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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sunday Review: Georgia

So that was fun.  Four days later, and my heart is still in my throat as I think about the ball glancing off of Georgia TE Arthur Lynch's hands.  What a fantastic win for this beleaguered Husker team in enemy territory, a win and a powerful statement for the Bo Pelini regime.

There's a palpable glow about this football program that wasn't here last Sunday; it proves the old axiom of 'winning cures all'.  When that win comes against a ranked SEC team on a national stage, well that's just gravy.

It wasn't a pretty game, it sure as heck wasn't pretty weather, but the scoreboard read 24-19 at the end of the 4th quarter, and the good feelings and momentum should warm Husker hearts through the long cold winter.

On with the review:

Offensive MVP: Quincy Enunwa WR.  Enunwa's four catches for 129 yards and 2 TDs more than made up for his drop.  The senior added another highlight to his reel with the 99 yard bomb, and will take his skills to an NFL team in May.  Husker nation will miss the hard blocking receiver with a knack for finding the end zone.

Defensive MVP: Corey Cooper S.  Cooper led the team with 10 tackles, including a touchdown saving one-on-one tackle of Todd Gurley on Georgia's second to last drive.  Tackling Todd Gurley one-on-one is something that Cooper will tell his grandchildren about someday, as the Georgia RB seems poised to make a real name for himself in this sport.  Cooper will be counted on to lead a young Nebraska secondary next season that will likely be the biggest question mark on this defense. 

Special Teams MVP: Josh Mitchell CB.  Mitchell made the best play of the first half, recognizing Georgia's muffed punt and pouncing on the loose ball, securing it on the wet, slippery turf.  So often this season Nebraska has been burned on special teams, it was nice to get one back.

Freshman MVP: Tommy Armstrong QB.  The freshman didn't light the world on fire, but aside from that late interception, he mostly made good decisions and didn't lose the game for his team.  Next season he should have a stout defense and it will be important for him to complement them better than he did this season.

Assistant Coach MVP: Ross Els, linebackers coach.  You're never going to be able to completely shut down a special player like Todd Gurley, even hobbled as he was, but to hold him to 86 yards on 21 carries shows that the linebackers mostly played assignment-sound football and most importantly, tackled well.  The young bucks' next step is to stop getting lost in coverage.  Good halftime adjustment shutting down TE Arthur Lynch, who tortured Michael Rose for 6 catches in the first half.

5 Who Stood out:
*Thad Randle DT.  Another senior who ended his career with a bang.  Randle finished with six tackles, and was consistently pushing the pocket all game long.  I've been critical of Randle being on the field in place of more talented youngsters, but he proved me wrong in his swan song game.

*Ameer Abdullah RB.  Abdullah didn't have any real breakaway plays, but he still ground out 122 yards and a TD, getting solid national publicity for a potential Heisman run next season.  Which given the recent history for Nebraska's star offensive players, probably means he'll get injured.

*Cethan Carter TE.  The freshman finally got an on-target pass on that play-action seam route and cashed in with a 23 yard catch.  I can think of at least five times this season that that same play was wide open but the pass just wasn't within Carter's reach.  Here's hoping for big things next season.

*Michael Rose MLB.  The freshman capped his strong debut season with another 9 tackles and some good clean QB hits.  Rose has work to do in learning to cover the crossing routes that burned him so many times yesterday, but he's going to be a good one.

*Randy Gregory DE.  The sophomore made as beautiful a move as you'll ever see on that second quarter sack, and he's come a long way in run support.  If he adds good weight and refines his skills, he's poised to have an amazing season next year.

Key Stat: +1.  I don't want to try and remember the last time Nebraska finished a game on the right side of the turnover margin; it made a huge difference yesterday.

Play of the Game: The 99.9 yard bomb.  It was all the more special because there was such potential for disaster.  Rewards are made much sweeter with risk.

Play We Want Back: How much different would the game look if Tommy Armstrong's third down pass was a few feet closer to Quincy Enunwa's hands on Nebraska's last drive?  Nebraska's offense might have finished the game on the field instead of sweating on the sidelines.

Blown Call: I didn't particularly like the unnecessary roughness call on Georgia DE Ray Drew in the first quarter.  I think that a QB on a zone read should expect to be tackled if he's performing an adequate ball fake.

And no holding penalties all game?  Come on...

Hit of the Game: The hit by LB David Santos on Georgia TE Arthur Lynch as he caught the ball on that crucial 4th down with 25 seconds left was just enough to ensure that Lynch would drop the ball and essentially end the game for the Big Red.  I liked Bo's sideline celebration too, that smile looks good on him.    

I want to see more...
*Option.  It worked well once, not so well another time, and then it was gone.  Nebraska's offense seemed to abandon the option in favor of speed sweep fakes, and I'm not convinced it was a good trade.
*Randy Gregory.  The sophomore said he was coming back next year, and if he duplicates the success he had this season, it will more than likely be his last in Lincoln.  I hope that it's on par with Ndamukong Suh's 2009 season.
*Kenny Bell.  He only had one catch and a handful of targets.  Enunwa really took over as the primary receiving target this year, and I'm interested to see how Bell reacts next season when he's the main man again.
*Good bounces.  Footballs are a funny shape and that adds a large element of luck to the game.  Nebraska finally got a bit of that on their side this game.
*Mud ball.  There's something romantically old-school about a football game in the muck.  I love to see it once or twice a year.

I want to see fewer...
*Drops.  Jamal Turner had a rough season with injuries, and he compounded his woes by dropping a touchdown pass in the second quarter.  This has been an off-and-on issue for the Big Red wide receive and it needs to go away.
*Penalties.  Six penalties doesn't seem like a lot, but there were too many false start penalties for my liking.  With a completely different offensive line next season, this could be an area of concern.
*Missed tackles.  With the exception of that long pass to Chris Conley, all of Georgia's big plays started with a missed tackle.  For this defense to take the next step and be dominant, that's going to have to change.
*Games with Ed Cunningham in the booth.  Husker message boards spent most of Thursday and Friday griping about Cunningham's blatantly unfair color commentary (if you knew nothing of the Bulldogs or Cornhuskers before the game, you might have thought that Georgia was starting their third-string everything while Nebraska was completely healthy) and obsession with calling defensive timeouts near the end of the half.  Give me Chris Spielman any day.

Armchair coach: I wouldn't have thrown the ball on 3rd and 4 with three and a half minutes left.  Tommy Armstrong was 6 of 14 before that throw and hadn't completed a pass since the 99 yard bomb in the third quarter.  In that situation I put the ball in the hands of my All-American running back and tell him to go win the game.  Even if stopped short, that's 40 more seconds off the clock and less chance of heart attack for the fans.


Jennifer's Take (my wife doesn't know much about football, but she still has opinions)
"I'm glad the Huskers won, now everyone can be happy until the Spring Game."

We'll see.  I'm sure that Husker fans will be griping again soon, it's how we show our love.

Opponent Watch:
*If you weren't paying attention, Wyoming fired coach Dave Christensen after their 5-7 finish, and hired Craig Bohl away from North Dakota State where he just won his third consecutive FCS National championship.  QB Brett Smith, the scourge of the Blackshirts in week one, elected to enter the draft instead of riding out a coaching change, and the Cowboys are enjoying a lovely Laramie winter, while their Mountain West Conference buddies have been on a tear this bowl season.

*South Dakota State beat Northern Arizona in the first round of the FCS playoffs, but then fell to Eastern Washington 41-17 in round two.  The Jackrabbits finished a respectable 9-5.

*Minnesota turned in the Big Ten's most disappointing bowl performance, stinking their way to a 24-17 loss to 7-6 Syracuse.  The Gophers only managed 127 rushing yards and only scored three points until the fourth quarter.  So the Gopher's surprising season ends with a three game losing streak, and an 8-5 finish.

*I'm sure the Fiesta Bowl executives would like a mulligan.  They picked Michigan over Nebraska to face Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings bowl, and the Wolverines rewarded them with a putrid performance in a 31-14 defeat.  Missing QB Devin Gardner, who was out with a turf toe injury, the Wolverines could only muster 65 rushing yards and allowed the Wildcats a 35 to 25 minute time of possession advantage.  Brady Hoke is officially on the clock.

*Brett Hundley and #17 UCLA went off on Virginia Tech, scoring four TDs in the fourth quarter to get the win.  Hundley's 387 total yards and 4 TD's put him back on the national radar and into the 2014 Heisman and NFL Draft discussions.  Jim Mora's Bruins could be unstoppable next season if Hundley stays.

*Iowa didn't win, but they traded body blows with #16 LSU deep into the fourth quarter until a late interception allowed the Tigers to steal the game.  LSU very nearly gave the Hawkeyes a great chance at overtime with some classic Les Miles clock mismanagement, but in the end the Hawkeyes fell.  That a middle of the pack Big Ten team could hang with an SEC blue-blood was part of a strong national statement by the non-SEC conference teams this bowl season: the SEC is not head-and-shoulders ahead of the rest of college football like they think they are.

