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  • Still waiting for evidence of more team speed on defense

    The new facilities passed the eye test with flying colors.

    The new Nebraska football team did not.

    The Cornhuskers, 28-point favorites over a Wyoming team that went 4-8 in 2012, melted in the fourth-quarter heat and barely held on for a season-opening 37-34 victory that appeared to be safely locked up with seven minutes remaining.

    Do these themes seem familiar? Nebraska had 84 penalty yards, no punt return yards, three fumbles and failed to sack the opposing team's quarterback.

    If the newer, taller, badder, louder East Stadium was supposed to intimidate the opposition, it did not. A record crowd of 91,185 made a lot of noise, but Wyoming looked unintimidated at all times and frankly, seemed unimpressed on occasion.

    Wyoming Cowboys quarterback Brett Smith (16) throws agains the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the first half at Memorial Stadium.
    Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
    The Cornhuskers came out and performed exactly like their detractors around the nation said they would, giving up 602 total yards and getting gouged by big plays. Yes, we expected that the defense would have its share of growing pains, but we expected to see increased speed on the field. Instead, we saw junior quarterback Brett Smith – who is a smart kid, tough competitor and fine athlete, but will never be confused with Braxton Miller or Brett Hundley – making Husker defenders look silly by outrunning, outmaneuvering, out-thinking and out-adjusting them. It was the same old story; the Husker defense seemed a step slow all night.

    Smith beat Husker linebackers to the edge with ease and neutralized Husker blitzes with his ability to move in the pocket and keep plays alive. The Huskers surrendered 219 rushing yards and nine runs of 10 yards or more to a Cowboy squad that finished in the bottom half of the major-college rushing stats in 2012. Smith was the more impressive of the two quarterbacks Saturday night, completing 29 of 43 passes for 383 yards and four touchdowns. He made only two bad decisions all night – when he tried to go for the jugular too quickly in the second quarter, throwing an interception to Stanley Jean-Baptiste at the goal line, and on the game's final play, when he held the ball too long before throwing it away after time expired.

    Taylor Martinez threw three touchdown passes and went 17-for-22, but his turnover problems returned in the fourth quarter, when he threw an interception and fumbled on a fourth-down sneak in the final seven minutes.

    This young Husker defense will have better days, and there's no reason to give up on them by any means. The Blackshirts held Wyoming to only one third-down conversion in eight tries. The freshmen deserve a pass – it was their first game, after all. The fact that the the juniors and seniors had every bit as much trouble as the first-time starters is the most concerning thing of all. We can hope that Bo Pelini was right – that the Blackshirts looked worse than they really are. That front seven will do a lot of learning.

    The Husker offensive line looked pretty much the same as last year's version, only with slightly improved pass blocking. The o-line got off to a familiar slow, penalty-punctuated start, then caught fire and steamrolled Wyoming during the third quarter, seemingly getting the Cowboys in a stranglehold – only to inexplicably let up in the fourth quarter. The fast-paced Husker offense seemed to wear down itself, not the opposition, because Wyoming outgained Nebraska 204-126 in the fourth quarter. At the end, the Cowboys looked like the better-conditioned team despite Nebraska's depth advantage.

    With Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross both rushing for 100 yards, the Husker offense had its good moments, but early on, it seemed confused to the extent that Martinez found himself ad-libbing a lot during the first half. The Huskers never really got a good rhythm going on offense; Wyoming was crisper and better prepared. Martinez and the offense could have taken control of the game if they had finished a couple more drives.

    On the bright side, Nebraska got excellent special teams play from Kenny Bell, and covered kickoffs with excellence. With the exception of Pat Smith's missed extra point and the ongoing lack of productivity on punt returns, the kicking game was solid. Grand Island's Sam Foltz is going to be an effective weapon as a punter.

    The more you look at it, the more evident is becomes. The stadium addition was completed with excellence, and on time. But a ton of work remains for the Husker football team.

    Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at tad.stryker@gmail.com
    Comments 18 Comments
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      So how long do we wait for Bo to get this recruiting deal down?
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Agree...agree...and...agree, except for punt return comments. The Wyoming strategy was rugby style buners which were low stingers. It would have bben much more dangerous to field those punts than let them roll.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Picked up right where we left off. Can't and shouldn't blame the players any more. There are serious coaching problems here. What's with the punt return scheme? The linemen stand up and let the other team rush down the field unblocked. We seam to be playing with one linebacker all the time and once they get past him it's all over. Pelini should just forget his schemes. They don't work!
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Defense did have a sac in this game. Josh Mitchell on the 2 point try. Also had the one that was called roughing the pass.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Why Why Why Why !! When you are up 16 points in the fourth quarter which i believe there was around 8 min left 3rd and 8 on the wyoming side of the feld do you not run the ball. That was a bad call by TB. Would have took my chances running the ball rather than let tm throw the ball and everyone saw what happened.
    1. Mark S's Avatar
      Mark S -
      Thank you for the excellent analysis and write up as always Tad. I could only catch the radio broadcast on the internet, but from what I heard your article is spot on. I grow tired of false starts on offense, and a D-line that can't seem to get to the quarterback. T Mart had to scramble all last year , while opposing QB's dropped back and called their mother in the safety of their pocket before throwing the pass. Your comments related to the fourth quarter meltdown also correct! After a "wear down" 3rd what happened in the 4th? Some will say, "This is just first game jitters". Nonsense! This is a continuation from last year. Pelini is a great D Coordinator, not a head coach. He lacks the ability to hire experienced assistant coaches with great resumes out of fear they will not let him micro manage. He can't fire the dead weight like Barney Cotton, which might be in his best interest to keep peace, but not the best interest of Nebraska.
    1. ND Husker's Avatar
      ND Husker -
      Great article and on point with a couple omissions.

