Buckeye Beatdown

Well folks, it happened. Yep, that score and the impending soreness is very real. 62-3 is a reality. The Nebraska Cornhuskers got absolutely curb stomped Saturday night. It was every bit the scene from American History X. The Buckeyes told NU to bite the curb and the Huskers were left with no choice. I’m not going to make excuses. This thing was ugly from the outset. Any talk of OSU being a “beatable” team is completely laughable the morning after a 59 point ass kicking. I could go on about how horrendous the offense was under the direction of Ryker Fyfe and their meager 204 yards of total offense. I could point to the Buckeye drive chart and shudder at the amount of TDs given up or the OSU 11-15 3rd down conversion rate. None of that is worthy of my time and effort. I highly doubt you want to hear about it either. Rather than beleaguer the point, I’m going to look forward.

Ass kickings like this happen. It’s a part of sports. Over the years I’ve seen several. There was the 70-10 shallacking in Lubbock in 2005. Who can forget 41-6 to the Missouri Tigers in 2007 or the 52-17 shit kicking the following year? These things happen. It sucks, but its all part of being a sports fan. So where do we go from here? Its time for everyone, fans included, to put on our collective big boy pants and move forward.  Put the thorough domination of Saturday night in the rear view and focus on the windshield. This team sits at 7-2 with 3 to play. Those 3 are incredibly winable. The next 2, to the Minnesota Gophers and Maryland Terrapins, are both at home. Those are chicken soup games. After 2 games against excellent competition in extremely tough environments the Big Red come home to the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium and all of their fans. That should give this team a boost. Then, of course, there is the Black Friday matchup with the Iowa Hawkeyes who got their own wheels blown off last night. That game will be no gimme, but its a game NU should absolutely win. My point here is that these games are all winable. A 10-2 season is at their feet. That’s a great season. Especially when you consider the atrocities of 2015. There is still plenty to play for.

How does NU go about moving forward? Anyone who has ever tried anything has failed at some point. Perhaps it wasn’t as spectacular as 62-3 or seen by as many people, but we have all experienced failure. It’s a part of life. All there is to do is learn from it and move forward. That is all Nebraska can do. The naysayers and doubters will be out in droves, the Huskers will plummet down the rankings, and the criticism will the thick. So what? Its all bullshit right now anyway. This team needs to collectively look within, accept the ass kicking, and move on. The worst thing that can come of this is for the Huskers to throw a pity party. I’ve seen it too many times. A team gets beaten and it so thoroughly demoralizes them that they never get their act together. Mike Riley and the leaders on this team have to make sure that doesn’t happen. Don’t let Ohio State beat you twice. This is where the character and makeup of a team matters, not when you are 7-0 and in the top 10. Adversity has solidly landed on the Huskers and its incumbent upon them to get off the mat and prepare for the stretch run.

There are a few logistical issues with winning out. First, Tommy Armstrong needs to come back. Ryker Fyfe is awful. I’m not here to make it personal, so Grand Island people please save your ire. There is no way you can look at Fyfe and think that he is a workable piece. What does he do well? If there is anything, I haven’t seen it. Tommy needs to be back. We all saw him laying there motionless on the field Saturday night. He was out cold. It was a scary scene to be sure, but his subsequent actions indicate that he is going to be allright. One thing is certain, this offense needs him in the most serious way. For all Armstrong’s various flaws, he is the life blood of this offense and maybe this team. If NU is going to finish strong and salvage this season they will need #4.

As important as Tommy Armstrong will be to finishing the season strong, Danny Langsdorf and Mike Riley need to recommit to this running game. These last few games it seems that NU has lost its way in that regard. Saturday night was a good example. Armstrong and Fyfe combined for 9/33 passing for 126 yards and 2 INTs. That is an average of just 3.8 yards per attempt. That should make everyone want to puke in their cereal. The NU run game was in no way good, but it averaged 3.3 yards per carry. The entire 2nd half I pulled my hair out wondering why Langsdorf insisted on chucking the ball around. More than anything, that philosophy led to the score being so extreme. Run the ball, and move the clock. Additionally, it helps the defense. The defense has been up and down, obviously last night was down, but the offense has to do their share. Doing their share involves not leaving a steaming pile in their lap time after time. A re-commitment to the running game helps everyone. Getting David Knevel and potentially Tanner Farmer back should help in getting a push, but also not playing 2 of the top 3 defenses in the Big 10 will make a difference as well. If NU can get the run game going, it will help the entire squad. That task falls squarely on the entire offensive staff.

