LINCOLN — Nebraska’s Michael Rose-Ivey did what Wyoming players could not after teammate Kieron Williams’ interception Saturday, finally getting Williams to the ground after he’d scored on the 23-yard return of his third-quarter interception.
“He tackled me like a running back,” Williams said. “That was fun, though.”
Such zeal from the defense Saturday was understandable. Such celebrations on other turnovers might have spun out of past frustration.
The Huskers have finally swung to the right side of the turnover battle, at least for two games to start the season.
“It’s never fun talking about something that’s not going your way,” linebacker Josh Banderas said. “But it is nice finally — finally — having the ball roll our way.”
Nebraska is plus-seven in turnover margin after wins over Fresno State and Wyoming, tied with Ohio State for the national lead. NU, Ohio State and Cincinnati are tied for the most interceptions with seven. Five of NU’s came in Saturday’s second half.
“It’s awesome,” Banderas said. “Everyone’s screaming, everybody’s patting everybody on the butt. We’re all having a good time. It’s fun when it just keeps happening.”
The story of Nebraska and its turnover failures has been told over and over in recent seasons. The Huskers have ranked No. 100 or below in turnover margin three of the last four years. They’ve finished with more takeaways than giveaways just once since 2003.
A year ago, NU went minus-12 (27 turnovers, 15 takeaways) during a 6-7 campaign.
Besides reversing that ratio, the Huskers have turned five of their eight takeaways into touchdowns, and in two other cases they followed by trying to run out the clock in the final minutes.
“It was obviously something we needed to work on,” defensive end Ross Dzuris said. “We didn’t get the ball back for our offense very much. When we don’t do that, we can’t complain about the offense turning it over. We’ve got to make our own opportunities on defense.”
The turnovers helped spark a second-half flurry Saturday as Nebraska turned a 17-10 lead into a 52-17 win.
The Huskers swung field position after an Aaron Williams interception, and had Wyoming backed up to its own 10 when Kieron Williams snagged a pass that was tipped into the air by receiver Jake Maulhardt. Williams’ touchdown made it 24-10.
After going up 31-17, the Huskers scored in the fourth after a fumble recovery by Dzuris and interceptions by Nate Gerry and Chris Jones. Gerry would come up with another a few minutes later, pushing his career total to 11.
“Turnovers are contagious,” Gerry said, “and if we want to be an elite football team, if we want to make it until later in the year, we got to get more turnovers.”
The five interceptions were the most for NU since the Idaho game in 2010. With seven through two games, the Huskers are within three of their total for last season.
Gerry said it goes with a better understanding of the defense. Kieron Williams said defensive coordinator Mark Banker puts the Huskers in the right position, so it comes down to getting the football when it is there.
“It’s just fun to be able to make plays,” Williams said. “That’s why we were recruited, and that’s why we love to play the game.”
Oregon will be tougher this week. Big Ten opponents the following nine games will probably be more careful with the football, too.
But Dzuris said it’s not hard to see the energy boost and momentum changes when the turnovers come, so that focus will remain.
Maybe Rose-Ivey got a little carried away with Williams, but he said you saw what it could do Saturday.
“I mean, you look at that game, 17-10 … but when we started getting the ball, we looked pretty good,” he said. “Definitely, the defense getting our offense good field position, if they can put up points like that, shoot, that’s a fun day for a defense.”