Blackshirts emphasizing improvement vs. Tigers

Nebraska allowed a season-high 41 points last week.
Thursday, November 2, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:31 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 3, 2008

Missouri’s offense isn’t deceived by Nebraska’s poor defensive showing against Oklahoma State last week.

Despite the Cornhuskers giving up 41 points, including 28 unanswered to the Cowboys, the Tigers describe Nebraska’s Blackshirts as stingy with a skull-and-crossbones-type attitude.

“You think Nebraska, you think the Blackshirts and you think about the suffocating defense that they have,” Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel said.

The Blackshirts is a nickname given to defensive starters on Nebraska. The moniker dates back to 1964 when coach Bob Devaney sent assistant coach Mike Corgan to a local sports store for “contrast jerseys,” so coaches could tell the difference between defensive units. Starters were given black jerseys, and as the team became more successful throughout the ’80s and ’90s, the name Blackshirts came to represent Nebraska’s defense.

“It is just something they take a lot of pride in,” Missouri tight end Martin Rucker said. “They were great back then. It helped them win national championships. That’s what they were known as. I don’t know if it’s so much anymore that everybody calls them the Blackshirts and makes such a big deal about it now as they did back then.”

Rucker knows what it means to be a Blackshirt. His brother, Mike Rucker, played defensive line for the Cornhuskers from 1995-98 and helped the team win National Championships in 1995 and 1997. Mike Rucker is in his eighth year with the Carolina Panthers.

Nebraska knows it must improve and live up to the defense’s nickname against Missouri in a game that should determine the Big 12 Conference’s North Division champion.

“We got back to working, just emphasizing everything relative to team defense,” Nebraska coach Bill Callahan said. “The pass rush, just getting to the passer better, tackling better — you name it, we’ve got to get better at it.”

The 41 points the Cornhuskers gave up against Oklahoma State was the most by the team this season. The Cowboys gained 496 yards and often scored on long plays including a 45-yard reception by Adarius Bowman and 18- and 20-yard rushes by Dantrell Savage.

Injuries to linebackers could be one reason for the Nebraska’s

poor performance. Lance

Brandenburgh is playing with a cast on his right arm because of a wrist fracture, Corey McKeon has ankle and knee injuries, Steve Octavien has ankle and hamstring injuries, Clayton Sievers also has hamstring problems, while Phillip Dillard was lost to a season-ending knee injury in the first game of the season.

“You just have to execute better. We didn’t do that very well on Saturday,” McKeon said about compensating for the injuries. “Guys were jumping gaps, trying to make too many plays... As long as we play responsibility football, we should be fine.”

Despite the loss to Oklahoma State and a 22-20 loss to then-No. 5 Texas the week before, Brandenburgh said the defense still has the confidence in itself.

“We know how good a team we are and how good a team we can be,” Brandenburgh said. “Last week, we didn’t play like we know we can play. We’ve all forgotten about it and you can’t think about something like that when you have a huge game coming up like this.”

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