This season is not lost folks. I had a pretty good idea that last night would go the way it did. Ohio State played angry. Nebraska offered little resistance. It’s tough coming off an emotionally draining game, like the one in Madison last week, only to play one of the best teams in college football. A beat down was foreseeable. Although, I must admit, I didn’t think it would get that out of hand. Mike Riley did absolutely zero damage control once the train went off the tracks. Whatever. It matters little. Saturday night happened and now we all must move forward. Live in the windshield. The next 3 games will go a long way to define just what type of season 2016 is.

 

Offensively Challenged

I knew it. It was too good to be true. I just knew it. As Chris Jones took the ball into the endzone in the first quarter to give Nebraska a 17-0 lead, I knew that what I was seeing was not reality. I would have loved nothing more than to watch my beloved Huskers steamroll a quality conference opponent. To really stick it to someone for all to see. It looked promising. But I knew it was not to be. From that point forth the Huskers offense collapsed, while the special teams wilted and the defense fought its ass off to stay alive. Don’t get me wrong, a win is a win. I’m very happy with being 6-0 and really enjoy the resolve this team shows. This team has a lot of intangibles you really can’t teach.  That’s the good news. The bad news is this was an extremely uneven performance that should not have resulted in a W.

I’m just going to say it. The Husker offense was utter garbage for a large chunk of this game. It was absolutely putrid. But don’t take my word for it. Lets look at the drive chart. Between the Terrell Newby TD in the first quarter and the outrageously lucky Stanley Morgan TD in the 4th, the drive chart goes as follows: punt, safety, punt, interception, end of half, punt, punt, punt, interception. In case you weren’t counting that is 5 punts, 2 Ints, and a safety. 4 of those punts were the result of drives that lasted less than 5 plays.  Good grief. It was some of the worst NU offense I have seen in a very long time. The Huskers had no answer for the Hoosiers swarming defense. None. Short passes didn’t work. Neither did long passes, nor screens. The run game was all but abandoned for the better part of the afternoon. Nothing worked and the line is largely to blame. The patchwork line was awful for the better part of Saturday afternoon. There were no holes for runners and the pass protection was just as poor. Time after time Tommy Armstrong was running for his life. But lets not let him off the hook either.

Tommy was bad. Really, really bad. His numbers appear fairly pedestrian. 10/26 for 208 yards 1 TD and 2 INTs. Typically, mediocre numbers like that don’t warrant a skewering. This was not a typical performance. The 2 Ints were both completely unacceptable. One of which was a total jackpot, toss up that you might see at your local elementary school. Thats not hyperbole, check it out yourself. I expect better decision making from my senior 4 year starter. Much better. The yardage is also deceiving. 72 yards came on a total keystone cop moment by the IU defense. 3 defenders collided while Stanley Morgan caught the ball and went to the house. 45 more came on a miracle catch by Brandon Reilly that should have been a pick. Take those 117 yards out and you get 91 yards on 8/24 passing. Awful. One particular time Alonzo Moore got free deep. A TD would have went a long way toward securing the W. Tom missed him, badly. I don’t know if Tommy isn’t healthy or if the Hoosier defense rattled him. Frankly, it’s irrelevant. QB play that poor gets you beat. It’s that simple. Armstrong has to be better. I’m sure he would be the first to tell you that.  He is a major cog in this offense. If he plays like that the rest of this season could have several long afternoons.

Well, that feels better. I needed to vent about the offense. They were infuriating. By all rights this unit should have cost NU the game. But there is a silver lining.

