Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh has waited an entire year for his chance at redemption.
Last season against Virginia Tech in Lincoln, Suh’s Cornhuskers were on the cusp of a massive comeback when the defensive tackle made the most costly mistake of his otherwise outstanding college career.
After pursuing Tyrod Taylor all the way across the field on a crucial third-down play with 4:08 remaining, Suh pounced on the elusive quarterback… three yards out of bounds. The hit looked like it could have been right out of a game of Twister, which is why coach Bo Pelini exploded on the side judge before the yellow hanky hit the ground.
If it wasn’t much of a shot on Taylor, it was the rally-halting blow for a Nebraska bunch that had cut an 18-point deficit to 28-23. Instead of fourth-and-2 from the Nebraska 35, the Hokies got a new set of downs at the Nebraska 11 after officials finished stepping off penalties against Suh and Pelini. Three plays later, Taylor’s 2-yard touchdown dive cemented Virginia Tech’s 35-30 victory.
“I don’t like to talk about that play, but let’s just say it’s one of the reasons I came back this year,” said Suh, who bypassed an early exit to the NFL to complete his degree and settle some scores. “I felt this team had unfinished business.”
At the top of the docket is Saturday’s game at Lane Stadium, where Suh and the 19th-ranked Cornhuskers (2-0) get a rematch with No. 13 Virginia Tech (1-1).
The rebuilding Cornhuskers feature a junior quarterback (Zac Lee) making his first road start, an uncharacteristically green set of linebackers and a halting ground game that isn’t going to make anyone forget Bob Devaney or Tom Osborne. In his second season as coach after successful stints as defensive coordinator at Nebraska, Oklahoma and LSU, Pelini is still cleaning up Bill Callahan’s mess.
But Nebraska does have a tremendous defensive line, featuring bookends Pierre Allen and Barry Turner and anchored by the 6-foot-4, 300-pound Suh.
“That front four now, they’re strong and big and powerful and they chase the football,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “I think Nebraska is back.”
Actually, the Cornhuskers have lost 19 of their past 20 games against teams in the top 20, but Pelini does seem to have them on the right track. Nebraska has won eight of its past nine games. And “Big Suh” is the kind of player around whom a defensive mastermind like Pelini can construct an entire scheme.
NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper has Suh fifth in his latest rankings, and nearly every mock draft has the disruptive senior first or second among defensive line prospects. What separates Suh from other tackles is his quickness. Guys like Alabama’s Terrence Cody (6-5, 365) are nearly impossible to uproot against the run, but Suh is far more versatile.
Not only did Suh lead the Cornhuskers in sacks (7.5) and tackles for loss (19) last season, he also led the team in tackles (76), an almost unheard-of feat for an interior lineman. And he recorded two interceptions, taking both back for touchdowns.
“He’s a beast, plain and simple,” Baylor coach Art Briles said.
Suh and the Cornhuskers haven’t been tested yet, recording blowout victories over Sun Belt foes Florida Atlantic (49-3) and Arkansas State (38-9). But they have been challenged. Pelini called his defenders “soft” after they failed to record a sack against Florida Atlantic, labeling Suh’s play “average at best.”
Suh, whose name is pronounced EN-dom-ah-ken and means “House of Spears” in his father’s native Cameroonian dialect, responded by elevating his play against Arkansas State (five tackles, three for loss, 1.5 sacks). He seconded the perfection Pelini demands.