- The rough edges from the first game have been smoothed out, the defense is getting back on track, and the offense is starting to get hot.
- This was a nice win, but reserve all judgment until after the UCLA game.
What amuses (and frustrates) me is that many of the people who believe #1 were the same folks who thought the sky was falling after Wyoming put a big scare into Nebraska in week 1.
As for me, I'm closer to #2. I believe Nebraska is not as bad as they looked against Wyoming, but not as good as they looked against Southern Miss. The truth of the team - and how far they can go in 2013 - is still unknown. And I doubt the UCLA game will reveal any conclusive answers.
Let's face it: the defense still has issues. Big issues. Southern Miss has a slightly below average offense (and that's probably being kind), yet they were able to complete passes to wide open receivers. The "3 and Out" has all but disappeared. Teams better than Southern Miss (i.e. every team left on NU's schedule other than *maybe* South Dakota State) will be able to move the ball on Nebraska. Improvement will come, slowly, but the 2009 defense won't be coming out of the tunnel any time soon.
Does this mean you should save yourself some heartache, give up on the season, and wait for basketball to start (a.k.a. "The Kansas Plan")? Absolutely not. Nebraska still has every chance to win the Legends division, and from there anything can happen.
I would just caution you against getting too high over a 40 point win over a team that has now lost 14 in a row.
So what did we learn?
The future looks bright. I know that many people knock on Nebraska's recruiting, the lack of 4 and 5 star guys, and the quality of players Bo and Co. bring in. But on Saturday, the program's youth was on display. True freshmen Josh Banderas and Nathan Gerry started on defense. Fellow frosh Terrell Newby had another strong performance as a reserve running back. Redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong, Jr. saw his first snaps at quarterback, and looked very smooth running the offense. There are several freshmen, redshirts, and sophomores getting significant playing time on the defensive line. And the odds are good that I'm overlooking another youngster who is contributing.
You may choose to look at this as proof of recruiting failures in the past, but I see a bright future with talented players at key positions gaining experience.
It is possible for NU to win the turnover battle.Strengthened by four interceptions, Nebraska finished +3 in turnover margin. How noteworthy is that? Nebraska's best game in 2012 was +1. Credit goes to both the secondary for getting those picks, as well as to Taylor Martinez and the offense for limiting their turnovers. Enough cannot be said about how vital it is that Nebraska wins - or breaks even - in turnovers each week.
Nebraska struggles with rugby-style punts. For the second straight week, Nebraska faced a team that employs rugby punts. The punter rolls out to his right and kicks the ball end over end. And for the second straight week, that strategy negated any chance for a Nebraska punt return. I have no doubt that Jamal Turner will be an explosive return man, but he's struggling to field these low bouncing kicks before they roll away. Given how NU struggled in the punt return game last year, I guess I probably shouldn't be too surprised, but I think the pieces are in place for more success. On a related note - I'd love to see one of the guys covering the punt team's gunner streak into the backfield to cause some havoc (blocked kick, tackle the punter, rush his kick, etc.) There must be a good football reason why you don't see teams try that.
So what don't we know?
Who is the #2 QB? Ron Kellogg III was the first one off the bench, followed by Tommy Armstrong, Jr., before Kellogg closed out the game. Kellogg is probably the best passer on the team; although Armstrong did not attempt a pass. Armstrong looked very smooth running the offense. He already runs the option better than any Nebraska QB since Solich walked the sidelines. I saw a quote from Tim Beck before the game saying that his #2 guy would "depend on the situation", and I agree. I still think Kellogg gets the first shot, but Armstrong may prove to be The Man if Martinez goes down long-term.
What does a fullback have to do to get a carry?The offense ran the ball 46 times on Saturday, including several in 4th quarter garbage time. Eight different players carried the ball, including five different running backs, but there were exactly zero carries by Nebraska's two fullbacks.
As you probably know by now, I'm a fullback fan. With a hometown kid (Gretna's Andy Janovich) playing the position, my fanaticism goes up a notch. But this is more than just my desire to see the local kid get a touch. Janovich and C.J. ZImmerer played a bunch of snaps, helping to pave the way for those running backs. Surely Tim Beck could toss them a bone and call one lousy fullback trap.