The beleaguered and much maligned Nebraska offense took the field with 8:26 to go and nursing a very tenuous 2 point lead. Somehow, NU found a way to run the ball. For the 2nd straight game Terrell Newby was a stud. He avoided a near fumble that was as close as it gets and churned out yards to salt this thing away. Along the way Mike Riley went for it on 4th and short near mid field. The NU offense had no consistent push, but Riley made the call. That call took considerable onions. Riley deserves credit for such a bold call. After that conversion the Nebraska offense gets a FG and milks the clock to under a minute. The drive may go down as a season definer. Despite the monumental struggles of the Husker offense, when the chips were down this unit came up with a 15 play, 60 yard drive that burned an astonishing 7:41 off the clock and all but assured a Husker victory. That deserves kudos, even if the rest of the day was largely hot garbage.

This defense turned in a performance Husker fans can be proud of. Despite the offense consistently laying a steaming pile in their lap, this unit answered the call time and again. Coming in I was concerned that the NU rush defense would allow Indiana RB Devine Redding and his powerful frame to run wild. That never materialized. The NU rush defense held the Hoosiers to below 3 yards per carry despite a 33 yard TD run in the 3rd quarter. The pass defense was also largely terrific. Chris Jones Josh Kalu and company were all over the place. Did they allow some yardage?  Sure. But this is a pretty crafty offense. They will distribute more than their share of headaches before this season is over. Still, Indiana was held to less than 6.5 yards per attempt passing. That is pretty damn good. The defense had a ton of looks thrown at them and they adjusted nicely. Of Indiana’s 4 scoring drives, 2 were started deep in Husker territory due to turnover or special teams play. Otherwise Indiana had difficulty putting points on the board. Another bright spot was the pass rush which created pressure without the blitz. That was super encouraging to see. Lets hope that continues as the season progresses. In general my aggravation with the Husker performance had little to do with the defense. This group hung tough in difficult circumstances for the majority of the afternoon. They earned their stripes Saturday. They are the reason that NU wins a tough game on the road and improves to 6-0.

There is no doubt that 6-0 feels great. It’s been a long time coming. This team has managed to navigate the various potholes of the schedule to this point. That fact should not be overlooked. There is a certain team directly to the East of NU that wishes it could say the same. But they can’t. Still, one cannot disregard the various shortcomings of this squad. Today it would have been great to absolutely squash Indiana. The Big Red had the chance. Up 17-0 early, the opportunity to break their spirit with another score presented itself. Unfortunately, the Huskers could not capitalize. That is a problem. Great teams bury their opposition in situations like that. Let’s make no mistake, there are a couple great teams forthcoming. If Nebraska plays like it did Saturday, they will get absolutely curb stomped. Indiana is a good team, this might be NU’s best win to date, but the likes of Wisconsin and Ohio State will trailer park slap the Huskers with a performance like that. Those dates should loom over this team like a dark cloud. Get better or else.

Lovie and the Illini Come to Town

Well Husker fans, it appears that dear ole NU has something good cookin. Nevermind the fact that Oregon is now 2-2 after losing at home to Colorado, Wyoming is 2-2 after losing to Eastern Michigan and Northwestern is now 1-3 after the defeat we handed them Saturday night. Yeah, those teams aren’t exactly murderers row, but you play the schedule in front of you. 4-0 is all the same, particularly after the plane crashed into the mountain last year. This Saturday the Illinois Fighting Illini come to town for a 2:30 tilt. They bring a coach a lot of people will recognize, a QB with a big arm, but otherwise a big bag of nothing. This is not a good team. Need proof? Check the stats of their two losses to FBS opponents by a combined 49 points. The Illini shouldn’t do much to cause your hair to go gray on Saturday. Here are a few things to look for.

*Illinois Run Defense– The Huskers have made no secret that they want to run the ball. All that talk in the offseason about committing to the run game wasn’t just noise. Its worked out pretty well for the Big Red thus far. NU is averaging 242 yards per game and over five yards per carry for the season. Meanwhile, the Illini  have had a tough time stopping the run in their two FBS games. Both North Carolina and Western Michigan averaged more than five yards per carry. Specifially, the Broncos ran for 287 yards in a 34-10 demolishing in Champaign. Look for Nebraska to hold true to form and pound the ball down the Illini’s throat with tremendous success Saturday.

