The world was much different the first of four times Nebraska and Troy – still Troy State then – met on the football field. The game was played on Sept. 1, 2001, just 10 days, and one more Husker game, before the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.
Nothing more need be said, really, still . . .
Troy was playing its first game in NCAA Division I-A, while Nebraska was playing its second in what would be its final season of consistent national relevance. The Huskers would win nine more and climb to No. 2 in the rankings before the 62-36 loss at Colorado that symbolized their fall.
A month before the Colorado loss, Nebraska, then No. 3, defeated No. 2 Oklahoma at Memorial Stadium 20-10, symbolically the last hurrah for national relevance.
The Troy State game also was step two in quarterback Eric Crouch’s journey to Nebraska’s third Heisman Trophy, though it wasn’t necessarily a Heisman performance. Those would come later.
Crouch completed 8-of-15 passes, with one interception, for 109 yards and rushed for 48 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries that mid-70-degree afternoon. I-back Dahrran Diedrick carried the offensive load, rushing for 177 yards and three touchdowns, on 25 carries. And middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, a true freshman, came off the bench to lead the defense with 10 tackles.
He would be involved in 417 more tackles during his Husker career. He had been credited with five in a 21-7 victory against TCU in the Pigskin Classic the week before.
“When I first came in, I messed up a couple of times mentally because it was so fast-paced,” Ruud said after the Troy State victory. “As the game went on, I got the hang of it.”
Nebraska’s defense dominated. Troy State finished with a net of minus-25 yards rushing, as a result of eight sacks for 68 yards in losses. Back-up nosetackle Jon Clanton had one of the sacks, for a 15-yard loss, and returned a fumble 20 yards for the Huskers’ third touchdown.
Larry Blakeney, Troy State’s first-year head coach, began his post-game interview with: “My name is Larry Blakeney. I coach football. Sometimes better than other times.”
He would coach the Trojans through the 2014 season.
Blakeney was impressed with the Husker offense, which finished with 457 yards, including 330 rushing. “They know what they’re doing,” he said. “When Crouch is in there, they can do some magical things with the option, play-action pass, shotgun, just predetermined stuff for him. The guy is made of Kryptonite, I think . . . He is certainly a super player, along with a lot more of them.
“But the guy that makes them tick is Eric Crouch.”
Blakeney’s Trojans would visit Memorial Stadium the next two seasons as well as in 2006, against Coach Bill Callahan’s third, and best, team. The Huskers defeated Troy State 56-0. Marlon Lucky and Kenny Wilson each rushed for more than 100 yards – Lucky had 156 and three touchdowns on only 10 carries – and Zac Taylor completed 14-of-17 passes for 268 yards and a touchdown, with one interception. Taylor would be named the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year that season.
The Huskers would finish 9-5 and conference runners-up, losing to Oklahoma in the title game, 21-7.
After the 2001 game, Blakeney had said: “Nebraska is probably the best program in the world over the last 25 to 30 years if you average everything out and consider everything.”
He didn’t repeat himself on that count after the 2006 game. Times had changed.
Mike is in his 40th year covering Husker athletics, after seven years of community-college teaching. He has written and edited a dozen books, all on Nebraska football except one, a brief history of Husker basketball. He previously wrote for the Lincoln Journal and Star and Huskers Illustrated. He enjoys music, from the Grateful Dead and Jack Johnson to Van Morrison, Bob Wills, Glenn Miller and pretty much anyone else.