      The wide receivers are all that was advertised - very solid.

      T Newby is a great addition to the running backs.

      Jean-Baptiste played a very solid game.
    1. URSS's Avatar
      URSS -
      600 yards!!!!!! They were able to run over the defensive line almost at will. I think the coaches are as responsible as the players. The Blackshirts have not returned and I expect they will not- another repeat of last year's defense.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Tad,
      Right on, as usal. I was watching Craig Bohl's team on Friday night. Many shots of him on the sidelines. Very composed. A head coach that takes the game in stride and has assistant coaches that know their job. He isn't in ther face or performing a worried blackboard counseling session on the sidelines going over (well , what he has prepared for and would hope they have prepared for). Check out Wyoming's coach the entire game --- coached the game and certanly wasn't cryng n the press conference over a couple missed penalty calls (Like that was the difference maker of the Wyoming offense racking up 600-plus yards.
    1. Fact Checker's Avatar
      Fact Checker -
      Wyoming was 4-8 a year ago (not 2-10), with Smith (their best quarterback...ever?) injured most of the year. I don't blame college football fans for being myopic (most of us are), but when you get easy facts wrong in the first breath of your article, it makes you sound like a poor choice for a "review" such as this!
    1. d disgusted's Avatar
      d disgusted -
      Here we go again, marginal defense with tons of excuses. Why are the Huskers becoming an On the Job Training exercise for defensive coordinators? Why is Johnny P still there? Why don't we go hire someone with experience who knows how to put a game plan together?

      The lack of experience is only a small part of the problem. This was not Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin or Penn State we were playing.
    1. Husker in Miami's Avatar
      Husker in Miami -
      Well Said, I AGREE with YOU 200%. The real Question is WHAT will be done about this and HOW LONG WILL WE PUT UP WITH THIS ??????????????
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      The best thing about each week this season is we are one game closer to the end of T Tragic as our QB. He continues to demonstrate no composure, poor decision making, and carelessness. He's not a leader and neither is our HC. Six years in...you are what you are and this program is nothing more than a 9-4 program in a mediocre league. If this is what NU fans and administrators want, then keep Bozo and his Clowns around. I don't think that's what anyone wants from this storied program. Therefore, we need to cut the cord on this misfit collection of coaches and bring a HC and staff that truly teaches and accepts nothing less than championship level attention to detail, practice habits and work ethic.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Early in the season but when is Bo's "expertise" with defense going to show itself. They are just horrible in coverage and tackling.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Was Wyoming really 2-10 last year or 4-8?
    1. HuskerHog12's Avatar
      HuskerHog12 -
      Fire Papuchis. I like the guy, but hey, how much more evidence do we need?
    1. daweaver1125's Avatar
      daweaver1125 -
      Here's what we know: Tom Osborne openly stated several times after Bo Pelini was hired that he hired him because we needed help on defense and needed to fix that. What Bo does not need to do anymore is spend time with the offense. Now is not the time for Bo to hold to high grounds as a head coach and not roll his sleeves up with the defense (not just in a game) in practice. Our d has started to resemble the same defenses that almost got Cosgrove escorted out of Lincoln by the fans. Youth can't be an excuse - it's only one game granted. But this certainly was a defensive performance that resembled TONS of yardage but yardage that was given up to much better teams last year. The fact that Brett Smith said that we showed him nothing he didn't expect from game film says alot. Are we that transparent from one season to the next, from one week to the next? Are we that vanilla? Are we so entrenched on certain schemes that adjustments are slow to take by the players? So Bo was brought in to "fix the defense" and after 2 years of creating a great defense upon being hired - each year since has started to get closer and closer to what we saw out of Cosgrove. LOTS of youth which I love - but the "growing pains" and youth excuse couldn't be used for the 2 years leading up to this.

      Bo said after the game that they made the right adjustments but basically the team wasn't executing. Really? If a team year after year is not executing, like we heard last year too - who's shoulder does that fall on? Come on Bo - you know defense but something has happened. Being a defensive genius with schemes doesn't mean anything if you can't develop and coach to execute those schemes.

      One game - but 600 yards allowed. If we don't see a lot of improvement week over week - I hate to imagine what Ann Arbor will look like.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Bo Pellini is not the coach Nebraska needs. A well coached and disaplined team doesn't consistently get penalized so ma ny times in just about every game. Nebraska's good defense left Lincooln when Carl left. It is really embarassing to see teams like Boise State consistently ranked higher than the buskers! Bo is not the coach we need to bring us back to national prominence!
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