*In one of the more exciting Rose Bowls in recent memory, #4 Michigan State overcame some serious errors and stuffed #5 Stanford on a late 4th and 1 to get the Big Ten's best win of the bowl season.  Sparty has a legitimate claim to the #2 spot in the final polls, and I'm sure that Mark Dantonio will lay awake at night and wonder what could have been had he stuck with QB Connor Cook late in the game against Notre Dame last September.

Keeping an Eye on the Rest of the College Football World...
*Of all the bowl games I watched this season, none was crazier than #24 Duke vs #21 Texas A&M.  Duke's 38 points in the first half were three points more than the Blue Devil's basketball team had scored in the first half of their game versus Elon earlier that day.  Then Johnny Manziel did what Johnny Football does: make dazzling plays.  Helped by Duke's offensive self-destruction, the Aggies managed to erase a 21 point deficit, take a late lead, and hold on after Duke's last drive ended inside their 30 yard line with an interception.  Crazy stuff.

*That game was an ominous sign of things to come for the SEC.  #9 South Carolina and #16 LSU would sweat out physical games against Big 10 foes, #22 Georgia would lose to Nebraska, #8 Missouri was a Michael Sam strip-sack away from losing to #13 Oklahoma State, and #3 Alabama would be embarrassed by #11 Oklahoma and their freshman QB.  The SEC is a respectable 7-2 in bowl games pending the BCS Championship game tomorrow, but this bowl season popped a huge hole in the idea that they are somehow on a different level than every other conference.

*No conference had a worse season than the MAC however.  Pending Ball State's GoDaddy bowl against Arkansas State, the MAC is 0-4 with mostly embarrassing performances.

*Every year I take part in Yahoo's Bowl Pick'em contest, and never before has a conference screwed me like the Big 12 did this season.  Texas Tech's upset win over #14 Arizona was a shock (that was my wife's favorite game of the bowl season because she discovered that TTU head coach Kliff Kingsbury is Ryan Gosling's doppelgänger), #6 Baylor's loss to #15 Central Florida was a disappointment, and honestly, who expected #11 Oklahoma to beat #3 Alabama?  That's why I don't gamble.

*I hate Texas and I'm not a Mack Brown fan, but I'm also human, so seeing his face at the end of their 30-7 loss to #10 Oregon evoked something resembling pity.  Tough way for the guy to go out.

*Texas' new coach Charlie Strong had an impressive final game at #18 Louisville, soundly defeating Miami behind Teddy Bridgewater's 447 yards passing.  I thought Louisville would win that game, but I really expected the Canes to put up a better fight.

*If you didn't see the end of the Orange Bowl between #7 Ohio State and #12 Clemson, then you missed one of the sloppiest final 3 minutes of football you can imagine.  Buckeye's QB Braxton Miller threw a potentially game ending interception, only to get the ball back a few plays later after Tiger's QB Tajh Boyd threw one of his own.  Then on the very next play, with a short field and chance to drive for the win, Miller tried to thread the needle on a pass and had it picked off to effectively end the game.  Ohio State has had a ton of team issues exposed in their last two games that were masked during their 24 game winning streak.  Urban Meyer will earn his paycheck this offseason.

*I hesitate to write this, but #1 Florida State has a huge chance to duplicate the success of the '95 Nebraska Cornhusker team.  Florida State has been so dominant this season (their closest game was a 14 point triumph over Boston College), that if they defeat #2 Auburn convincingly, then they will have a legitimate claim to being one of the greatest teams in the history of college football.  Heck, Jameis Winton's legal issues create yet another parallel to the current greatest team in NCAA history.  The Seminoles have a lot to play for tomorrow night, and they have more than enough talent to beat the upstart Tigers, but a football's funny shape lends itself to funny bounces, and Auburn has had a lot of good bounces this season.

Last Thought
So after the sixth season of Bo Pelini's tenure, we're right back where we left off in 2008: coming off a scrappy win in the Gator Bowl with a promising, talented team coming back next season.  Bo burned every last bit of good grace with the fan base this season, but earned a little bit of it back on New Year's day.  That will be important as Bo tries to build momentum for a Big Ten title run in 2014.

Everything sets up well for the '14 Huskers, the schedule is soft again, the talent should be primed for a big step forward, and there's palpable momentum that comes with beating an SEC program on what was essential their home turf.  We're left asking the same question this offseason as in the past five: is next year the year the Huskers finally break through?

We'll see.




Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sunday Review: Iowa

The fourth quarter of that Iowa game seems like a long, long time ago.  Lost in the sound and the fury of the postgame soap opera, is the fact that despite everything, Nebraska still had a chance to win into the fourth quarter, but another turnover doomed the Big Red to another offseason full of questions and dark mutterings in the recesses of the internet.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately),  Bo Pelini's sideline antics and post-game comments overshadowed the generally poor performance by his team.  The rumor and furor over the status of the head coach covered up one of the more disheartening losses of this decade.  Nebraska's long list of injuries were on full ruinous display, and the inconsistent, but sharply talented defense again folded under the weight of the offensive mistakes.

And so 2013, a season that opened with a pyrrhic victory, comes to a close with a fourth bitter, self-inflicted defeat. Nebraska looks like it's headed to a pre-New Years bowl game with a 4th place Big 12 team.  So where does that leave the program?  Yet again, stuck in neutral with tons of promise for next year; probably Bo's last chance at turning his tenure around.

On with the review:

Offensive MVP: Brandon Scherff LT, Iowa.  It's rare for an offensive lineman to be an MVP, but of Iowa's biggest plays of the day, they all seemed to go left and there was Scherff plowing over Avery Moss to set the edge, and then getting up-field to destroy whoever came into his path. Three TD's overall for Iowa over the left tackle, the other two came from passes, so you know he was doing his job there too.

Defensive MVP: Michael Rose LB.  It's been a while since a Nebraska linebacker put forth such a valiant effort in a loss: 16 tackles, 5 for loss, and a pass break-up.  If Nebraska, like Iowa, had two more linebackers playing on Rose's level, things might have ended differently yesterday.  Rose needs to take the next step and start forcing turnovers.

Special Teams MVP: Connor Kornbrath P, Iowa.  This game was all about field position, and Kornbrath's three punts downed inside the 20 helped force Nebraska's average starting position inside their 15 yard line in the first half.  On a day when little else went right for the Cornhuskers, Kornbrath's punts always seemed to roll another 15 yards, just to rub a little salt in the wound.

Freshman MVP: Vincent Valentine DT.  The redshirt freshman started the game on fire, getting a TFL on Iowa's first possession and a gorgeous sack in the second quarter.  Valentine ended up with five tackles overall.  Valentine is one of the chief reasons for optimism for this young Nebraska defense.

Assistant Coach MVP: Rick Kaczenski, Defensive line.  The narrative for this game would be completely different if not for three turnovers, poor special teams, and some annoying penalties.  Coach K's charges held up decently well against a veteran Iowa  offensive line, and the difference in this group from game one until now is stark.  If Coach K sticks around, I'm incredibly excited to see what Randy Gregory, Maliek Collins, Avery Moss, and Vincent Valentine will do in the coming years.

5 Who Stood out:
*Maliek Collins DT.  It was Collins who was responsible for that 4th and 1 stop right after Nebraska's first turnover.  The true freshman only had one more tackle, and drew that hands-to-the-face penalty after a late third down stop, but he clearly has a bright future and possesses the natural skills to be a game changer down the road.

*Ameer Abdullah RB.  You never know how he gets all those yards, but lo and behold, going into the fourth quarter he was at 80 yards and should have had his 9th consecutive 100-yard game, had he not come up injured after that fumble, and had Nebraska not gone into desperation mode so quickly. Abdullah deserved a better record for all of his hard running this season, but perhaps that will come to fruition next year.

*Quincy Enunwa WR.  Enunwa's freakish athleticism was on display one more time on that 15 yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.  Enunwa's knack for the big play far outweighed his occasional stone hands this season.  He will be missed.

*Ron Kellogg III QB.  RKIII is far from the most talented quarterback on this team, but he shook off his poor start and kept fighting all game long, taking shots and getting up the entire game.  I wish he could have had a more storybook ending to his career, but that wasn't in the cards.  We'll see what happens in the bowl game, but I hope Ronnie gets a series or two.

*Drew Ott DE, Iowa.  Ott, the true sophomore from Giltner, NE, helped lead the Hawkeyes defense in stuffing up the Husker's rushing attack.  Ott only made four tackles, but he was all over the field all afternoon.  Oh, and he should be wearing red.  There's that.

Key Stat: 31.2 yards.  That's the average length of the field Iowa traversed on each of their five touchdown drives yesterday.  Way too short.

