All throughout the spring and summer, the Cornhuskers heard the rumblings. On campus, at grocery stores, in coffee shops, the players overheard fans wondering if the Nebraska program has, like a house with termites, fallen into decay. It's a fair question to ask after the Cornhuskers' season-ending defeats to Colorado (62-36) and Miami (37-14 in the Rose Bowl), two lopsided losses that overshadowed an 11-2 record and an appearance in the national tide game. "Losing those games," says senior running back Dahrran Diedrick, "was like getting stabbed."
Whether the Cornhuskers fully recover depends on the play of 6'3" junior quarterback Jammal Lord, who over the last two seasons has rushed 50 times and thrown 24 passes as Eric Crouch's backup. The fleet Lord traveled an unlikely path to Lincoln. While growing up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, he started playing football as a 10-year-old on a dirt lot strewn with rocks and glass shards. After Lord's family moved to Bayonne, N.J., he developed into a strong-armed option quarterback. "We're still going to be a running team, but we'll be more well-rounded," says coach Frank Solich. " Jammal is like [former Huskers quarterbacks] Tommie Frazier and Scott Frost in that he's very confident."
Under almost as much scrutiny as Lord will be third-year defensive coordinator Craig Bohl. In both losses last season the defense was a step too slow, and to help offset that deficiency, Bohl will employ more zone coverage than in years past Two speedy newcomers—linebacker Demorrio Williams, a junior college transfer, and freshman cornerback Fabian Washington—are being counted on to make an immediate impact.
Experince may be a problem for the Cornhuskers, who have only five starters back on each side of the ball, but motivation won't be. "Our last two games were not easy," says Solich. "But from within the program there's no sense that we're sliding."