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  • Ida-Blowout State

    A confession: for all of my Husker passion and fandom (seeing NU play in every Big XII stadium, missing just a handful of home games over the past 20 years, etc), I've never attended a Nebraska Red-White Scrimmage. The thought of watching a glorified practice, and sitting through a "game" that doesn't count in the standings has never interested me. The only reason I'll consider going to one in the future will be to give my kids a low-cost taste of the game day experience.

    So you'd think that I would absolutely hate a game featuring an opponent like Idaho State - a team that struggles to win in a lower division of football - especially when I paid full price (plus "donation") for my ticket. You would probably think I'd much rather watch a nail-biter or a 10 point win over a "name" school than a blowout.

    You'd be wrong. I loved the game on Saturday.

    It was a great flashback to the glory days. I grew up watching Nebraska be completely and totally superior to their opponent, dominating on offense and defense, with the occasional kick return for a TD thrown in for good measure. There is so much I love about blowout wins: lots of scoring, big plays, eye-popping stats, being able to see a clear difference in the size, speed, and strength of your guys compared to theirs. We saw all of that against Idaho State.

    But my favorite moments in a blowout happen in the fourth quarter. Most of the crowd has left, so you can move down to the lower rows, grab a vacated seat back, and watch from up close. The third and fourth stringers are in, many of them getting their first taste of game action - a much deserved reward for getting crushed every day in practice. The guys on the field are a mix of talented youngsters - redshirt freshmen and sophomores who will be starting in a year or two - and walk-ons and in-state kids whose entire playing career will be a handful of snaps with a 50 point lead.

    Even though most of the crowd has left, the ones that stuck around will still applaud a big gain, tough running, or extra effort. If the opposing team threatens to score, the 15,000 or so who are still there will make some noise and encourage the defense to preserve a shutout (or our free Runzas). No disrespect to those who choose to leave with a 40 point lead, but I love the passion and dedication from those fans who stay until the end.

    Yeah, there is a definite gap between Idaho State and some of the other overmatched teams to take their lumps in Memorial Stadium, just as there is a definite gap between the 2012 Husker team and those from the 80s and 90s. But I won't apologize for loving every minute of Saturday's game. College football has changed quite a bit since Osborne retired. For one gloriously beautiful autumn afternoon, this was a great reminder of how things used to be.

    So what did we learn?

    Tim Beck is not afraid to put something on film during a blowout. Nebraska showed some new plays and wrinkles on Saturday: the end-around shovel pass that Kenny Bell scored on, a throw-back screen to Burkhead, a formation with Burkhead and Abdullah in the backfield, and another with guard Cole Pensick split out wide. In the Osborne days, the play calling would have been very, very vanilla (option left, option right, fullback dive), but not with Beck. Personally, I think he likes to a) see what works in a game and b) give opposing defensive coordinators more things to worry about.

    Nebraska is loaded at running back. Rex Burkhead. Ameer Abdullah. Braylon Heard. Imani Cross. Together they combined for 35 carries for 342 yards and five touchdowns against Idaho State. Even when you convert those numbers from FCS to FBS, you're talking about a position group that is as deep and talented as it has been in years. Not too shabby for a unit that had a five-star recruit transfer out this summer. Kudos to Ron Brown for getting these guys ready to play, and for helping to make them (Burkhead and Abdullah especially) very complete players.

    The gap between Taylor Martinez and the other QBs is still pretty wide. It was great to see Ron Kellogg get some extended playing time, and even better to see him throw some passes. Although RG3 (I heard that nickname for the first time on Saturday and I love it) looked pretty good, there is a definite difference between his play and that of Martinez. As for the other QBs? Bronson Marsh didn't get to do anything besides hand off and get out of the way. Brion Carnes looked pretty good - at wide receiver. It is still unknown how Tommy Armstrong fits into this picture, and hopefully we don't need to find out this year. The bottom line here is the Martinez detractors should hopefully acknowledge that barring an injury, nobody will be taking his job any time soon.

    So what don't we know?