Play of the Game: Ameer Abdullah's five yard TD run.   Nebraska came out on fire after half-time, getting chunks of yards running the ball and hitting short passes to bring the score to 14-10.  Unfortunately that would be as good as it would get the rest of the afternoon.

Play We Want Back: That botched fake punt was ridiculous, and after Iowa scored on the ensuing play, Nebraska moved into full-on desperation mode on offense, despite only being down two scores with a quarter and a half to play.  That was an incredibly ridiculous call, and not just because it didn't work.  See more below.

Blown Call: I didn't like the pass interference call on Zaire Anderson.  I didn't hate it as much as Pelini did, but I thought it was pretty ridiculous.

And of course, there's all that time that Rudock had to throw the ball most of the game.  Certainly there was at least one play where there were Hawkeyes getting a bit grabby.

Hit of the Game:  Abdullah got absolutely crushed on that third quarter fumble, and one can hardly blame him for fumbling.  I'm not excusing his fumble, but I sure can understand it.

I want to see more...
*Discipline.  Bo's getting one more year and in year seven of the Pelini era, I would love to see an even turnover margin (or just close to even), fewer game changing penalties, and just a better all around performance and mannerism about this team.  That simply to happen next season.
*Takeaways.  The biggest difference between Nebraska's defense and Iowa's defense yesterday was the three turnovers.  In order to be truly dominant, these Blackshirts need to start forcing the issue.
*Shotgun counters.  Remember when Roy Helu used to bust off big runs three or four times a game?  Those deadly shotgun counters seem to have left with Shawn Watson, and that's really too bad.  I think that Ameer Abdulah's skill-set is perfect for that play, and I'd like to see Tim Beck bring it back.
*Fullbacks.  With our offensive line in shambles, why weren't there more power sets with fullbacks?  Iowa's defense really isn't that good.
*Healthy players.  I think at this point, with the sheer number of injuries the Huskers are dealing with, it has to be a strength and conditioning issue.  The season ending injuries are one thing, but our players can't absorb mild hits without needing a 3 minute rest laying on the field or on the sideline.  I'm thinking that that is one of the staff changes Bo will need to make in the offseason.

I want to see fewer...
*3rd and 1's.  Iowa had far too many short third downs, especially early in the game.  This is one of the natural issues that arise with younger, lighter players on the defensive line, especially playing a physical, run-first team like Iowa.  Nebraska needed to be more creative with their run-blitzes to get better penetration.
*Turnovers.  Different week, same story.
*Punt returns.  Seriously, it's time to sell out trying to block every punt and let the ball roll where it may.  It's just too embarrassing watching Jordan Westerkamp or anyone else muck around back there.
*Missed tackles.  A big whiff by Andrew Green resulted in a 30 yard gain in the 2nd quarter, and he followed up by missing Mark Weisman on the very next play at the 5 as he went into the endzone.  The defense showed nice flashes of good performance yesterday, but their small mistakes, with their backs against the wall, tipped the game
*Halftime interviews by Quint Kessenich.  Bo stopped just short of calling Quint an idiot for that question about the two interceptions in the first half (and he would have been right to do so).  This a week after similar questions were shot down by a stone-faced Mark Dantonio at the Michigan State-Northwestern game last week.  Worst sideline reporter in football.

Armchair coach: 
There was nothing right about that fake punt.  Nothing at all.  Bad time to call it, bad play, bad execution and horrible result.  Just completely awful and inappropriate.  And game-changing.
One play later, Iowa had a two score lead, and all of Nebraska's momentum vanished.  After the game, Bo said that Sam Foltz was one block away from getting the first down.  That assessment is optimistic.

Jennifer's Take (my wife doesn't know much about football, but she still has opinions)
Jennifer went shopping and missed the game.  I'm not convinced that she didn't make the better choice.

Opponent Watch:
*I don't necessarily agree with Brady Hoke's decision to go for two at the end of the game with #3 Ohio State, but after Michigan gave up a combined 379 yards rushing to RB Carlos Hyde and QB Braxton Miller, I understand that he didn't like his chances in overtime.  You know Sparty feels a lot better about their matchup with the Buckeyes next week; Ohio State is far from invincible, especially on defense.

*Speaking of Sparty, the #11 Spartans ground out a win over Minnesota 14-3.  Michigan State was content to bang it out on the ground and only a couple turnovers kept the win from being more comfortable.  Sparty has every chance in the world of beating Ohio State next week; Michigan exposed some deeply ingrained defensive issues for the Buckeyes.

*Penn State registered the surprise upset of the day, taking out #15 Wisconsin.  Freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg (who is going to be a force if he can get a few decent receivers) threw four TDs, none to all-star WR Allen Robinson, and the Nittany Lions' defense forced the Badgers into four turnovers to carry the team to a 31-24 victory.

*Northwestern preserved a shred of dignity by beating Illinois in a 37-34 shootout.  The Wildcats racked up 560 yards of offense, allowing 492 to the Illini, and finish the year 5-7 after starting 4-0.

*Hapless little Purdue finishes winless in Big Ten play after a 56-36 drubbing at the hands of Indiana.  The Boilermakers couldn't stop the Hoosier offense, allowing 692 total yards in defeat. The good news for Purdue is that they have some skilled young players, and it really can't get worse.

*Wyoming fell 35-7 at Utah State, finishing 5-6 and home for the holidays.  The Cowboys offense, which went over 600 yards at Nebraska, managed a paltry 190 total yards against the Aggies.

*How crazy is College Football?  Southern Miss blasted UAB 62-27, committing only one turnover while forcing FIVE!  The Golden Eagles avoid losing their 24th straight and manage a bit of momentum going into next season.

*#22 UCLA got their second consecutive win over #23 USC, establishing a benchmark of dominance in the LA area, and probably ending Ed Orgeron's storybook run as USC's head man.  As inconsistent as the Bruins have been this season, they've definitely got the pieces to be very, very good the next several years.

Keeping an Eye on the Rest of the College Football World...
*It's not often that overhyped games live up to their billing, but #1 Alabama at #4 Auburn did just that.  It's not going to be an easy week for Nick Saban, whose team needs a ton of help to get to the BCS Championship game after several questionable coaching decisions cost the Tide in a 34-28 defeat.
Hard to believe that exactly one year ago, Auburn fired their head coach after a 3-9 season.

*SEC defenses struggle with the triple option.  Auburn repeatedly burned Alabama with their variation of the play.  Georgia Southern scorched Florida with a more classic version of the play last week.  And Georgia Tech nearly pulled off an upset over Georgia, losing in 2OT.  For a league with such hyped defenses, it's funny that they struggle with such a simple scheme.

*Haven't talked much about #16 Fresno State this season because I knew that their utter lack of defense was eventually going to cost them.  San Jose State was the team to nip the Bulldogs 62-52, costing the Mountain West millions of dollars in potential BCS money.

*#19 UCF nipped South Florida 23-20, securing at least a share of the AAC title, and keeping their BCS hopes alive.  Anyone who doesn't think the Knights deserve a BCS shot need only ask South Carolina, who needed some 4th quarter magic to beat UCF earlier this season.

*Speaking of the #10 Gamecocks, they squeezed #6 Clemson 31-17 last night, potentially knocking the Tigers out of a BCS bowl.  Spurrier's done some good work at USC, but he's stuck on that also-ran plateau.

*#14 Northern Illinois kept their BCS hopes alive though, beating Western Michigan handily behind QB Jordan Lynch's 341 yards rushing.  No, that's not a typo.  Lynch broke his own record for single-game rushing yards by a QB.  The Huskies' game plan was obvious: get the game over as fast as possible.  Understandable given the 17 degree temps and swirling wind.

*Florida kept it interesting for most of the first half, but #2 Florida State pulled away in the second to get a 37-7 victory.  Jameis Winston probably won't win the Heisman because of the swirling sexual assault allegations, but he played well after the first quarter, throwing for 327 yards and three TDs.

*How about #24 Duke?  The Blue Devils are 10-2 after edging North Carolina 27-25, and meet #2 Florida State in the ACC championship game next week.  The Blue Devils have a chance to help create a fitting, chaotic finale to the BCS era if they can somehow get the win.

*Kansas State thrashed Kansas 31-10 yesterday.  The Jayhawks finish 3-9 in their second year under Charlie Weis, which is clear improvement from the 2-10 mark in Turner Gill's second year.  Good job, Kansas!

*I still hate #5 Missouri, but I have to grudgingly recognize their accomplishment in winning the SEC East this season.  It would be interesting to go back to August and see what the Vegas odds for Auburn and Missouri being in the SEC title were.  With a little help, the Tigers will be in the BCS Title Game with a doable win over Auburn.

Last Thought
So the crushing loss to Iowa is not going to be the end of the Bo Pelini era at Nebraska.  Statements have been made by the Nebraska brass, Bo kind of apologized for his behavior, and the Huskers get about a month to heal, both physically and mentally.

