So here we are again, Nebraska pulls another win out by the skin of its teeth. Nothing unusual, it happened several times last year. Oh, wait, people are actually upset now? I can't say I understand why, given what happened Saturday night was practically what happened against Northwestern or Michigan State last year, a narrow one-score win. The only difference is, Nebraska was the one who scored last to take the lead in those games.
Okay, holding off the ninth best team in the Mountain West by three is not going to inspire confidence. It was the worst performance of a Bo Pelini Nebraska team against a non-major conference opponent other than maybe South Dakota State in 2010. Great time for the Jack Rabbits to be back in Lincoln in a couple of weeks. But this morning, I don't see any reason why Nebraska can't win 11 or 10 games.
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
I know it sounds crazy, but Nebraska is still playing the same easy schedule they were set to play before this weekend, which still doesn't include Ohio State, or Indiana and their array offensive weapons. The offense, while not totally clicking, still was able to move the ball and score enough. Yes, the defense was terrible, but how many impact plays from last year can you think of that measure up with the interception, third-and-one tackle, and third-down pass breakup that Stanley Jean-Baptiste made? Kenny Bell made impacts in both the return game (returns of 35 and 37 to set up scoring drives) and as a gunner. And Sam Foltz made two impact punts, one at the most critical juncture of the game. Yes, it felt like a loss, but all is not lost.
Nebraska's lackluster showing was nothing in comparison to the numerous major conference programs who lost or underperformed against FCS teams or teams from lesser conferences. It doesn't justify the Huskers' problems, but what happened in Lincoln on Saturday happened to a degree in Storrs, Ames, Morgantown, Corvallis, Iowa City, and Manhattan, Kansas, of all places, as lesser programs try to get noticed for bigger invitations down the line.
And in the case of Wyoming, you had a classic border rival whose coach, Dave Christensen, has a 22-28 record through four years and came into this year with two chances to get a signature win. One was last night, the other is in November at Boise State. Which do you think he prepared harder for, and which one would have meant the most to his boosters who always get Nebraska games on ABC? With an off-season of planning, you knew he was throwing all his energy at a team he humiliated several times as Missouri's offensive coordinator.
And consider the style of play. In the area of spreads, teams aren't hitting as hard in Week One as they have in the past. The only team I saw yesterday that was blocking and tackling like it was October was Georgia Tech, whose style is built on physicality. At the same time the Yellow Jackets were running circles around Elon, Florida was plodding along with Toledo, saving their actual smash-mouth style for when SEC play starts.
But beyond all this, the question remains, what are Nebraska's ceiling and floor based on that performance? Urban Meyer will be able to destroy this team if he gets the opportunity to do so. Still, Taylor Martinez and company are likely to average around twenty-eight points a game, which should be enough to overcome the damage that an average Big 10 offense will do to Nebraska's defense. The big question coming out of this game is whether or not Tim Beck will take enough shots down the field. If Beck wants to run the ball over sixty percent of the time, he has to get more than one twenty-yard reception that occurred by chance. Throwing the short receiver screens, even though opponents having been playing Nebraska receivers five yards off the line of scrimmage for two years, is more conducive in a 50-50 run-to-pass ratio.
As I thought before Saturday night, the effort against UCLA will be one of the best ones of the season, because it's only game worth circling in this half of the season. That in part accounted for the lackluster effort on Saturday, and I'd bet Pelini has a defensive package Nebraska has not used yet for Brett Hundley and his speed demons. But before that, there is a game against Southern Miss, a team with a long losing streak that finally gets to go on the road and play the us-against-the-world card. Not exactly great for Nebraska.