For a game against their worst conference opponent in the last six years (2008 Iowa State and 2011 Minnesota are off the hook), Nebraska's 44-7 win at Purdue was more than a standard blowout, as the defense jumped ahead and the offense ran in place, flipping fans' assumptions about this team on its head. Nebraska's first road game was much later than usual, and bound to show complacency (read: my Twitter feed exploded in the second quarter when Nebraska was squandering good field position), but there's very little to complain about.
Even though it was Purdue, Nebraska's defense put together its best performance since last year at Iowa. The defense only gave up 216 yards, slightly more than Bo Pelini's ideal number of 200 yards. Randy Gregory and his compatriots up front proved agile, and the back seven continued to chase for turnovers. Pelini also seemed willing to blitz earlier in drives, shutting Purdue down before they even got to the thirty-five yardline of Nebraska.
So has this young defense grown up, or are they just great against bad teams? Nebraska's defensive line is more active than it has been in last few years, and Randy Gregory had one of the best games by Nebraska lineman since Ndamukong Suh graduated. They may give up yards, but this group (which added two take-aways to its running total of 12) looks like it can hold its own, as long as it doesn't loose its best players to ejections.
It was only a matter of time until one of Bo Pelini's boys on defense was victimized by the new targeting rule. If Stanley Jean-Baptiste was three or four inches shorter (he's tall for a corner at 6'3”), it's possible he can hit Dalyn Dawkins low enough to avoid ejection. The second Dawkins' head rocked backwards, SJB was gone.
While I will be the first to point out that officials will err on the side of caution when calling targeting or roughing the quarterback, intent has to be considered when a player is thrown out of a game. Yes, Jean-Baptiste could have wrapped up instead of leading with his helmet which contacted Dawkins' facemask, but if you are going through a player out of the game, it had better look like the worst hit ever, or pretty close to it. I didn't see that when I watched that hit.
It is very faux-cautious by the NCAA to have targeting ejections ruled on by the video booth, as if they are saying, “We know we can affect a game just because a player ducks into another player's hit, so we'll go to the booth. The video evidence always corrects our officials' mistakes.” Here's a better way to do it -- keep the review, but make the ejection optional instead of automatic, at the discretion of the ref. Don't penalize a player because someone else ducked into his hit.
Ameer Abdullah will contend for Big 10 Offensive Player of the Year. 22 touches, 133 yards, and more runs that will make Sports Center. Through six games, Abdullah has 966 yards, and may cut as well as any Nebraska running back since Ahman Green. And by the way, he can still bang inside too.
Tim Beck went into Saturday ready to let Tommy Armstrong fail. This time, when Beck got a turnover deep in opponents' territory, he chucked the ball straight to the end zone, interception be dammed. In the end, it was probably a good thing that Armstrong made his mistakes and had his receivers drop a few balls against a bad Purdue team, as even his accurate balls seemed to fly high. Hopefully, he'll get a chance to rectify those errors at Minnesota, if Martinez is out again.
The bigger question is, when a game is on the line, is Armstrong or Ron Kellogg III a better option? Perhaps neither would be a great option, but Kellogg was 10-of-13 Saturday and is 25-of-33 on the year with no interceptions, compared to Armstrong's 26-of-46 on the year with three interceptions. Both are improvisers, but Kellogg looks more apt to play within himself. Of course, Armstrong may have more mistakes because he is asked to do more, but it's not as unreasonable to give snaps to RK3 as everyone thought it may have been.
Is it too bad that other teams in the Big 10 don't want to keep Nebraska fans out of their stadiums the way the rest of the Big 12 North did? Even though Purdue doesn't care like Missouri or Kansas State, it was still embarrassing to see such huge chunks of Ross-Ade Stadium empty, and even larger chunks plastered with red. Yes, it's great to see Husker fans owning opponents stadiums like they did back in the day when they got Terry Allen fired at Kansas in 2001 for their massive showing in Lawrence, but this is too embarrassing. Iowa State could have one of the best home fields in the Big 10 right now, and Nebraska didn't come to this league to watch the bottom five teams roll over for them.
Why does there seem to be no conscious effort to get Kenny Bell involved? Bell had two big catches on a fourth quarter touchdown drive, but otherwise disappeared. For all the fancy formations Nebraska uses, it never seems like there are staple, go-to throwing plays to get Bell, Quincy Enumwa, or Jamal Turner running in space and creating stuff. It was good to see Jordan Westerkamp, Sam Cotton, and Cethan Carter have catches (likely because they've worked with Armstrong and RK3 on the scout team), but Bell seems to be the rally point for this team.
After two command performance against the bottom of the Big 10, has Nebraska faked us into believing they will make a run at Indianapolis? Nebraska certainly has the raw material to be in games late against the likes of Northwestern, Michigan, and Michigan State, if they can get enough big plays at the right time. But if they don't have what it takes at the quarterback position, there's no way they'll win the Legends Division. At least they stayed aggressive Saturday.