The bowl game, wherever it is played and whomever it's played against, has a number of intriguing story lines.  The starting offense could look up to 75% different than it did Friday morning if several key Huskers can recover from injuries.  The starting defense, with a month to prepare for what is almost sure to be a sub-par team (especially with Wisconsin's loss) could be absolutely dominant.  Taylor Martinez might get a chance to showcase a little more magic before his tenure at NU ends.  Ameer Abdullah will get a chance to build up some buzz for what could be a special 2014.  Yes, there's still plenty to play for.

Hopefully Husker Nation can do some healing over the month as well.  Loud factions of the Husker faithful aren't happy with Pelini, and seem to be on the verge of jumping ship.  The 2014 recruiting class is half-full, but has been stuck in neutral much of the season, and the recent weeks probably haven't done the Huskers any favors in that area.  Regardless of how you felt about Pelini Saturday morning, he's not going anywhere anytime soon, so it's time to get back behind our team, and get the train rolling for another run in 2014.  

Fan forecast: sun breaking through the clouds as the month progresses.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Review: Penn State

Say this for these Cornhuskers, they don't always play well, and they don't always play hard, but they know how to scrape out a win on the road.  Facing a bitterly cold wind and blowing snow, a charged up Penn State team, and the weight of their own mistakes, the Huskers eked out an overtime win in Beaver Stadium and kept the wolves off of coach Bo Pelini for at least another week.

Nebraska slogged through a sloppy offensive performance with third string offensive linemen, finding unlikely sparks from special teams, and timely stops on defense to get the win.  There was really no reason that Nebraska shouldn't have won that game by a couple TDs, but turnovers and penalties took points off the board, and an aggressive Penn State defense kept the banged up offensive line guessing.

There wasn't a lot to like in the win yesterday, and sometimes it seemed as if the Huskers didn't want to play yesterday, but winning cures all, and the scoreboard shows 23-20 Nebraska.

On with the review:

Offensive MVP: Ameer Abdullah, RB.  Don't let that ridiculous penalty stain what was one of the biggest plays of his career on that 60 yard TD.  Another 147 yards rushing brings his season total to 1483, and with another decent game against Iowa, he could bring that total over 1600, the first Nebraska running back to do that since Ahman Green.  Let that sink in.

Defensive MVP: David Santos, LB.  Santos clearly didn't fit at middle linebacker earlier this season, but he's really come on strong at the outside linebacker position the last few weeks.  Santos led the team with 9 tackles and that crucial sack of Hackenberg late in the 4th quarter inside Nebraska's 40 yard line.

Special Teams MVP: Kenny Bell, KR.  Bell gets the nod over K Pat Smith for his 99 yard kick return TD right after Penn State went up following Ron Kellogg's fumble.  Bell has been close on a couple other returns this season, and his speed, and hurdling ability, finally got him the big return that's been eluding the Huskers this season.

Freshman MVP: Vincent Valentine, DT.  The massive freshman started in place of Thad Randle and made some really nice plays, gumming up blockers and making 3 tackles, including one for loss.  The word from the coaches seems to imply that there has been some motivation issues with Valentine, but it's clear that this kid can be as good as he wants to be.

Assistant Coach MVP: Rick Kaczenski, defensive line.  Working with the youngest group on the team invariably means a lot of inconsistency, but Coach K's boys are clearly improving every game. Penn State doesn't have the most talented offensive line in college football, but they run that zone blocking scheme as well as anyone and the Nebraska defensive line held up pretty well, and seemed to get better as the game went on.  His work with Randy Gregory and Avery Moss is very encouraging, and seeing Maliek Collins subbing in for Aaron Curry and Valentine without missing a beat is further evidence that there is a very high ceiling for this group.

5 Who Stood out:
*Leroy Alexander, S.  Like I said a few weeks ago, Alexander just plays meaner than anyone else on this defense.  He's still got plenty of room to grow, but I feel pretty good about he and Corey Cooper leading a young secondary next season.

*Randy Gregory, DE.  Gregory didn't have as splashy a game as he's had at times this season, but he still made his presence felt in run support getting eight tackles, and had a key QB hurry on Penn State's last offensive play, when it looked like Hackenberg might take off and get a first down.

*Ciante Evans, NB.  Evans played with a hurt hand/wrist, and still made one of the nicest interceptions you'll ever see.  Like Gregory, he didn't have the splashiest game of his career stats-wise, but this defense needs their leader.

*Christian Hackenberg, QB Penn State.  I was really impressed with the big freshman.  He has one good receiver and spotty pass protection, but he's calm, collected, and has a rocket of an arm.  I'm glad that Nebraska won't likely see him again.

*Jordan Westerkamp WR.  Sure he dropped a TD, but I give a lot of credit to the DB on that play.  Westy made several key first down grabs in the first half last night, and one big one in the third quarter to help set up Nebraska's first field goal.  I honestly don't know why he doesn't get more targets.

Key Stat: 2-2.  With a swirling wind and a fierce crowd, K Pat Smith hit two (actually three counting the OT field goal that was negated by a phantom false start) field goals to tie, and then win the game for the Big Red.

Play of the Game: Pat Smith's 42 yard field goal in overtime.  Not an easy kick to make with the wind and the crowd and the banged up protection team, but it was straight down the middle.  The kid came to Nebraska for his senior season and he's making the most of it.

Play We Want Back: Ameer Abdullah's fumble at the Penn State one yard line in the first half was a killer.  Not only did it likely take seven points off the board, but it killed all of Nebraska's offensive momentum until the third quarter.  Who knows what the game would have looked like without that turnover...

Blown Call:  I hated everything about that unnecessary roughness call on WR Sam Burtch.  That's one of those penalties that could kinda be a penalty if you're really looking for some reason to call something.  Terrible penalty.

Hit of the Game:  Unfortunately, it came after a 15 yard run, but S Leroy Alexander's hit on Zwinak in the 4th quarter was the first and only time all night that Zwinak went backward.  I really like what I've seen from Alexander this season.

I want to see more...
*Takeaways.  Penn State muffed their first punt return and the ball rolled on the turf for a good four seconds before a Penn State player jumped on it.  That lack of awareness took at least three points off the board in the first quarter.  Penn State fumbled twice more but recovered one and had another go out of bounds despite the best efforts of Leroy Alexander.  Penn State came into this game as the only Big Ten team in the same universe as Nebraska when it came to giveaways, so only forcing one turnover just isn't good enough.
*QB Pressure.  Facing a true freshman QB, the Blackshirts suddenly forgot that blitzing and hitting quarterbacks makes them throw badly.  Too often Hackenberg had a ton of time to run around and make laser throws, including a shoulda-been TD that missed Allen Robinson by a few feet.
*Special Teams.  Kenny Bell made yet another highlight reel play with his 99 yard kick return and then the kickoff coverage forced PSU KR Eugene Lewis to fumble, putting the Lions inside their 20.  Sam Foltz was solid, having a punt downed at 1 yard line and booming kicks for a 46 yard average.
*Double coverage on great receivers.  Some players are good enough to scheme around.  WR Allen Robinson is one of those players.  Anytime he does anything, it pays to have two guys on him.  On that 43 yard catch in the third quarter, Stanley Jean-Baptiste had decent coverage, but he really could have used safety help.
*Deep passes.  Last week Beck called too many, this week, with RKIII in the game, he didn't call any until the third quarter drop by Westerkamp.  There was the gutsy call on third down in the shadow of our own end zone, and then that was about it for passes further than 15 yards.  With the talent advantage, I really expected more from the vertical game.
*Big Ten Network commercials.  It's kinda cool to see what each school is doing with research and stuff instead of the same three car commercials all game long.

I want to see fewer...
*Turnovers.  You can't fault Abdullah for trying to stretch and make a play, but had he just gone down, Nebraska would have had 1st and goal inside the Penn State 1 yard line.  Ron Kellogg III needed better pocket presence on that sack-strip; he couldn't feel the rush coming and it gave Penn State an easy seven points.
*Dropped passes.  RKII wasn't always on the money with his throws, but I counted at least 6 dropped passes by Husker receivers yesterday, with 3 by Kenny Bell alone.
*Missed Tackles.  Corey Cooper has been one of the best tacklers on the team, but his whiff along the sideline on PSU's 4th quarter TD was inexcusable.  That was only the most glaring missed tackle yesterday, as Zach Zwinak ran roughshod over Nebraska's linebackers all afternoon.  Bad angles, and sneaky TEs are also a continued problem for this team.
*Slow starts.  Nebraska came out flat and lackadaisical on both sides of the ball yesterday, letting Penn State score first and, never really taking control of the game.  Perhaps we can chalk it up to the big stage and the emotional loss last week, but we need to see more fire on Friday against Iowa.
*White RBs.  You know that Iowa RB Mark Weisman will be licking his chops watching tape of Zach Zwinak repeatedly gashing the Nebraska defense for 4 yards per carry yesterday.  Factoring in SDSU RB Zach Zenner's 202 yards back in September (weird ZZ coincidence, wonder if that's happened before...), the two white RBs that Nebraska has faced have run for 251 yards on the Blackshirts. Look out next Friday, Weisman has a much better O-line blocking for him than either of the other two.
*Suicidal Teams.  Nebraska's special teams repeatedly shot the team in the foot in the first half, allowing a big punt return and negating our own kick return with a hold on consecutive drives in the first quarter.  Even the blocked punt was more of a mistake by Penn State than a forced error by the Huskers.  Field position matters, and never being able to return a punt is leaving yards on the field. Nebraska's punt return team is literally the scariest thing I've ever seen in my life.