*Wes Lunt– This dude passes the eye test big time. Lunt is 6-5 and has a big, impressive arm. Unfortunately for the Illini, he has largely underachieved in his college career. A look at the stats reveals that while Lunt completes an impressive 62 % of his passes, he does so for an average of 6.7 yards per attempt. That dink and dunk show ranks 89th nationally. In Illinois’ game with North Carolina, Lunt’s YPA was 3.6. That is horrendous. Despite Lunt’s impressive build and arms strength, he is really quite sub par. Against what is likely the best secondary he has faced, in his first road game of 2016, its doubtful he has much more success.

*Pressure Packages– I have to hand it to Mark Banker, with a defensive line that lacks a true pass rushing presence, Banker has found creative ways to get to the QB. Whether it is blitzes with four down lineman, or interesting nickle and dime packages, there have been no shortage of looks for opposing offenses to prepare for. As the season rolls on, I’m looking to see what else Banker has up his sleeve as well as how frequently he brings pressure. With a secondary that is as strong as NU’s, I think Banker can afford to roll the dice with more blitzes.

*Running Back Rotation– Through four games it has become obvious to me that a simple 1-2 punch at RB will not be enough. I really like Devine Ozigbo, but I have severe doubts about his durability as his carries increase. I would like to keep him fresh and punishing defenders. Terrell Newby looks improved this year, but I don’t think he can be counted on to carry the bulk of the load. Insert Mikale Wilbon. He looked fantastic against Northwestern. He is quick, shifty and can make a defender miss. I think he is can fill a role within this offense. Tre Bryant is another option, but his ball security questions concern me. I think Wilbon is the answer here and I hope Mike Riley and Danny Langsdorf agree.

*Block Out the Noise-Its been a hectic week in Huskerville. The death of Milt Tenopir is a major blow. Tenopir wan an all time great. There will no doubt be many heavy hearts inside Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Meanwhile the stance taken by the three kneeling Huskers have sparked a heated debate on a variety of subjects. Saturday it is back to football, back to the tie that binds. Its time we all get together and cheer on the Big Red and celebrate the life of a Husker legend. As for the team, I expect them to remain focused despite everything else that has been happening this week. It will do them well to get out there and play an actual game. It’s bound to be an emotional day inside Memorial Stadium, and I’m eager to see if this team can stay focused on the task at hand and dispose of the Illini properly.

*Prediction– Huskers roll over the Illini 42-14. Perhaps Lovie Smith can get that program moving in the right direction, but at this point it’s a bad team. The Huskers grind them into a fine powder Saturday.

Survive and Advance

The Nebraska/Northwestern series continues to be a head scratcher. I just cant get my head around it. It never seems to go as you would think. There have been upsets, thrillers, and heartbreakers. I hate the saying throw out the record book, but….well, you do. The 2016 version was more of the same. On paper, the Huskers were the superior team riding a wave of momentum from a nice victory while Northwestern was 1-2 with losses to a MAC team and an FCS team. Throw that out the window. While this seemed like an easy Big Red win, that did not take place. Saturday night the Wildcats fought their ass off, while the Huskers milled around and kept them in the game. It was an ugly effort for the Big Red. In the end NU wins the game and moves forward. While I would have liked a crisper effort, a more decisive victory, that was not in the cards. This one was extremely competitive from start to finish. The Huskers may not have played their best, but ultimately they are 4-0 and move a step closer to a date with the Wisconsin Badgers Halloween weekend.

