Another Loss, What’s Next?

Bowl games can be such a pain in the ass. After maneuvering my schedule around a trip back to The Good Life for Christmas, I had absolutely no wiggle room for a 2:30 Friday kickoff. Most employers don’t want to hear about how your team is in the Music City Bowl and thus you need a 4 hour window to lock in. Thus, I was stuck with the unenviable position of attempting to go dark on the game until I got home. That was unsuccessful. Finally when I arrived home at 730, I was able to grab an oats soda and settle in. What I saw was an uninspiring, yet completely predictable performance. Tennessee owned this game from the beginning. That group of underachievers easily dispatched of Big Red. When you are missing 3 of your best 4 or 5 players, that tends to happen. Nebraska was utterly punchless for the large part of the afternoon. That fact was disturbing.

The Husker defense had absolutely no answer for Josh Dobbs. He did as he wanted all day long. NU defenders bounced off of him and, when he was surrounded, he easily escaped every time. Dobbs accounted for 409 yards on the afternoon, with 4 effortless TDs. He was a man among boys. There is no reason he should have burned NU the way he did. The Husker defense was pretty terrible all day long, contributing greatly to Dobbs prolific day. Basic tackling was a problem, a major freaking problem. This was easily the worst tackling this defense has had all year. Defenders were routinely out of position as well. This left GAPING holes for whoever UT gave the ball to. And they did, to the tune of 230 aggravating yards. Still, this team had its chances. Once during the 2nd quarter and again during the 4th, the Huskers pulled within one score. A stop would have had Big Red within striking distance and the ball. The Blackshirts failed to get a stop both times, spoiling any and all momentum. It was a pretty sorry day for that side of the ball. With the offense obviously hindered, the defense would be called upon to carry the load. Based upon various performances throughout the year, I felt confident going in. What a disappointment. This unit absolutely laid down and let the Volunteers have a glorious afternoon in the Southern Sun. Disgusting.

Offensively, the Huskers were exactly what I thought we would see. Missing Tommy Armstrong was going to be tough to overcome. He has been the workhorse for this offense. Danny Langsdorf and Mike Riley have leaned too hard on Tom. This entire unit is dependent on him. As he has gone, this offense has gone. His absence was enormous. Add in the injured Jordan Westercamp and dinged up Terrell Newby, Alonzo Moore and David Knevel and you knew the results wouldn’t be great. Ryker Fyfe was, well, Ryker Fyfe. He was OK, but not the difference maker NU needed under center. The offensive line struggled, MIGHTILY, with the Tennessee front. Whether it was running or passing, NU could not handle Derek Barnett and the rest of the defensive line. Hell, there were times Barnett was not touched. He, and his cohorts, lived in the Husker backfield. It was painful. NU gained just 61 rushing yardsand allowed Fyfe to be sacked 4 times. That dog wont hunt. I knew the offense would struggle, but I expected NU to be able to run the ball and control the game. That did not happen. That did not come close to happening. Combine that with the awful defensive effort and you have a 14 point loss to an underacheiving squad in ugly ass uniforms…….Pass the beer.

So there you have it. Another loss. Thats 4 of Big Red’s final 6. Not good. It puts a very bitter taste on top of such a promising start. I actually have more questions about this team, and this program, than I do answers at this point. Part of me feels like the Mike Riley era is on course, but needs more talent, particularly at certain positions. Another part feels like we are just biding our time until this thing crashes into the mountain.  I’m extremely torn. I feel like it could go either way. Of course I want Riley and company to figure it out, but that is hard to see see through the fog of losses to inconsequential teams like Iowa and Tennessee. There are valid reasons for losing either of those games. In this sport good teams figure out ways to win.  It happens all the time, just ask the Gophers. It would have been great to win one of those games. I don’t feel like that is expecting too much. Instead NU gets manhandled in both. What does that say about NU going forward? I shouldn’t have to spell it out for you.