Armchair coach: I didn't like anything about Tim Beck's gameplan yesterday.  It was clear that Beck wanted to spread out the Penn State defense with his WR's, but with the talent advantage over the Nittany Lions, I couldn't believe that Beck never lined up and ran any of the power toss plays that were so effective against Penn State last year.  The slant pass to Quincy Enunwa was awesome, but Beck never came back to it.  Westerkamp made five catches that all moved the chains, but he disappeared after a third quarter catch.  Nebraska just can't decide what they want to do on offense and that indecision leads to ugly games like we saw yesterday.

Jennifer's Take (my wife doesn't know much about football, but she still has opinions)
"How 'bout them Fresno State Bulldogs?  I bet they could beat Nebraska"

Jennifer grew up in Fresno and doesn't understand that they're just a decent team in a putrid conference. Not saying that they couldn't beat Nebraska, but it wouldn't be a blowout.

Opponent Watch:
*Northwestern clearly took a page from Nebraska's gameplan and attacked #13 Michigan State's vaunted defense in the seams having a lot of success moving the ball in the first half until they got the to redzone.  The Wildcats couldn't find the endzone and the field goals just weren't enough to get the victory over Sparty.   Michigan State, with their suddenly potent offense, wraps up the Legends Division, and Northwestern is home for the Holidays after losing their last six games. Also, see if you can find an ESPN clip of Mark Dantonio's halftime interview.  That guy makes Bo look absolutely chatty.

*Iowa allowed Michigan only 158 total yards of offense yesterday, but still nearly managed to lose after surrendering four turnovers.  The Hawkeyes scraped out a 24-21 win, setting up a big Black Friday contest in Lincoln next week.  Trust me, the Hawkeyes really want this game.

*Illinois finally picked up the first Big Ten win of the Tim Beckman Era, edging Purdue 20-16 after two fourth quarter field goals.  Purdue's last chance at a Big Ten victory comes at Indiana next week, while the Illini get a chance at offseason momentum with a wounded Northwestern team coming to town.

*Minnesota managed only 185 total yards in a soul-crushing 20-7 loss to Wisconsin.  The Gophers held up decently well against the Badgers' rushing attack, but their defense couldn't weather the storm of their offense's ineptitude.  The Badgers are now in position, with a win over Penn State next week, to sneak into a BCS game with a little help.

*Two pick-sixes helped Middle Tennessee State roll to a 42-21 victory over Southern Miss.  The Golden Eagles need a victory over UAB next week to avoid an 0-24 mark over the last two seasons.

*Wyoming kept their bowl hopes alive with a 59-56 OT victory over Hawaii.  The Cowboys need a victory over Utah State next week to get bowl eligibility.

*Zach Zenner rushed for 186 yards and two TDs and grabbed another short TD pass and the South Dakota State Jackrabbits blasted Youngstown State 42-13 to move to 8-4.   The #17 Jackrabbits are in the running for an FCS playoff berth.

*#14 UCLA made a lot of mistakes and didn't play particularly well, but they were still in it until the end of their 38-33 loss to Arizona State.  The young Bruins lost their chance at a PAC-12 title, but they should be absolutely scary the next few years if Jim Mora sticks around.

Keeping an Eye on the Rest of the College Football World...
*I like watching #18 UCF play.  Their quarterback Blake Bortles is right up there with the best QBs I've watched all season, and their defense is fast, aggressive and they hit well.  Rutgers, who joins the Big Ten next season, was basically helpless in their 41-17 defeat on Thursday night.

*Another vastly underrated QB who's an absolute joy to watch is Jordan Lynch, the pilot for #16 Northern Illinois' undefeated team.  You won't find a better runner at the QB position this year than Lynch who's just shy of 2500 yards passing and 1500 yards rushing already this season with 38 TDs. Too bad the Huskies are in the MAC stomping teams like Toledo, otherwise Lynch would be a shoo-in for the Heisman.

*#1 Alabama beat Chattanooga 49-0, #2 Florida State laid waste to Idaho 80-14, and #3 Ohio State blasted Indiana 42-14, officially wrapping up the most boring week 12 there's ever been for three undefeated teams ranked 1-2-3.

*#5 Oregon would have liked some of that boredom.  The Duck's QB Marcus Mariota threw his first two interceptions of the season, and the Ducks were 1-3 on 4th downs, losing to Arizona by a shocking 42-16 margin.  How many top 5 programs have ever rung up 500 yards of offense and still been beaten by 26 points?

*They're calling #22 LSU's 34-10 victory over #12 Texas A&M an upset, but let's be real: any team whose offense has a pulse has a 50/50 shot of beating the Aggies.  LSU slowed down Johnny Manziel with great CB play, and blasted the Aggies' defense right up the middle all game long to get the win.

*Coastal Carolina coach Joe Moglia, the former football advisor to Bo Pelini, pulled his starters at halftime of his game against #11 South Carolina, and rested his players after learning that his team was going to get an automatic bid into the FCS playoffs.  The Gamecocks would go on to win 70-10, but you can't deny the acumen of the former TD Ameritrade CEO.

*Liberty University, coached by Turner Gill, clinched a share of the Big South conference with a win over Coastal Carolina, and the Flames are in contention for an FCS playoff bid.

*And one more bit of FCS news: Georgia Southern, a school just down the road from me in Statesboro, got the biggest win of their season by going into Gainesville and running over Florida in a 26-20 win.  The Eagles didn't complete a single pass, but their triple-option offense overcame two fumbles and rolled up 429 yards rushing to get the win.  The only way Will Muschamp is coaching the Gators next year is if he somehow beats Florida State next week.  I wouldn't hold my breath.

*Bob Stoops has always had a hard time beating his old boss Bill Snyder, but the #20 Sooners held off the pesky Wildcats, winning 41-31 behind their new starting QB Trevor Knight's two total TDs and RB Brennan Clay's 200 yards rushing.  

*#4 Baylor twice fumbled the ball away inside #10 Oklahoma State's 5 yard-line en route to a 49-17 loss in Stillwater.  So falls another undefeated team, and another Heisman candidate in QB Bryce Petty.  Oklahoma State put itself in a good position to make the BCS title game with a little help.  The loss to West Virginia was pretty ugly, but the Cowboys can make another statement with a big win over Oklahoma in two weeks.

Last Thought
Hard to get a good read on this Husker team, what with all of the injuries and youth, but I see a lot of promise for the next few years, especially on defense.  Avery Moss and Randy Gregory are going to be stars, and there's plenty of talent to continue to build around.

The hardest thing in the world is to get 'up' for a game when all of your goals have been ruined, and the Huskers were clearly lacking motivation early in that game yesterday.  I don't expect that to be a problem on senior day this week, but you really never know with this group.

Which is why there are so many questions and so much negativity surrounding this team.  Nebraska is sitting at 8-3, with a decent shot at 10 wins, which is no small success for a team with the issues the Huskers have had.  Obviously it hurts when you miss out on something you've worked really hard for, and it's even worse when you feel like you've ruined your own opportunities for success, but I'm not sure that that warrants wholesale change.  Coming into this season, I would never have expected that so much would hinge on a game against Iowa, but here we are.

Fan forecast: tryptophan induced fog dissipates in time for a Black Friday rivalry game.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday Review: Michigan State

When two teams with strong defenses and weak offenses play each other, the games usually come down to turnovers, field position and special teams.  Nebraska's failure in those three areas yesterday cannot be understated.

Five turnovers.

Average starting field position: Nebraska: own 21, Michigan State: own 42.

Special teams that should be re-named 'suicidal teams'.

With the Spartans holding the ball for more than 38 minutes, it comes as no surprise that the Blackshirts, with their backs to the wall all night, got worn down in the 4th quarter and let the game slip away.

The real surprise is that Nebraska was even in this game in the 4th quarter.  The Huskers gained more yards than any other team has this season against the Spartans, and despite the five turnovers, still managed to find a way to make big plays and keep coming back until a 4th quarter stop and subsequent TD by the Spartan offense after a successful fake field goal put the game away.

So despite the ugliness of the loss, there were a few things to like about how the Huskers played yesterday. With two game remaining, the Huskers are out of contention for the Legends division, but there is a lot of pride to play for, and a lot of building to be done for next season.