I was quite distressed with the Huskers play on the defensive side of the ball. The Wildcats came in as a team that was struggling to move the ball. The Cats moved the ball consistently enough to give me gray hairs. Fortunately, their drives mostly stalled due to their lack of playmakers. NW QB Clayton Thorson, who is mediocre at best, threw for 250 yards and ran for another 79 and 2 total TDs. His success was pretty disconcerting. It seemed that Nebraska’s secondary was giving quite a cushion to the Northwestern WRs. I could not figure this out. It appeared all night that NU was superior in this area, yet Thorson was able to complete quick, short passes all night long. Personally, I would have liked to see Nebraska’s secondary challenge the NW receiving core.  I doubt they would have been able to beat NU over the top and it would have minimized the short passing game and stifled their entire attack. As much as the Nebraska defense struggled against the Cats they did make plays when they had to make them. Aaron Williams intercepted a pass in the end zone. NW was 0-2 on 4th down and 5-14 on 3rd down. Also the NU defense was able to get to Thorson to the tune of 4 sacks. Those are good numbers. The bad numbers are that Nebraska gave up 388 yards on the night and allowed NW to hang in there.  While I was generally annoyed and displeased with the performance of the defense it’s hard to argue with the 13 points given up as well as the timely plays made defensively. The really aggravating part is that I know this unit can do better. There was sloppy tackling and inconsistent play all around. My expectations for this defense are much higher than the effort I saw Saturday.

Offensively the Huskers fumbled twice into the end zone spoiling drives. The first one Terrell Newby loses control as he thrusts to the end zone after a long run. Infuriating.The 2nd Devine Ozigbo loses the ball after his progress was stopped. I don’t know why a whistle was not blown. Still these two turnovers cost NU 14 points and are completely unacceptable. Those two gaffes aside, the offense was pretty damn good Saturday night. Danny Lansgdorf did a great job calling plays and by and large the offense was efficient executing the game plan. In particular the QB runs were well conceived. As a result, Tommy Armstrong had a really solid performance. He ran for 132 yards on 10 carries, and was 18/29 for 246 yards and  TD through the air. He did miss on a couple passes, but he did so in a way that would not result in an interception. That is progress. His playmaking ability kept this offense humming for the better part of the game. Northwestern insisted on giving NU receivers a large cushion for the better part of the night. Armstrong made it look easy time and again. On the ground the Big Red ran for 310 yards with an average of 6.6 yards per carry. That is tremendous. Everyone seemed to get in on the act. In particular, it was great to see Mikale Wilbon, who ran 6 times for 55 yards. He was shifty and elusive. He needs to be part of the rotation going forward. On a night where the defense struggled this unit carried the torch. I don’t like the 2 fumbles into the end zone at all. But all things considered, this offense moved the ball consistently and at key times to ensure the win.

It’s good to have this one behind us with a notch in the w column. Northwestern is always a pain in the butt. Saturday was no exception. Pat Fitzgerald’s teams always fight to the end. Additionally, the Huskers did not play their best ball. The Huskers made enough plays to get out of Evanston with a win. That is the good news. The bad news is that the anty has been upped in the Big 10 West. Did you seen Wisconsin go into Spartan Stadium and beat the brakes off of Michigan State? If not, educate yourself. The Badgers are for real. The Husker’s had better get their act fine tuned over the next few weeks. There are a few also rans along the way, but that’s a date to look forward to. Nebraska should be 7-0 going into Madison Halloween weekend.Saturday night was great. It was good to beat Northwestern, but this is not the goal. As of Saturday, it appears a division title goes through Madison.

Next Up: Chi-Town Kitties

As we put the thrilling Oregon game in the rear view, the Northwestern Wildcats come into the windshield. If history is any indication, this will be a fun game. Since joining the Big 10 in 2011, the Husker/Wildcat games have been incredibly close. Take out the second half drubbing of 2014, and the rest of the contests have been decided by three points or less. In five games, the home team has won just once (the Hail Mary game in 2013). This year’s Northwestern squad is 1-2 with losses to Western Michigan and Illinois State by a combined total of three points. Pat Fitzgerald’s squad is always tough on defense. But this offense, led by sophomore QB Clayton Thorson, has not been good. Despite having a terrific RB in Justin Jackson, the Cats are 118th in rushing yards per game with 98.3. They only put up 17 points per game despite playing an FCS team, a MAC team and a basketball school out of the ACC. ALl that may not matter. You can throw out the trends and record books when these two get together. I expect a Northwestern team that will be ready for a brawl. NU had better buckle their chin strap for this one. The Huskers will need to focus and give their best effort to walk out of the windy city with a W. Here are a few things to look for.