What happens against UCLA? Will we see a repeat of the 653 yard meltdown? Can Nebraska's offense surpass what the defense allows? Will the Sea of Red really turn black? Does Nebraska lose this game? How bad will the new alternate jerseys look? I have no doubts that Nebraska will give up yards and points to the Bruins, but my gut says it will be noticeably lower than 653. I'm very curious to see how the offense fares against an above average defense. And I love the seemingly moral dilemma some fans are having about what to wear on Saturday. Hell, I've gone back and forth on it. As for the outcome, I see no reason that Nebraska cannot win.
How Full Is Your Glass?
Given the divide I’m seeing between the “Pelini Apologists” and the “Bo Bashers”, I’d like to provide a stat, quote, observation, or factoid that best illustrates the position of these two diverse groups.
Glass Half Full: The Blackshirts are allowing just over 25% (5 of 21) of opponents third downs to be converted. Besides, how much can you complain when the team scores 56, gets four interceptions, and empties the bench?
Glass Half Empty: It may have been a "sellout", but there were noticeable pockets of empty seats at kickoff, as there have been for multiple games under Pelini.
5 Players I Loved
- Sam Foltz. If he keeps this up, we're going to need a good nickname for young Mr. Foltz (early suggestion: Boomer). Foltz had another impressive outing, recording a 46 yard average on four kicks. His 60 yard bomb is the most memorable, but I'd like to call your attention to his first kick of the day. Early in the 1st quarter, Nebraska has just gone 3 & out, and must punt from their own 15. The snap to Foltz, standing in his own end zone, is low. Unfazed, Foltz launches the ball 49 yards. That is great poise, and kept Southern Miss from getting early momentum.
- Kenny Bell. I'm not sure what impressed me more about Kenny's day: the highlight reel catch on his 21 yard touchdown or his 63 yard kickoff return that almost went the distance. I guess I'll give the edge to the scoring play, but Bell has been fantastic as a return man. Oh yeah, Kenny had another good day as a receiver, blocked well, and recorded an assist on a tackle during punt coverage. Impressive.
- Randy Gregory. Randy Gregory is quickly becoming the pass rushing force that Nebraska has been missing for years. Much has been written about his size, speed, and "SEC-type body" which enables his talent. But the thing I notice about him is his motor. He is still looking for that first sack, but did get credited with four QB hurries. Simply put, he never quits or gives up on a play. I love seeing that in players, especially on defense.
- Stanley Jean Baptiste. During fall camp, one of the coaches said that SJB has all the ability, he just needs to put it together. It appears as if he's doing that. His pick-six set the tone for the game, and was very close to a second interception later on. Here's hoping Stanley has not reached his ceiling yet.
- Ciante Evans. A big day for the senior captain: two interceptions, including a touchdown, and a pass break up. Nebraska is fortunate to have some very good cornerbacks.
Honorable Mention:Qunicy Enunwa, Ameer Abdullah, Josh Banderas, Josh Mitchell, all of the backups who got their first taste of playing time.
5 Areas for Improvement
- Taylor Martinez locking onto receivers. Let me start this with a disclaimer: just about anytime Nebraska scores 56 points, it will be difficult to find five legitimate things to list here. Therefore, some of these will be quite nit-picky, which brings us to Martinez...Overall, I think he is playing well and running the offense at a high level. His turnovers are down and his decision making has been strong. But through the first two games it has really felt like he is locking onto his receivers early. So far, it hasn't come back to bite him, but as the level of defender picks up, the chance of interceptions increases when you're staring down your target.
- Cethan Carter. I'm guessing you have had nightmares all week about that easy touchdown catch that didn't happen. Next time, big fella. Next time.
- Cornhusker Marching Band.I know it was stupid hot, and the Dri-Fit, Climalite technology has not trickled down to band uniforms, but it was jarring seeing the Pride in slacks and polos. Obviously, the safety of the student musicians comes before my aesthetic tastes , but it sure made the normal game day atmosphere feel more like a scrimmage.
- Jason Ankrah. Maybe it is me and my expectations are too high, maybe it is scheme, or maybe I read too much into the preseason fluff pieces, but I keep finding myself wanting more out of Ankrah's game. I still view him as more of a space filler than defensive threat. I'd love to be proven wrong.
- Local Politicians. Don't worry, I'm going to talk politics, but I am going to chastise the local pols for the scarcity of football rosters being distributed around the stadium. It's the second game of a new season, and one that was likely to be a blowout, so I'd like to know who is on the field. The only roster I found was one from Shane Osborn (and I may or may not have had to pick it up off of the ground). With a number of big races in the 2014 primaries, the politicos need to get their name and face out there - preferably with a current Nebraska roster on the back.
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.com). Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.