Nebraska's first road game of the season turned out to be a field trip. It was a day for learning Saturday at West Lafayette, Ind.
With sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s, near-laboratory conditions prevailed for the Cornhuskers' 44-7 rout of Purdue. What did this team learn?
First and foremost, the Husker defense proved it can make a whole bunch of stops, at least against a lower-tier conference foe. It's a start, anyway.
Tommy Armstrong Jr. proved he's not ready to dislodge a healthy Taylor Martinez as the first-string quarterback, but the Husker defense showed some encouraging advancement. The young front seven is growing up during a sheltered October, while playing only two games over a four-week stretch.
There was bad news, because Nebraska appears to have lost All-America right guard Spencer Long for an extended period. Long suffered a knee injury and spent the second half on crutches. If Long is done for the season, that could be almost as damaging as losing Martinez. The team made no announcement about the severity of the injury, but Bo Pelini seemed downcast about it after the game.
The good news was the Nebraska defense. For 59 minutes, the Blackshirts were very much in control. In fact, the Blackshirts made this Big Ten football game look more like a controlled scrimmage – first-team defense against second-team offense. They discovered they can indeed get off the field. The best part of this game was watching the Husker front seven start to come together and play as a team. The d-line got some push and applied pressure at times with just a four-man rush. The blitzes were effective, and sophomore defensive end Randy Gregory looked great. He recovered a fumble and had two sacks, including a safety. Gregory would have had three sacks except for teammate Josh Mitchell lining up offside.
Overall, the Huskers had five sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery. It was two steps forward for the Husker defense, which held Purdue to only 216 yards of total offense, and just 32 yards rushing. It's true Purdue has one of the worst offenses in the conference, but considering where Nebraska was just three weeks ago, that's still a huge accomplishment.
The offense was not spectacular, but it crunched out 251 rushing yards, 21 first downs and held the ball for 37 minutes. The offensive line has been steady, and continued to be despite losing Long on the game's first drive.
Ron Kellogg III had a fine day throwing the ball, but Armstrong is the future. On this day, Armstrong looked very much like a freshman quarterback. He made a lot of bad decisions as Purdue blitzed him much of the game. His three interceptions showed he has a lot to learn about pocket passing. He threw behind Quincy Enunwa on his third pick. Frankly, I'm scratching my head as to why we saw Armstrong run very few option plays. Armstrong will learn a lot from this game; hopefully, offensive coordinator Tim Beck will learn how to use him better.
I'm willing to live with a few questions on offense if the defense finds answers and gains confidence.
"I see progress," Pelini said about his defense after the game. "We're heading in a good direction."
Learning and progress. Those were the themes, although it's hard to judge just how much ground this team gained. After the bye week, another road trip to Minnesota should yield a similar result. Then will come the real tests.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org