*Focus Focus Focus- Too often in college sports there is a tendency to overlook an opponent. This is especially true when a team is coming off a big win. Nebraska must put the Oregon game behind them and focus on Northwestern. The nice words from around the country and top 20 ranking are terrific, but they are meaningless if you blow this one. Coach Riley and company are saying all the right things this week. We will see if Northwestern really has their full attention.

*Zone Read Defense-Oregon gave NU fits with their zone read game last Saturday. The Husker defense really had no answer for it all day long. That’s not surprising considering Oregon’s personnel. Dakota Prukop and that stable of speedy backs will cause their fair share of heartburn this fall. Rest assured, Northwestern saw that tape and will attempt to have similar success. Unlike Oregon, if it is working, they will stick with it. Clayton Thorson is not nearly as slippery of a runner as Dakota Prukop, but he torched the Huskers last year to the tune of 126 yards. Justin Jackson is a terrific RB, particularly when he gets some space. I expect the Cats to go to the zone read early and often and to stick with it if they find success.

*Pass Rush– The Nebraska front four was significantly better against the pass last week compared to the Wyoming game. While this group didn’t record a sack on a four man rush, they also didn’t let Dakota Prukop get comfortable. Let’s hope for a similar improvement this week. Last week against Duke, Northwestern allowed five sacks. I expect similar productivity from the Blackshirts. While getting pressure and sacks with the blitz is great, its not ideal. I would like to see this front four wreak havoc in the pass game. This week is a real opportunity to make an enormous difference in the game.

*Beleaguered Northwestern Secondary– The Cats will be without three of their top four cornerbacks and a starting safety. That kind of bad luck in the defensive backfield should have Danny Langsdorf and Mike Riley salivating. Covering these Nebraska wideouts is a chore with all of your top personnel available. Without it, the Big Red are at a substantial advantage. Then again, Brandon Reilly and Alonzo Moore are both questionable for the game. Look for Stanley Morgan and Jordan Westerkamp to have big games. This would be a great time to get Demornay Pierson-El going. Lets not forget Cethan Carter. The options are many for the Husker squad.  Northwestern does not have that luxury.

*Prediction– A close game early, Nebraska breaks out in the 2nd half. 31-10.

It Feels Like More

As Tommy Armstrong scored with 2 and a half minutes to go, the Anderson house went nuts. Even then, with my heart about to explode, I said that regardless of the outcome, the objective for this season remained in tact. Its true. Beating Oregon is not the ultimate goal. Then we did it. I was ridiculously overjoyed.I couldn’t get my head around why. The Oregon Ducks are not the same squad that went to the National Title game 2 years ago. Nor are they a conference foe. The outcome of this game has no bearing on NU’s final goal for 2016.  So why am I jumping around acting like a maniac? Its a great question. To be sure, this victory feels much greater than it looks on paper. This team fought its ass off Saturday afternoon. That grit is a far cry from a year ago. It was far from a flawless effort. In fact there are still a lot of areas to clean up. But this win represents a change for this program. This isn’t a team that is going to piss away every game like it did a year ago.  This team is tougher, more focused. The goals remain clear, a Big 10 West title. But after that dog fight Saturday, I feel much better about the makeup of this squad going forward.

The Husker offense was all over the map Saturday. Early on, this unit struggled to get any traction on the ground against a speedy Oregon defense. It was through the air that NU made its bones. Tommy Armstrong hit Jordan Westercamp twice in the first half for scores. After halftime it was a different story. The boys up front began to assert their will on the Ducks. Devine Ozigbo and company plowed ahead for 2 consecutive TDs to start the half. It was absolutely gorgeous. Its a shame that Terrell Newby left the game early with an injury. He looked terrific in the first half and I thought he was well on his way to his best game as a Husker. Last week I was pretty hard on Tommy Armstrong. Despite his considerable numbers, I pounded him for his inaccuracy and decision making. Saturday Tom was an absolute stud. He was a god damn baller.  He threw for 200 yards, ran for 96 more including the game winning score with 2:30 to go. Despite some apparent cramping, Armstrong showed his true mettle. His toughness and leadership were on display for everyone to see. He was a big time player and torch bearer for this offense. Best of all, Armstrong never made the big mistake. He was responsible for a turnover late in the first half, but I chalk that up to an asinine call by Danny Langsdorf. On this day, the offense was pretty good. Not perfect, to be sure, but productive enough to earn a win against a quality opponent.