Into the darkness of the offseason we go. 8 months without Nebraska Football. What am I going to do with all this extra mental space? What can we expect/hope to see in the coming months before taking the field September 2nd against Arkansas State? Be prepared to be beaten over the head with news about QB controversy. NU hasn’t had a real QB situation since 2010 when Taylor Martinez shocked Husker nation by winning the job over Cody Green and Zac Lee. Be prepared for a similar 3 way QB battle. Tulane transfer Tanner Lee has turned heads in practice. Many see him as the favorite to win the job. Do yourself a favor and don’t look at his stats from 2 years in New Orleans. Pee-freaking-eew. Lee apparently has a rocket arm, and ample size, but his experience is not good. Then there are the unknown commodities of Patrick O’brien and Tristan Gebbia. O’brien has the benefit of being on campus for a year, but Gebbia set California ablaze with his play in his final season. All commodities in this equation are major question marks, but the fact is that one of them will be the signal caller for the offense next fall. Its going to be a major story this offseason. You will probably be sick of hearing about it by the time camp starts next fall. Then, of course, there is the incoming recruiting class. I’m no recruiting guru, but it appears NU has lost a fair amount of steam on the recruiting trail. This program needs more talent. Its that simple. It is obvious, especially along the lines, that more horses are needed. It is completely unacceptable to be dominated up front the way we have against Iowa, Wisconsin, and Tenne-freaking-see. Line play should be a staple of Nebraska Football and for too long it has been mediocre or worse. The primary way to improve the talent level is recruiting. Time for this staff to hit the road and get more horses, preferably thoroughbreds, to Lincoln. The future depends upon it.

 

Senior Day in Lincoln

First I would like to address my absence. Man, life can come at you pretty quickly. This week was warp speed. One minute I was having some pre game brews with my pal at a local Husker watch site, then it was Friday night. It was just a super crazy busy week. Between my 2 jobs, my home responsibilities, and my own general sanity I didn’t have a spare minute. Whew. As you can imagine I was very pleased with the win over the Gophers. It was a great, solid victory. This team should be very proud. As much as I wanted to do a write up, time prevented it. But, hey, that’s life. On to more interesting matters.

As an avid college football fan, senior day is just a part of life. These players who have given so much to the program take the field for one last hurrah. Its a very touching scene, no matter the year. This one pulls at my heart strings just a bit more. I’m particularly fond of this group. This is a good mix of some characters, as well as some outstanding players. The production on the field and in the locker room will be very difficult to replace going forward.

Jordan Westercamp is one of the very best receivers this program has ever had. His toughness and magnet hands wont be soon forgotten. It seems like just yesterday he was a redshirt freshman catching that hail mary against Northwestern. Before this season it appeared he would set many of the all time receiving records at NU. Unfortunately a greater commitment to the running game, and a few injuries have prevented that from happening. I’ll miss Westercamp’s route running, circus catches, and spark plug runs. Hes an all timer. I would love for him to have a big game Saturday.

Tommy Armstrong is not perfect. He can be maddening. His decision making and accuracy have always been suspect. But the man is one of the toughest, most competitive players I’ve seen come through this program. Hes a fighter all the way. Ill miss his leadership and competitiveness. He has some wonderful moments as a Husker. From the game winning pass at Iowa in ’14 to the winning drive against Michigan State last year and even the go ahead score against Oregon this year. His memorable moment list is long. Ill never forget his offensive line carrying him off the field after the go ahead score last week against Minnesota. That was the essence of Tommy Armstrong. A fighter, a leader, a man whose teammates would go to the ends of the world for. Going forward I believe we will see better signal callers, but Tom will always have my admiration and respect.

One of my favorite positions in football is safety. I love a good ball hawk. Nate Gerry is just that. The dude is a heat seeking missle. He has had a super productive career as well. He has been a pleasure to watch. I must say Im a bit miffed. He should have been redshirted his freshman year. Instead Bo Pelini screwed around with him at LB, a position he simply was unfit for. Gerry is a true safety. I have to believe with another year working with Mark Banker Gerry could rack up some serious awards and improve his draft stock. I feel similarly about Josh Banderas. Both of those players were forced, unwisely in my opinion, into action and it cost them a year of eligibility. Imagine this defense nest year if NU returned both Gerry and Bando. Playing them straight out of high school was extremely short sighted.

I’m really going to miss Michael Rose-Ivey. Before he was something of a controversial figure, he was an outstanding prospect. His redshirt freshman year, 2013, he was the star of the defense. He led the team in tackles and only started 7 games. His star was so bright. Unfortunately, a knee injury in 14, a nagging groin in 15 dimmed those prospects. He even sat out a good chunk of camp this year due to injury. It has been very gratifying to watch him have a productive season. He has always been a favorite of mine. Whatever you think of his actions during the national anthem, you must respect both the player and the way he stood up for what he believed in.

There are many others. Ross Dzuris, Dylan Utter, Brandon Reilly, Ryker Fyfe, Alonzo Moore and of course Sam Foltz. This group has not reached the mountain top in their time at NU, but they have served the program well in the transition from Bo Pelini to Mike Riley. They have given the program a whole lot during their time. I am thankful for their contributions and will miss seeing them in red on Saturday. Whatever, that is for next year. Today, lets go get a W for these seniors and send them out in style. This group has earned it.

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.