On with the review:

Offensive MVP: Connor Cook, QB Michigan State.  His stats weren't great, only 15/31 for 123 yards and that dagger of a TD in the fourth quarter, but the stats don't tell the story of Cook's gutsy throws under fire.  Cook's development is the reason that Sparty is likely on their way to Indy.

Defensive MVP: Kurtis Drummond, CB Michigan State.  Nebraska tried to pick on Sparty's weakest corner all night, and he rewarded Tim Beck with 10 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble.  Drummond did give up the long TD pass to Kenny Bell, but one out of 15 passes thrown his way isn't bad.

Special Teams MVP: Mike Sadler Michigan State P.  Even his bad punts bounced the right way last night.  I don't even want to count how many times Nebraska started inside their ten yard line.  Oh, and there was that little four yard run on a fake field goal in the 4th quarter.  That turned out to be kinda big.

Freshman MVP: Sam Burtch WR.  Coming into this season, nobody had heard of this kid.  Last night, he led the Huskers in receiving, getting a TD against the vaunted Spartan defense.  It's unfortunate that he's seeing the field so much because of injuries, but it's nice to see a small-town Nebraska walk-on have success.

Assistant Coach MVP: Ron Brown get the nod this week because he had two RBs rush for more yards than the 43 yard average the Spartans had been allowing to opposing TEAMS.  Brown has cultivated Abdullah's vision nicely, and Imani Cross showed that he's more than just a power back on that 51 yard run in the third quarter.  I'm excited to see what Brown can do with talented freshmen Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor in the coming years.

5 Who Stood out:
*Michael Rose MLB.  The freshman played well, especially in the fourth quarter.  It would appear that he's taken control of the defense and the MLB spot.

*Ameer Abdullah RB.  I'm not happy he was on the field for that last drive, but he deserved that TD after becoming the first player in 12 games to rush for 100 yards against the 'Spartan Dawgs'.  For Nebraska to stay in the game as long as they did was a testament to the effectiveness of the junior whose five and six yard runs through the crowd kept the Spartans loaded up in the box.

*Corey Cooper S.  The junior is quietly becoming one of the most consistent playmakers on this team, showing well in coverage and filling well on most of his run fits.

*Ciante Evans NB.  Evans is good in coverage, but he really shines when he comes in on those blitzes.  The senior has made a living in opponents' backfields the last three games.

*The offensive line.  I can't keep track of who's playing or starting anymore because of how banged up this group is, but aside from a few penalties, and Cole Pensick's forced fumble, the big uglies played well, gashing the Spartans for big runs and keeping Tommy Armstrong mostly clean in the passing game.

Key Stat:  24.  Sparty scored 24 points off of five Nebraska turnovers, meaning that Nebraska essentially gave this game away.

Play of the Game:  Sam Burtch's 32 yard catch and run for Nebraska's first TD signified that the Huskers would not be intimidated by the Spartan defense.  To beat Michigan State's defense you have to run the ball effectively enough to force the Spartans to man up in coverage and load the box, and when they do that, one broken tackle in space can turn into six points, like it did on this play.

Play We Want Back: Pick any of the fumbles that led to short TDs by the Spartans.  They were all disastrous.

Blown Call: I didn't have any complaints with the stripes yesterday until they missed that clipping call in the second half.  Gotta give credit to the refs though, I don't recall ever watching a game where offensive pass interference was called twice.

Hit of the Game: Watching Randy Gregory sprint through the backfield and splatter a quarterback like he did on that second quarter sack is a real thing of beauty.  Fortunately for the Huskers, he probably needs another year to gain some weight and refine his skills before he can make the jump to the NFL.

I want to see more...
*Takeways.  When your offense is dropping gifts all over the field and your special teams is making it worse, you simply have to take the ball back every now and then on defense.  As much improvement as the Blackshirts have shown in the last three games, they haven't snagged a single turnover in that time.
*Special teams. This area of play has been a bugaboo for the Huskers the entire Pelini area.  Bo needs to find someone who can coach punt return.
*The diamond formation.  This highly successful formation has been missing most of this season, but when Nebraska ran out of it yesterday, it always seemed to get good yards.  Here's hoping that the Diamond becomes Tim Beck's new best friend.
*Pressure on punts.  Since Nebraska can't get any blockers back to set up returns, why not try to block every punt and let the ball bounce where it may?  At least then there wouldn't be any muffs...
*Third down conversions.  Nebraska's offense was only on the field for 22 minutes because they were a dreadful 5 of 12 on third down.  Our offense did not play complimentary football in any sense of the term yesterday.

I want to see less...
*Turnovers.  The first rule of a defensive slugfest is to not turn the ball over.  Nebraska had three turnovers in the first quarter and set themselves back ten points in the first ten minutes.  Ridiculous. Even worse, the turnovers kept coming.  Tommy Armstrong's fumble at the end of the second quarter turned a one possession game into a 20-7 game going into the half.  And when you thought it couldn't get worse, Cole Pensick runs into Tommy Armstrong in the third and gives Sparty the ball at Nebraska's three yard line.  There's really no excuse for such sloppyness.
*Missed tackles.  The Blackshirts did such a good job recently making tackles, that it's disappointing to see guys get run through again.  The Spartan ball carriers did a good job making cuts and spins to get free, but tackling is about the will to get a guy down on the ground, and the Huskers were missing that a few times yesterday, no more so than on Jeremy Langford's TD right before the half, and Langford's TD run in the 4th quarter.
*Backs in the flats.  Why are opposing backs always wide open coming out of the backfield?  Are the linebackers missing them or is the scheme failing to account for them?  It's tiresome to see it week after week.
*Not-so-special teams.  A fumbled punt, penalties in punt coverage, poor kick returns, there was something for anyone to hate yesterday, just in the first half.  In the second half, our guys were blocked into our returner, Sparty had a long punt return to flip field position, and a fake field goal caused at least a four point swing.  Inexcusable.
*Long third down conversions.  Michigan State converted a 3rd and 6 and then a 3rd and 19 on a second quarter possession and there were several 3rd and 6-plus' converted in the second half.  For the game, Michigan State was 11-21 on third down.

Armchair coach: 
I guess I'm just not one for moral victories.  I thought it was stupid, with all of the injuries piling up for the Big Red, to have so many starters on the field for that last drive, down 21 points.  It was nice to see the TD, but it didn't really matter, and if we had lost someone else to a serious injury, Bo would be feeling even more heat today.

Jennifer's Take (my wife doesn't know much about football, but she still has opinions)
"I just can't believe they'd give it away like that."

Opponent Watch:
*Before they even knew what happened, Illinois was down 28-0 at home versus #3 Ohio State.  The Buckeyes allowed some yards and points as the game went on, but Buckeye RB Carlos Hyde's 272 total yards and 5 total TDs carried them to the victory.

*Purdue rolled over in Happy Valley and let Penn State get their 6th win in a 45-21 rout.  Purdue plays Illinois next week for the title of worst team in the Big Ten.

*#13 UCLA won a 41-31 shootout at home against Washington.  Freshman linebacker Myles Jack rushed for four TDs and DE Cassius Marsh caught a TD in the win.  The Bruins obviously believe that specialization is for the bugs.

*Southern Miss lost to Florida Atlantic (the same FAU team that had their coach fired a few weeks ago for smoking pot) 41-7 at home.  The Golden Eagles didn't score until the 4th quarter and committed three more turnovers, including a pick six.  Doesn't seem like they're even trying any more as they skid towards that dread 0-24 mark.  Hard to believe they had one of the nation's longest winning-season streaks, 14 years, until 2012.

*South Dakota State got their 7th win over rival South Dakota.  RB Zach Zenner had 137 yards on an amazing 31 carries in the win.

*Northwestern has the worst luck of any Big Ten team.  The Wildcats lost another heartbreaker in overtime to Michigan after leading for most of a boring defensive showdown.

*Wyoming has lost four straight after their 48-7 beat-down loss to Boise State last night.  The Cowboys need two wins to close the season to get to a bowl game.

Keeping an Eye on the Rest of the College Football World...
*#17 UCF scored 10 points in the last 1:06 at Temple to keep their BCS dreams alive.  The Golden Knights are 8-1 with a wins over Penn State and Louisville.

*Jameis Winston and #2 Florida State destroyed Syracuse yesterday keeping their stranglehold on the #2 spot.

*Duke pulled away from #23 Miami, scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter to get their second top 25 pelt of the season and move to 8-2 on the year.

*#22 Wisconsin blasted Indiana 51-3 in the rain.  The surprise of that game isn't the piles of rushing yards the Badgers put on the Hoosiers, but the job that the Badger defense did it shutting down the high flying Hoosier air attack.