The Nebraska defense had its hands full against the Ducks. It became clear very early that Oregon was substantially more athletic than the Huskers. Oregon ran for 327 yards, an average of 7 yards per attempt. The zone read game with Prukop and whichever back they threw out there was particularly troublesome for the Blackshirts. If I’m an Oregon fan, I’m pissed they didn’t use it more. It appeared the NU defense never really got its arms around it. 3rd downs were a big problem for the defense. 2 of Oregon’s TDs came on 3rd down, there was a 3rd and 26 debacle and the Ducks were consistently able to sustain drives on 3rd down. NU threw a wide variety of looks at Prukop and the Oregon offense. They often used the 3 down lineman nickel look they have unveiled thus far this season. Sometimes it worked, producing pressure and thwarting Duck drives. Other times Prukop picked apart the package. The Husker’s had their hands full with the myriad of weapons the Duck’s posses. There were times this unit got absolutely gashed. The 10 play 97 yard drive comes to mind. This was not a pretty victory for the defense. They certainly took their lumps. Regardless, this unit saved the game, twice. Trailing 28-32 halfway through the 4th quarter a Duck TD would have spelled doom. They responded with a 3 and out. After the game winning TD run by Armstrong there was still 2:32 on the clock, and a 3 point lead. That’s plenty of time for the Ducks. But this unit stepped up once more. That should not be overlooked. For all their struggles Saturday, the Husker defense stepped up and salted this one away. That fact commands respect.

This game is extra meaningful for Mike Riley. A win like this, against his old nemesis, has to carry a special feeling. It won’t hurt that his team played pretty well. Riley made some decisions that were a bit out of character. In the first half NU went for it in Oregon territory on a 4th and long. They were unsuccessful. Then, with 3 minutes to play, and 3 timeouts, he went for it on 4th and 8 just on NU’s side of the field. This time Armstrong hit Westercamp for a 14 yard gain and the Huskers scored the game’s winning score. That took some serious onions. Coach Riley deserves a lot of credit for making that difficult decision. If NU punts the ball there, perhaps they don’t get the ball back. Unfortunately, the coaching wasn’t all good. On a drive toward the end of the first half NU was rolling. The running game was just getting traction and Tommy Armstrong was sharp. Danny Langsdorf called this ridiculous backward pass that resulted in a turnover, good field position, and ultimately a TD for Oregon. Can someone tell me what the point of that was? Langsdorf needs to learn not to overthink things. When something is working, there is no need for trickery. Pound the ball, get points and move on. Choices like that cost you points and games. Langsdorf had better understand what a perilous spot he put this team in.

This is a great win for this program. This was a hell of a test for the Huskers. A win like this changes things. Oregon has been tremendously successful over the last decade or so. They have become a standard on the west coast. Is this team as good as those in the past?  I highly doubt it. Still, this is a terrific win for this program under Mike Riley. It also cements my opinion that NU is a pretty good team this year. However, good teams don’t stub their toe at Northwestern next week, or at home to Illinois or Purdue. Good teams go into Bloomington and pillage the damn place. The Huskers should win each of their next 4 games against the bottom of this conference. I expect it, and so should you. That would put NU 7-0 and headed toward a date with Wisconsin Halloween weekend. Camp Randall, Saturday night, with all the students dressed in their Donald Trump costumes. That place is something of a house of horrors for the Huskers. But at this point, this squad appears set to break out from the horrors of years past. That is why a win like this feels greater than it is on paper. It represents progress and change going forward. I couldn’t be happier.

Don’t Be Fooled

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.