    Why did Burkhead and Martinez play as long as they did? With two minutes left in the 1st quarter, Nebraska went on offense with Ron Kellogg III under center, and many fans assuming that Martinez was done for the day - with Burkhead soon to follow. But after that drive ended with a Kellogg interception, Martinez came in to finish out the 1st half. Even if that was planned, it sure looked like a knee-jerk reaction to the interception. Burkhead, coming off of a knee injury that cost him 2 1/2 games, got five carries (of his eight total) with a 35 point lead. I understand getting both of them work, reps, and in the case of Burkhead, shaking off the rust, but with the conference schedule about to start it, but the risk of injury for two key players - both of whom have a history of injuries - was too high for my tastes.

    How does this performance carry over to Wisconsin? Depending on your point of view, Nebraska either dominated all three phases of the game and should be primed and confident to take on Wisconsin. Or, aside from a 35 point first quarter, Nebraska played sloppy, undisciplined football where they relied on their physical advantages over technique to crush a vastly inferior opponent. They go into a game against the reigning Big 10 champion overconfident and ready for another humbling disappointment. I lean towards the former, but I expect the coaching staff to point out all of the faults and flaws that can be found in a 66 point win.

    Has the wave ever come out earlier (or lasted longer) than it did on Saturday? I feel the same way about the wave as I do about Twinkies - as a kid, they were the greatest thing EVER, but as an adult...meh. While I'd likely eat a Twinkie if offered one, and I'll usually raise a single, half-hearted arm when the wave comes around, I'm not going to waste a lot of time or energy on either.

    But on Saturday, the Memorial Stadium crowd brought out a wave performance for the ages. It started very early in the second quarter (the students are contractually obligated to start the wave each game, and they wanted to get it done so they could head to the bars at halftime). I was initially surprised by how little effort it took to make it around the stadium, as it usually takes 4-5 tries to get through West Stadium. After a few boisterous trips around, the students introduced a very cool wrinkle to Memorial Stadium: the slo-mo wave, which was followed up by the speed wave, and a couple of more regulars for good measure. By the end, the folks in my section (including those who never, ever participate in the wave) were joining in, laughing, and cheering our efforts. I'm guessing for many fans, this will be the lasting memory of the game.

    Where are my Keys?

    At the beginning of the season, I laid out three simple keys for Nebraska to have a strong season: 1) Win the turnover battle, 2) Own 3rd Down, 3) Limit penalties. Throughout the year, I'll be tracking Nebraska's progress:

    Penalties
    Penalty Yds.
    3rd Down Conv. (NU)
    3rd Down Conv. (Opp)
    Turnover Margin
    So. Miss
    2
    30
    80.0%
    50.0%
    1
    UCLA
    7
    60
    9.1%
    45.0%
    -1
    Arkansas St.
    4
    34
    76.9%
    37.5%
    -2
    Idaho St.
    9
    104
    45.5%
    13.3%
    2
    2012 Per Game
    5.5
    57.0
    56.0%
    36.9%
    0
    2011 Per Game
    7.2
    57.3
    42.3%
    40.2%
    -1


    Let's face it - Nebraska could have doubled their penalty yards, traded 3rd down percentages with ISU, and committed four more turnovers, and still won by 28. With the exception of penalties, all this game did was skew the season numbers.

    5 Players I Loved
    1. Eric Martin. The "Caveman" was in full on Beast Mode. Five total tackles, five for loss, and 2.5 sacks. His first sack was very impressive. Martin came off the right side in a flash like he knew the snap count. The QB never had a chance. He'll face a much tougher test against Wisconsin's line, but I'm hopeful he can continue to put some pressure on opposing quarterbacks. I'm also hoping he can return to special teams as kickoffs aren't as fun without him.
    2. Ciante Evans. I read that Ciante stuck around after practice to participate in wide receiver catching drill. Why? Evans told the reporter that he had dropped a couple of interceptions this year, and didn't want to do it again. On Saturday, he got another chance and returned the interception 29 yards for a touchdown. What a great lesson in how putting in the extra effort will pay off.
    3. Ameer Abdullah. He actually had the worst numbers of the four RBs (8 carries for 49 yards and a TD), but he's here for everything else he did. We'll get the obvious (an impressive 81 yard punt return for a TD) out of the way and focus on his blocking. He had another great pickup on a Idaho State blitz that saved Martinez from taking a hit. But his best work was a great cut block that helped to turn Kenny Bell's reception from a nice gain to a 68 yard touchdown.
    4. Offensive Line. As I stated last week, any time Nebraska puts up 300+ yards rushing, there will be a spot on this list for the O Line. Granted, getting 385 rush yards should be assumed against a weak FCS school, but the line had another strong day. Nebraska goes as far in conference play as the line will take them.
    5. Andy Janovich. Did you notice who was lined up at fullback to start the game? The highly touted transfer from Alabama? Nope. The in-state scholarship player? Wrong again. The walk-on true freshman from Gretna? You bet. Janovich recorded the first reception and carry in Cornhusker history by a Gretna Dragon (Gretna just happens to be my alma mater), and was respectable as a lead blocker. I've always loved rooting for in-state kids to do well, but it is going to be a lot of fun for me to be able to cheer on a hometown kid for the next four years.