*When Mike Leach took over at Washington State, it was never a question of if he would turn around the worst team in the BCS, it was a matter of when.  In just his second year, Leach has his Cougs sitting at a nice 5-5 with a win over Arizona yesterday.  Two winnable games against Utah and Washington remain for Leach to grab the first bowl game for Wazzu since 2003.

*I'm sure by now that you've seen Auburn WR Ricardo Louis' magnificent 73 yard Hail Mary catch to beat Georgia.  I wish I had turned my TV over to that game sooner, Georgia was down 37-17 with 12:39 left in the game, but actually had a lead in the closing seconds when Auburn QB Nick Marshall hit that 4th and 15 pass for 73 yards.  Tough break for Georgia fans in the midst of a tough season.

*Seems like the week after I praise #4 Stanford, they go and lay an egg.  This week they lost to USC and their interim coach Ed Orgeron in the Coliseum 20-17.  USC now finds itself in an odd situation: Orgeron is having success, but USC probably wants to go in a different direction with their coaching search.  It will be interesting to watch how they finish the season and what happens with their coaching situation.

*#5 Baylor racked up 665 yards and 63 points in their win over Texas Tech.  The Bears still have two tough games against #12 Oklahoma State and Texas to boost their BCS resume.

*#1 Alabama was lackadaisical in their 20-7 win over Mississippi State.  If it wasn't for their pre-season ranking, the Tide would have the weakest resume of any of the remaining undefeated teams and likely be behind Ohio State in the rankings.

*#10 South Carolina eked out a win over Florida late last night.  The Gamecocks need Missouri to lose to Ole Miss or #15 Texas A&M  and they'll be in the SEC title game.

Last Thought
So another season is going to pass without the Huskers hoisting a conference championship trophy. That makes 14 straight.  Where does that leave the program?

There's a lot of promising young talent on this team, but many fans are weary of waiting for promising young talent to make up for the mistakes that keep cropping up year after year.  Something different needs to happen in practice or meetings or in the structure of the coaching staff to get this team to the next level.  After six years, it's frustrating to see so many turnovers and such lack of execution on special teams ruin good performances against good teams.

So where does that leave us?  I'm not ready to say for sure.  I want to see how the team reacts when they don't have anything other than pride to play for. Penn State and Iowa are both capable of beating us, but both games are definitely winnable.

If Nebraska can finish this season strong and get some momentum going into 2014 (something they haven't done the last two years), then I believe everything is going to be alright.  If they lose another game, Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst is going to have to sit down with Bo and get something figured out.  Over the next few weeks, Bo is going to put a stamp on this program.  What that stamp looks like remains to be seen.

Fan forecast: cloudy.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sunday Review: Michigan

Whew!  For the second straight week Nebraska made me leap off the couch with my heart in my throat with late game heroics.  It's getting pretty annoying.

The Blackshirts came out mean and aggressive last night and planted Michigan QB Devin Gardner so firmly into the turf at Michigan Stadium that his underwear had grass stains.  Gardner was already shell-shocked from his nightmare at Michigan State last week, and Randy Gregory and company made sure that he would spend another week sucking his thumb under his security blanket.

Meanwhile, offensive players continued to drop like flies, but the Huskers showed that as long as someone can get the ball to Ameer Abdullah, then everything is likely to be ok.  With most of the starting offensive line out, two walk-ons playing too many snaps at wide receiver, and a freshman quarterback starting in one of the most hostile environments in the Big Ten, Abdullah put the team on his stout little shoulders and carried them across the finish line.  And of course the final score had to come on a short-side option play inside the 10 yard line, this sort of slobberknocking game was the reason Nebraska joined the Big Ten.

There were plenty of warts in Nebraska's performance last night, but the rush of going into the Big House, playing a physical, bone-rattling game and coming out on top will make for one sweet week in Lincoln.

On with the review:

Offensive MVP: Ameer Abdullah RB.  The yards were much harder to come by this week, but credit Tim Beck for sticking with his junior RB.  Abdullah rewarded his coach by coming through in the clutch, twice fighting and scraping his way across the goal line in must-score situations.  After 27 carries for 105 tough yards, you worry that he might be worn down a little next week when Michigan State comes to town, but Abdullah is the heart and soul of the team and I'm sure the Husker coaches will get him rested up this week.

Defensive MVP: Randy Gregory DE.  Three more sacks for the sophomore DE.  Gregory has morphed into the beastly pass rushing machine that his JUCO highlight film promised he could be. Gregory not only smashed Devin Gardner into the turf, but he made the correct reads all night, setting the edge and allowing the linebackers to make plays.

Special Teams MVP: Mauro Bondi PK.  Nobody really stood out on special teams yesterday, so give it up for Bondi, whose booming kickoffs both into and with the wind kept Michigan on their own side of the field.  Solid work.

Freshman MVP: Tommy Armstrong QB.  The kid from Cibolo played a clean game, making a few clutch throws and some timely runs.  He left a few plays on the field (like the QB draw that would have gone for 10 more yards had he cut to the left instead of the right), but without his patience in the option game, Nebraska goes home a loser in this one.

Assistant Coach MVP: Give it to the whole defensive staff.  With the exception of two drives, the Blackshirts owned the Wolverines last night, playing faster and more physical than any Blackshirt team since 2009.  Let's hope they can keep the mojo of the last seven quarters going for the rest of the season.

5 Who Stood out:
*Zaire Anderson LB.  Anderson had six tackles and two sacks, finally living up to the potential he flashed in limited action last season.  The linebacker carousel is getting a little bit tiresome, but if Zaire can put together a few games like he played yesterday then you can write his name at SAM linebacker in Sharpie.

*Greg McMullen DE.  Remember that 2nd and 20 in the second quarter when Gardner went on a bootleg and had McMullen one on one outside the pocket?  Too many times in recent years that play goes for 20 yards and a devastating first down; yesterday McMullen played Gardner like a fiddle all the way to the sideline and waited for help to arrive, holding him to no gain.

*LeRoy Alexander S.  Alexander played mean yesterday, sticking his nose in on run support and making some nice hits in the first half.  Andrew Green had more time in the second half, but Alexander is coming along.

*Thad Randle DT.  I'm among the crowd who has wondered why the coaches have stuck with Randle so long, but the senior played his best game, getting a sack and a TFL, leading his defensive line in their finest hour.

*Zach Sterup RT.  When Jeremiah Sirles went down, I was incredibly worried, but Sterup validated the praise he got from coach John Garrison last week at the Big Red Breakfast.  Sterup helped push the Husker offense to the finish line and didn't make any glaring mistakes in relief.

Key Stat:  -0.6 That's Michigan's yard per carry as a team.  I can't remember the last game in which an opposing ball carrier didn't have a rush longer than 7 yards (though one of Jeremy Gallon's 'catches' was basically a jet sweep handoff for 13 yards).

Play of the Game: Technically a pass, the five yard go-ahead option TD from Armstrong to Abdullah is another outstanding highlight in a season full of Sports Center moments.

Play We Want Back: If Nebraska hadn't scored that late TD, Jordan Westerkamp would have lost a good chunk of the fan karma he earned with that Hail Mary catch last week.  Westerkamp had a 10 yard halo and still managed to muff a punt that basically gave Michigan the go-ahead field goal.  Like Enunwa's fumble earlier in the game, the defense managed to rise up and make the best of a bad situation, but the freshman nearly blew a game a week after saving one. 

Blown Call:  I'm glad they didn't call it, but there was definitely a lot of movement on Nebraska's offensive line right before that 4th and 2.   Call it karma for the missed holding calls all game long.

Hit of the Game: I don't know which of Nebraska's SEVEN sacks or FIFTEEN TFLs to choose from. Probably Randy Gregory's 3rd and 4 sack on Michigan's last drive, if I absolutely had to pick one.

I want to see more...
*3 and outs.  Michigan's first two series produced -19 yards.  A big stop on third (and then fourth) down saved Nebraska's 10-3 halftime lead.  Nebraska had key three and outs after turnovers in the second half, and by the end of the game, the boo-birds were out in full effect to salute Michigan's offensive futility
*Games called by Chris Spielman.  Spielman is far and away the most technical color commentator and his breakdowns of plays and schemes is refreshing in a broadcasting world with too many know-nothings in the booth.
*Quarterbacks hitting the turf. Nebraska brought pressure early and often yesterday and Gardner spent most of the game on the floor.  Seven total sacks yesterday and 15(!) TFLs.
*4th down stops.  Sacking Devin Gardner on 4th and 5 at the end of the 2nd quarter was a big statement for the Blackshirts.  It was a key momentum swing after a poor punt put Michigan in prime field position.
*Takeaways.  With as many times as Michigan put the ball on the ground yesterday, it's inexcusable that Nebraska couldn't get any turnovers yesterday.  Extra scorn for Stanley Jean-Baptiste for dropping an interception on a third quarter 3rd down and Josh Mitchell for doing the same on the next drive. That's the final step this defense needs to take to be great.

