College Football is a fascinating and extremely volatile game. It can turn on a dime. Husker fans saw that first hand Saturday. It appeared the Huskers were cruising, up 17-0 with :12 left in the 1st half. Wyoming was stuck with a kicker that had already shanked 2 FG chances and a 4th and 12. Wyoming QB Josh Allen rolled right, alluding a strong pass rush. He throws an absolute dart to Tanner Gentry in the back of the end zone. Shit! From that point until well into the 4th quarter the Huskers had a dog fight on their hands. The defense seemed perplexed. The offense was bumbling all over themselves. There was a curious fake punt and just bad football all around. It seemed a dark cloud had come over Lincoln. Eventually, Wyoming made a series of mistakes, and the Huskers capitalized. Don’t be fooled by the score. This one was extremely tight for quite a while.
Offensively the Huskers were an absolute mixed bag. Early on the Huskers seemed to do whatever they wanted on the outside. It seemed Wyoming was intent on stuffing the run and that opened up the passing lanes. Alonzo Moore had a career day with 3 catches for 109 yards including a 63 yarder where he flashed his considerable speed. Tommy Armstrong threw for 377 yards, which is good, but I was unhappy with his performance. Tom made some bad choices including an INT in the end zone on 1st down. Armstrong threw it right to the defender on that play. Inexcusable. There were other times he missed open receivers or made poor choices. NU had a substantial advantage on the outside. It was obvious. As plain as the sun in the sky. The Wyoming secondary could not match the athleticism Nebraska has at WR. Considering that, Armstrong should have had a much more productive day. Perhaps it seems like I’m being too hard on Tommy when you look at his stats. Watch the game. See the open receivers he misses or the questionable choices he makes. The stats don’t tell the whole story here. If NU is to become a championship contender, Armstrong needs to be better. It’s that simple.
The Nebraska offensive line was coming off an outstanding performance last week. The Fresno defense was simply pummeled by this group. This week NU had a substantial size advantage, outweighing the Wyoming front by an average of 46 pounds. This undersized Cowboy front gave the Huskers fits. NU had tremendous difficulty sustaining any kind of success on the ground. A week after rushing for an average of 5.7 yards per carry, the Huskers managed just 3.2. That won’t cut it. The pass protection wasn’t great either. The offensive line had a hard time picking up the frequent Wyoming blitzes. Armstrong was often dodging defenders in order to throw the ball. On one particular 3rd down play, both Tackles, David Knevel and Nick Gates, got torched off the edge and Armstrong went down. Both were left standing as Armstrong peeled himself off the turf. This too, is inexcusable. In general I was not very happy with the play of this group. Wyoming certainly presented a unique challenge but it’s not a test I feel the unit handled well at all.
Don’t be fooled by some of the defensive numbers you will hear. Holding an opponent to 17 points and producing 6 turnovers is great, but in this case, it’s incredibly misleading. For a good chunk of this game the Huskers pass defense was on its heels. Wyoming QB Josh Allen was confounding NU defenders with his scrambling and accurate passes. Until it all came apart he was quite impressive. One good reason NU was having such trouble is a lack of a pass rush from the front 4. This is something you will hear about all season. NU struggled to get to Allen. When there was penetration Allen was able to buy time and find a receiver. Like on that TD pass before the half. The defensive backs cant cover forever. The rush has to get there. Mark Banker eventually began to blitz the bejesus out of Allen. That worked to put this thing away. Good Qbs will pick those blitzes apart. You would like to be able to get to pressure with just your front 4, particularly against a team like Wyoming. In the end, as Wyoming fell behind, Allen began forcing passes and NU made them pay. The Pokes last 4 possessions were all turnovers, 3 were INTs. Don’t be deceived. Those numbers look great, but this unit really struggled for the better part of the afternoon. Better offenses are ahead and this team needs to figure out what works.
If you read my Husker football questions in the preseason you will know that I was pretty tough on Mark Banker. I thought his defense was too soft and bland last year. He did nothing to inspire confidence. Thus far I have been impressed with some of creativity shown by Mark Banker. He has used personnel groups effectively. The nickel package is a great example. There are 3 down lineman and a combination of nickel back, LB and safeties for a 6 man front. Sometimes he brings a blitz, other times he plays coverage. It’s a pretty interesting look. After 2 games, offenses are confused. Additionally, it looks like the defense is getting plenty of players into the lineup which tells me Banker likes the depth of his unit. These are good signs. That said, this unit needs to be much more cohesive going forward. I saw some blown coverages and some sloppy tackling. That dog wont hunt next week, or when NU makes a trip to Madison.
A game like this was good for this squad. This thing was a freaking dog fight for quite a while. Make no mistake, there are plenty of dog fights ahead for this team. That experience will serve this squad well. Thats the sunny side. Overall, I was generally displeased with the performance. Despite a few bright spots, this team spent most of the afternoon playing like garbage. There were more of the personal foul penalties that chapped Mike Riley’s ass a week ago. 2 TDS were negated by penalties that were absolutely avoidable. There was a general sloppiness for the better part of the afternoon. I was extremely annoyed. In the end, the Cowboys folded. The moment was too big for them. That’s a young team that essentially messed itself at its big opportunity. NU was the beneficiary. That doesn’t change the fact that Nebraska needs to fix some of these problem areas and fast. Next week Oregon comes to town. Think what you will about the Ducks, if Nebraska plays like this they run the risk of getting boat raced in their own building. That’s a message I would like Riley to pound home this week.