LINCOLN, Neb. — Ndamukong Suh turned the last big game of the college football regular season into his own personal Heisman Trophy statement.
Nebraska's powerhouse defensive lineman was a game-wrecker against No. 2 Texas last weekend, putting together a performance so dominant he went from fringe Heisman contender to a finalist for college football's most prestigious individual honor.
He matched his career high with 12 tackles, had 4 1/2 sacks and two quarterback hurries and had more than a few people who watched the Cornhuskers nearly upset the Longhorns wondering where Suh's performance ranked among the greatest in college football history.
Facing a barrage of double-team blocks, he made nine tackles for zero or negative yards. He even lined up twice on offense.
"He was all over the place," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "We just couldn't handle him. I tried to find him to wish him good luck in the NFL, because I don't want to see him again."
Suh, a senior, won't be back to wreak more havoc in the Big 12 and his final college game is coming up Dec. 30 in the Holiday Bowl against Arizona. Whether Suh heads to the NFL with a Heisman will be learned on Saturday night in New York.
Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson remains the only defensive player to win the award in 1997. But Woodson also made some big plays at receiver and returning kicks.
Suh's offensive contributions are almost always limited to blocking.
He is widely regarded as the biggest defensive game-changer up front since Pittsburgh defensive end Hugh Green, the Heisman runner-up to South Carolina's George Rogers in 1980.
Suh's candidacy began to take flight in October and was punctuated last week in the 13-12 loss to Texas at the Big 12 championship game.
Now the 6-foot-4, 300-pounder's name – it's pronounced en-DOM-ah-ken sue – is rolling off the tongues of announcers who just a few weeks ago simply called him Suh or, in some cases, Mr. Suh. Ndamukong means "House of Spears" in the language of the Ngema tribe of Cameroon, the homeland of his father, Michael.
Suh has already won both the Lombardi Award, given the nation's top lineman, and the Nagurski, given to the top defensive player, and the Outland Trophy, given to the nation's best interior lineman.
"When you look at Suh, you see a player who can dominate a game," Brown said. "He's as good as any player in America. He is unbelievable. You don't expect that someone, so big and so fast, to be over 300 pounds and be as fast as he is, it is amazing."
Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, a fellow Heisman finalist, wouldn't disagree. In the second half, Suh slid off a blocker, grabbed McCoy's chest with his right hand and McCoy's waist with his left and then, like a discus thrower, threw the quarterback about 4 yards on to his back.
For all the senior from Portland, Ore., has accomplished, winning the Heisman will be a tall order even in a year when there is no obvious favorite. The other finalists are quarterbacks Tim Tebow of Florida and running backs Mark Ingram of Alabama and Toby Gerhart of Stanford.
Before this year, no defensive player since Woodson had even been a finalist. The three before that – Florida State linebacker Marvin Jones in 1992, Washington tackle Steve Emtman in 1991 and Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth in 1986 – each finished fourth in the voting.
From his nose tackle spot, Suh has put up statistics more often produced by linebackers or safeties, and he's done it facing opponents who tried to be creative in designing ways to stop him.
"You cannot fool him," former Kansas coach Mark Mangino said. "People have tried to fool him with various blocking schemes and he is not fooled. He really understands the dynamics of the game."
Suh has led the Huskers in tackles two years in a row, with 50 of his 82 this season unassisted and 23 of them behind the line of scrimmage. His 12 sacks this season are tied for third-most in school history and the most since 1993, and his sack-per-game average ranks ninth nationally.
Suh's role in the Huskers' defense goes beyond what normally would be expected of a lineman.
He has 10 pass breakups and is the only lineman ranked in the top 100 in that category. He's blocked three kicks this season and six in his career. He has one interception this season and four in his career.
"I think he's the best football player in his position in the country," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "If that means the Heisman trophy, so be it."
Suh considered leaving Nebraska after his junior season to declare for the NFL draft. He returned because he wanted more seasoning under Pelini, who coached nine years in the NFL and had defensive coordinator stints at Nebraska, Oklahoma and LSU.
"It's only helped me to come back this season," Suh said. "I'm very happy for the decision, and I never second-guessed it after I made it. I knew coach Pelini and the whole staff would help me."
He is looking to become the fourth Heisman winner from Nebraska, joining Johnny Rodgers (1972), Mike Rozier (1983) and Eric Crouch (2001).
"Suh is as good as I've ever seen at Nebraska," said Charlie McBride, a former Nebraska coordinator who coached the Huskers' three national championship defenses in the 1990s. "We had guys with motors like his, but those guys didn't have the same physical ability. Suh's speed, balance, athleticism – he has things people don't see that much in linemen."