October 2, 2009

Nebraska's non-conference season awards

As the Huskers head into their first bye week of the season, HuskersIllustrated.com has decided to recap the some of the highlights of the first four games, as well as hand out our awards for the top performers and performances thus far.

Offensive MVP: Roy Helu, RB

No player has meant more to Nebraska's offense thus far than senior running back Roy Helu. When the passing game has struggled at times, it's been Helu who has consistently stepped up to make a big play and get the Huskers' offense going. He's already set single-game career highs for touchdowns (3 vs. Florida Atlantic) and yards (169 vs. Virginia Tech), and has produced a number of highlight runs worthy of watching again and again. Without Helu, there's no telling where this offense would be.

Defensive MVP: Ndamukong Suh, DT

No Husker in recent memory has come into a season carrying the level of hype that senior defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has, and there's no question he's handled the pressure perfectly. Not only has Suh put up numbers worthy of his preseason All-American status, but he's established himself as an undeniable difference maker. Through four games, Suh leads the team in tackles (26), tackles for loss (6), sacks (2) and pass breakups (6).

Special teams MVP: Alex Henery, K/P

In many ways, junior kicker/punter Alex Henery could make a case for Nebraska's overall MVP. Like Suh, Henery came into the year with considerable national attention, and he's lived up to it and then some so far. As a place kicker, Henery has connected on all 19 of his extra points and 8-of-9 field goals, with his lone miss coming on a 54-yard attempt that went just wide right. As a punter, which he just started doing this season, he's averaged 42 yards per punt, topped off by a 76-yarder against Virginia Tech.

Biggest surprise: Curenski Gilleylen, WR

A player some had already written off as a bust, sophomore Curenski Gilleylen has emerged as Nebraska's big play receiver over the past four games. So far, Gilleylen already has six catches of 26 yards or more, including a 51-yard touchdown bomb he hauled in against Florida Atlantic. He's averaging 31.9 yards per reception, and he just had grabs of 42 and 43 yards last week against Louisiana-Lafayette. The Huskers came into the year talking about how they wanted to stretch the field more in the passing game, and it appears Gilleylen is spearheading the team's steps in that direction.

Best offensive play: Helu's breakaway run

Helu has already recorded a number of highlight reel runs this season, but it was one he made in Nebraska's season opener that stands out above them all. The Huskers were already leading 28-3 in the third quarter over Florida Atlantic, and they had the ball at the Owls' 44-yard line. Junior quarterback Zac Lee took the snap out of the shotgun and handed it to Helu, who started running left before cutting back to the right at the line of scrimmage. Instead of turning it up field, Helu kept running laterally to the right and eventually out-ran the entire FAU defense to the sideline. He only needed to break one tackle as he turned the corner, and then he kicked it into another gear as he left everyone in his dust sprinting to the end zone.

Best defensive play: Asante's pick six

Before last Saturday, it had been more than six years since a Nebraska defensive back had returned an interception for a touchdown. That was until senior safety Larry Asante took one 74 yards to the house against Louisiana-Lafayette. Though he actually injured his foot on the play and didn't return the rest of the game, the play broke a cold streak for NU's secondary that was bordering on the brink of embarrassing (if it wasn't there already). With ULL driving late in the second quarter, Asante jumped in front of a Chris Masson pass and went untouched down the right sideline for the score.

Best special teams play: Henery's five-field goal game

OK, so these aren't exactly one play, but they combined to form the best special teams moment of the season thus far for Nebraska. While the Huskers' offense couldn't seem to find its way into the end zone all day, Henery was there to pick up the slack and give NU at least something to show for its efforts against Virginia Tech. Henery connected on all five of his field goal attempts, the second-highest single-game effort in school history. They weren't enough to give the Huskers the win, but they did bring Henery to eight field goals on the season, putting him just 11 shy of tying Jordon Congdan's school record of 19.

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