On This Day: 2002 Huskers Get a Strong Start
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

On This Day: 2002 Huskers Get a Strong Start, But Finish Weakly

August 24, 2017

Jammal Lord’s first touchdown pass as a Husker came early in the third quarter of a 48-10 victory against Arizona State at Memorial Stadium in the 2002 season-opener. The pass was to split end Wilson Thomas in the south end zone. Lord had to watch highlights to see it. He was knocked down as he released the ball. He knew what happened, though, because he heard the band playing.

The game was played on Aug. 24, the Black Coaches Association Classic. That was the last year in which NCAA rules allowed special (additional) games, although the BCA Classic was exempt for two more years because of a television contract with ESPN. The final BCA Classic was played in Landover, Maryland. USC defeated Virginia Tech 24-13 on Aug. 29, 2004.

Nebraska played in the first of the pre-season games on Aug. 29, 1983, defeating Penn State in the inaugural Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. It was the first major college football game to be played in August. The Huskers also played in Kickoff Classics in 1988 and 1994, as well as the Eddie Robinson Classic in 1998 and the Pigskin Classic in 2001, all in August.

The last Kickoff Classic was in 2002 because of the NCAA rule-change. Now it allows teams to do things such as open the season in Sydney, Australia, as Stanford and Rice will do this season on Aug. 26, although the game is included in the teams’ regular-season limit of 12.

The Huskers have played a dozen games in August total, most recently in 2014, when they defeated Florida Atlantic 55-7 on Aug. 30, but none earlier than the BCA Classic. Lord was starting for the first time, after backing up Eric Crouch for two seasons following a redshirt.

Consider the implications of replacing a Heisman Trophy winner who rarely came off the field, and an in-state athlete besides. It wasn’t easy for Lord, a junior from Bayonne, New Jersey.

His starting debut was a success, even though he completed only 5-of-13 passes for 33 yards, without an interception and the touchdown to Thomas. Nebraska won handily, and Lord was the game’s leading rusher, with 103 yards on 17 carries, an average of 6.1 yards per carry. On the Huskers’ first touchdown drive, 72 yards on nine plays in 4:20, Lord carried four times for 52 yards.

He was “going to be a little bit of a nightmare to control,” Coach Frank Solich said of the defensive problem the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Lord posed.

The Husker defense also stepped up and contributed to the lopsided victory. Demorrio Williams blocked a punt, which Scott Shanle returned 6 yards for a touchdown less than 2 minutes after Lord’s touchdown pass. Later, Lannie Hopkins blocked a punt, which Williams finally recovered and returned to the ASU 9-yard line to set up a touchdown by I-back Dahrran Diedrick. And Fabian Washington scored the game’s final touchdown, intercepting a pass and returning it 29 yards.

Nebraska’s team motto that season was “start strong, finish stronger.” The Huskers, ranked No. 10 in the Associated Press pre-season poll, won their first three games to move up to No. 8, but went 4-7 the rest of the way, beginning with a 40-7 loss at unranked Penn State in the fourth game and ending with a 27-23 loss against Eli Manning and Ole Miss in the Independence Bowl. It was Nebraska’s first non-winning season since 1961 and the first season it hadn’t finished in the rankings since 1968.

The 7-7 record wasn’t for lack of effort by Lord, who was, as Solich had predicted, a nightmare for defenses to control, and more than “a little bit.” He broke Husker single-season records for total offense (2,774) and rushing yards by a quarterback (1,412) in 2002. And he led them to a 10-3 record his senior season, finishing third all-time at Nebraska in total offense and 10th in rushing, regardless of position.

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