnson, Papuchis said the Huskers had been emphasizing “taking shots at the ball” recently. The Mitchell return gave Nebraska a 31-21 lead.
“That forced fumble couldn’t have come at a better time,” Santos said.
Said McMullen: “I was pretty excited when that happened. It made life a little bit easier for us and our offense.”
Papuchis said Nebraska changed coverages right before the snap on Kalu’s interception. The true freshman dropped into zone coverage, and was waiting for the Brad Kaaya pass on fourth-and-4.
NU safety Nathan Gerry had picked off Kaaya in the third quarter, too, but the interception was nullified when defensive tackle Vincent Valentine was called for roughing the passer. It was the Hurricanes’ second snap after Nebraska had kicked off following the Mitchell fumble return.
The opportunities, and conversions, were welcome after the takeaway drought early in the season.
“We weren’t really frustrated,” Gerry said. “We just kind of had it in the back of our head where we needed to step up as a defense and help out the offense. I felt like this was a great day for us as a defense to do that.”
Papuchis said the defense will take it.
“They were big plays, big swings in the game,” he said. “And that was the difference, in my opinion.”
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Video: Sam McKewon's postgame analysis
Video: Bo Pelini postgame press conference
Video: Ameer Abdullah postgame press conference
Video: David Santos postgame press conference
Video: Tommy Armstrong postgame press conference
Video: Alex Lewis postgame press conference