    Honorable Mention: Quincy Enunwa, Imani Cross, Josh Mitchell, Justin Blatchford, Any career backup that saw the field for the first time.

    5 Areas for Improvement
    1. Penalties. I guess if you are going to have a season-high day for penalties and yards (Nine for 104 yards) you should do it when you score 73 points. I just hope some of the sloppiness doesn't carry over to Wisconsin, as 9 for 104 will be a recipe for defeat next week.
    2. Time of Possession. So Nebraska rushes it 52 times, racking up 385 yards on the ground, and they lose the time of possession battle? Unacceptable. I'm not sure how the Huskers can expect to win the Legends Division if they can't control the ball against Idaho Freakin' State. (Actually, they lost TOP by 8 seconds. Look - finding five legitimate, justifiable areas for improvement in a 73-7 game is tough. Forgive me if some of these get a little shallow.)
    3. Nebraska's alternate jerseys. I saw some fans wearing replicas of the jerseys NU will wear this week against Wisconsin, and they put the "ugh" in ugly. For anybody considering purchasing one of these things for next week's game: save yourself some money and purchase a Team Jack t-shirt instead. Not only will you look better, you'll be helping a very worthy cause (instead of rewarding the design team at adidas for using the same template they used for Michigan last year and Wisconsin this year).
    4. Idaho State's Punting. Rarely do I feel bad for Nebraska's opponent, even if NU has a sizeable lead. But the punting of ISU's C.J. Reyes made me sad. He punted nine times, and every time it was a low, wounded quail of a kick that looked like it wanted to get out of bounds as quickly as possible. To describe his punts as "shanked" is disrespectful to the word shank. One of their longer punts (a 41 yarder) was taken back by Ameer Abdullah, so maybe ISU was onto something.
    5. Nebraska "Scrub-Shirt" Defense. I've long referred to the 3rd and 4th string defense as the "Scrub Shirts". And I've seen them play enough over the years to know that they tend to give up a late score. I can accept that. I can even accept when that late score costs Nebraska a shutout. But what is tough to accept is seeing that late touchdown being thrown by the backup QB - who happens to be the worst punter to ever step foot on the Memorial Stadium turf. I shudder to think of how Jason Peter will react when he finds out.



    Dave Feit is a freelance writer living in Lincoln. Additional thoughts on the Huskers (and everything else) can be found on his blog (www.feitcanwrite.wordpress.com). Follow him on Twitter at @Feitcanwrite


    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Ted's Avatar
      Ted -
      I've never liked the revenge factor, you saw what happened against a 5-7 Texas team in Lincoln, so hopefully last years Wisc. game isn't constantly brought up. This game is going to tell the entire story of Nebraska's season this year in the Big Ten. The defense should be able to handle, what appears to be the most vanilla offense they have faced this year. The key, in my opinion, is how well the Huskers can run against a very good Wisconsin run defense. If Nebraska takes care of the ball & plays with poise, on Offense, and the defense can rattle their freshman QB, they should have no problem beating Wisconsin. If, however, the Huskers lose to a mediocre Wisconsin team @ home, my feeling is, they will lose their next 4 games against, OSU, Northwestern, Michigan & MSU! Beating Wisconsin is HUGE....GBR!!!
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Great read Dave. I enjoyed your insights and totally agree in that I always enjoy seeing the younger guys get a chance to get some playing time.
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