Another Saturday, Another Battle

My wife ran in an Oktoberfest run early Saturday morning. Naturally, I was there in red. I struck up a conversation with a Michigan fan. As it concluded, I wished him luck. He did the same. I confidently replied “I don’t think we are going to need it today.” I was that sure the Huskers would roll. In my preview I said that the Huskers would “grind Illinois into a fine powder.” I was eating those words, and my lower lip, as the Huskers trailed early in the 4th quarter. For the better part of the afternoon it seemed that Nebraska was hell bent on giving this one away. If it wasn’t penalties, it was a redzone fumble, or shotty defense. For the 3rd straight week the Big Red were in an absolute battle deep into this game. True to form, this club owned the 4th quarter and came away victorious. Give credit to the Illini. They did not play like a 1-2 team. They had this fella sweating bullets all afternoon.

Through 5 games it is now apparent that Nebraska has a few holes on defense. Specifically, the defensive line. Illinois, who had previously been listless running the ball, averaged nearly 6 yards per rush Saturday. The holes were gaping. The LBs can only do so much. We all knew that this DL would be under manned, but that is becoming painfully evident. The pass rush is poor also. If Mark Banker wants to get to opposing QBs, he has to blitz and expose the secondary. That is not a good spot to be in as a playcaller. As poor as the defense was at times Saturday, they answered the bell and made a few key stops. After Nebraska took the lead on an 11 minute drive, the defense stepped up with a 3 and out. Then after NU extended the lead to 8, the defense again forced a 3 and out. Those 2 series went a long way toward winning this game. Ultimately for all the blunders, missed assignments and poor play this unit made plays when it had to.  That deserves some kudos. This defense is far from perfect. It has a long way to go. Frankly I have serious doubts if it can be a dominating unit with the talent on hand. These problems aren’t going away.  But for today this defense played well enough. Not great, not by a mile, but well enough in key situations for this team to improve to 5-0.

The offense Saturday was not playing with a full deck. Wide Receiver Alonzo Moore and Guard Tanner Farmer did not play. Cethan Carter, Jordan Westercamp, David Knevel and Devine Ozigbo all left the game with injuries. Those are major cogs in the offensive wheel. That left the offense undermanned and it showed. The offensive line sorely missed Farmer  and then Knevel as it was unable to push Illinois around the way I thought it would. Tommy Armstrong’s safety blanket Cethan Carter would have come in handy as he escaped oncoming defenders all afternoon. Give the Illinois defense credit for confounding the NU offense for the better part of the afternoon with blitzes and other pressures. They had NU on their heels. But also give the Huskers credit for a gritty 2nd half. Down 16-10 the offense embarked on an 18 play, 75 yard TD drive that took nearly 11 minutes off the clock. That’s right, 11 minutes. Along the way Nebraska was twice bailed out by penalties on 3rd down and got an ultra favorable spot on 4th down inside the 10 yard line. Still, that is a big boy drive that completely flipped the momentum of the game. After a 3 and out, NU did it again this time with a 6 minute drive. That took the wind out of the sails of the Illini and secured the win.

During those 2 game winning, perhaps season saving drives Nebraska leaned heavily on Terrell Newby.  He wasn’t Walter Payton or anything, but the dude was durable and gutsy. This was his best game in scarlet and cream. Good for him. I’ve been tough on Newby. His performance does not change my ultimate opinion of him, but he did show incredible grit. Mike Riley and Danny Langsdorf put this one on his shoulders. Newby ran 16 times for 113 yards in the 4th quarter alone!! I’ll admit, I did not think he had that kind of performance in him. With Ozigbo hurt, and Mikale Wilbon in the dog house after a red zone fumble, Newby ran 29 times for 140 yards and 2 Tds. He also caught 2 passes for 26 yards including a pivotal 3rd down reception on the go ahead drive. Newby’s biggest play was a 63 yard run that salted the game away for good. I’ve gained a new respect for Newby after this ballsy performance. On a tough day for this offense, Newby stepped up and was the difference.

Make no mistake, this was not a good performance. The defense was generally shotty, there was missed tackles, and assignments. The offense sputtered as well and there were a slew of missed opportunities. A performance like this will get you beat, especially against good teams. Illinois does not qualify. But, like last week, a win is a win. This team dug deep and collectively made plays when it had to. This is a game the 2015 Huskers lose. That is a good sign. When a team consistently plays close games they are able to draw from that experience.  This team is used to being in tough games after the last month. That experience is invaluable. It pays off. Next up is a bye. This team needs to get healthy first and foremost. There is also plenty of work to be done to improve. The race for the Big 10 west will no doubt get more and more interesting. Currently, the Huskers are in the drivers seat after Wisconsin and Iowa both lost Saturday. But performances like the one Saturday will not be good enough to earn a trip to Indy. I hope Mike Riley is pounding that point home this week.

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.