I want to see less...
*FUMBLES.  Credit Enunwa for trying to get extra yards, but getting stripped is not worth six feet.  And of course there was Westerkamp's muffed punt.  And of course both turnovers had to come at the worst possible moments, threatening Nebraska's precarious tie in the fourth quarter.
*Bobbled option pitches.  Thank God for Abdullah's good hands as there were several of Armstrong's pitches that weren't exactly in the breadbasket.  It's hard to be too harsh on Armstrong, as the option plays were the most successful yesterday, but he needs to keep those pitches under control.
*Ron Kellogg III.  Yes he was the hero last week, but with Armstrong playing so well early yesterday, it seemed silly to insert a new quarterback for the fourth series.  I just don't think that RKIII is a good enough passer to make up for his lack of running threat and that stymies this offense.
*Blown assignments.  Michigan's TD drive to start the second half was full of missed assignments by the Nebraska secondary, culminating with a whiff on Devin Funchess coming out of a bunch formation on the TD pass.  Just when you think the Blackshirts have turned a corner, they have a error-filled drive to remind us all how green they are.
*Injuries.  If this offensive line sustains too many more injuries, we're going to have to start using Sam Cotton at guard and Imani Cross at tackle.  It's getting ridiculous.  Not to mention the dinged up wide receiving corps.  Anyone else hold their breath when Abdullah lingered on the turf in the second quarter?
*Screen passes.  Michigan clearly wanted to get their screen game going in the second half, and the Blackshirts were basically helpless.  Thank God Al Borges didn't come back to these devastating plays in the 4th quarter.

Armchair coach: 
Backed up on your own three yard line is not the time to call a bootleg. Armstrong ran into Sam Cotton in the backfield which ruined the play; thankfully he was able to break a tackle in the endzone and get back to the 1 yard line to prevent a total disaster.   Nebraska still had to punt out of their own endzone two plays later and gave Michigan a short field at the end of the first half.  That could have been disastrous.  

Jennifer's Take (my wife doesn't know much about football, but she still has opinions)
"I'm pretty much over Taylor Martinez.  Tommy Armstrong is the best!"

Yep.

Opponent Watch:
*Minnesota moved to 8-2 with a 24-10 victory over Penn State at home.  The Gophers, with some help, can win the Legends division with victories over #24 Wisconsin and #17 Michigan State; a tall order to be sure, but very possible.

*Iowa ran up 509 yards of offense at Purdue in a 38-14 win in West Lafayette.  The hapless Boilermakers allowed 314 rushing yards to the Hawkeyes and, interestingly, scored on another long pass play with 51 seconds left in the blowout.

*Illinois kept it tight until Indiana scored 17 unanswered points to close out the game.  The Illini have now lost 19 straight Big Ten games.

*Zach Zenner rushed for 137 yards and a TD and South Dakota State shut out Indiana State to move to 6-4 on the year.

*Wyoming jumped out to a 10-0 lead over #16 Fresno State, but then proceeded to allow 48 points in the last three quarters to earn their third consecutive loss.  The Cowboys need to beat Boise, Hawaii, and Utah State to get bowl eligibility.

*Same old, same old for Southern Miss, four turnovers lead to another blowout loss to a not-so-great team; 5-4 Louisiana Tech this time.  Southern Miss is looking at the very real possibility of losing 24 straight games.

*#19 UCLA found an answer to their rushing woes (no, they didn't play Nebraska again) in freshman LB Myles Jack.  His 120 yards rushing along with QB Brett Hundley's three total TDs helped the Bruins hold off a tougher than expected Arizona team 31-26.

Keeping an Eye on the Rest of the College Football World...
*I watched the first half of the #3 Oregon at #5 Stanford game.  Other than Oregon repeatedly shooting itself in the foot, the thing that stuck out to me and probably the rest of the country was the ease with which Stanford pounded the Ducks on both sides of the ball.  If not for that stumble at Utah, The Cardinal would be almost a lock for the BCS Championship game in a few months over any other undefeated team.  They're still in a good spot if they get a little help.

*Take yourself back to 2003 and ask yourself if you would ever have imagined Baylor curb stomping Oklahoma the way they did the other night.  The #6 Bears took a quarter to get going, but once they did the #10 Sooners were helpless as QB Bryce Petty and Shock Linwood (a third string RB) cruised up and down the field.  With Marcus Mariota falling out of the race with a loss, Petty is now a viable Heisman contender should Jameis Winston struggle down the stretch.

*#20 Louisville is quietly putting together a resume for a BCS bowl bid.  The Cardinals hope that 7-2 Houston keeps winning as that is the last remotely tough game on their schedule, but if they keep blowing out the teams they should blow out, they'll be in the mix come December.

*#8 Missouri blasted Kentucky 48-7 in Lexington.  The Tigers need to beat Ole Miss and #15 Texas A&M to win the SEC East unless #12 South Carolina stumbles at home against Florida next week.

*How did #2 Florida State beat a Wake Forest 59-3 and only generate 296 total yards of offense?  It helps to score on a pick six and a fumble return in consecutive drives, and a 97 yard kickoff return drove the total to 21 points that their offense didn't have to score.   'Noles QB Jameis Winston's Heisman hopes took a hit though, 163 total yards and 2 TDs isn't enough when Johnny Manziel and Bryce Petty are giving the scoreboards a workout.

*Speaking of Manziel, he threw 5 TDs and 3 INTs in #15 Texas A&M's 51-41 win over Mississippi State.  That was probably Johnny Football's last game at College Station.

*#24 Wisconsin ground out a nice win over a tough BYU squad.  The Badgers might have the best RBs in the country in James White and Melvin Gordon.  Gordon led the Big Ten in rushing most of the season, but he's fallen off pace the last few weeks.  No matter, James White has picked up the slack slashing the Cougars for almost 200 total yards and 3 total TDs.  The Badgers are angling for a BCS at-large bid with games against Indiana, Minnesota and Penn State remaining.

*#9 Auburn should stop recruiting high school QBs.  Behind JUCO transfer Nick Marshall, the Tigers are 9-1 and with a win against Georgia next week, they'll play Alabama for the SEC West on November 30.

*Virginia Tech is officially the most inconsistent team in the country.  The Hokies had just lost consecutive games to Duke and Boston College before going to #12 Miami and stomping the Canes 42-24.  Once again, the ACC Coastal division is a mess, with the top four teams all having two losses; this doesn't bode well for Florida State should they need a ratings bump next month.

*Pittsburgh held on to beat Notre Dame 28-21 at home.  The Fighting Irish are feeling the backlash of all of those close wins last year.

*Florida got blown out at home by Vanderbilt 34-17.  The Gators have injuries on top of injuries, but sitting at 4-5, they'll need a magical finish for Will Muschamp to keep his job.  With remaining games against #12 South Carolina, Georgia Southern, and #2 Florida State, the Gators are a good bet to be home for the holidays.

*Kansas State, left for dead after their season opening loss to North Dakota State picked up a nice win over #25 Texas Tech.  The Wildcats gave up 459 yards of offense, but forced the Red Raiders into three turnovers, including a pick six, to cruise to a 49-26 win.

Last Thought
I'm really happy today.  It's been a long season, and there hasn't been too much to cheer about on defense, but they really flipped the script yesterday, showing us what speed and athleticism can do when it's all going in the right direction.

And the offense was ok too.  It wasn't the 50 points-per-game that we expected coming into the year, but Tommy Armstrong proved he is a gamer and he came through in the clutch.  I love watching Ameer Abdullah slash through a defensive line for 6 yards, and it's inspiring to see him emerge as the leader of this team.

Now we just have to do it again.  Against the hottest team in the Legends division, and the best defense in the country.  No big deal.

Fan forecast: euphoria giving way to apprehension.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sunday Review: Northwestern

It's a game of inches.  That most cliche of football truisms proved itself true on innumerable plays yesterday.  Bo was right when he said in his postgame presser that the difference between a great defense and a poor one (of which we saw both yesterday) was very slim, apparently all it takes is a switch at MLB.

I can think of three plays yesterday where if you added an inch here or there,  Nebraska cruises to an easy victory: Stanley Jean-Baptiste's dropped pick six, Ameer Abdullah getting tackled by the turf on a wide open option play, and the 3rd and 6 on Northwestern's first drive where Kain Colter slipped through the hands of every Nebraska defensive linemen to scramble for nine yards, eventually leading to NW's first TD.   And of course there's one play where an inch or two would have won the game for the Wildcats.

So while some may pessimistically gripe about Nebraska needing a lucky tip to beat a 4-4 Northwestern team (a Northwestern team that could easily be 7-1 with a little better luck), those grumps should remember that cliches are cliches for a reason, and they should just enjoy the win.  

On with the review:

Offensive MVP: Jordan Westerkamp, WR.  The kid made a few nice catches in the first half to move the chains.  He did a nice job fielding punts (a skill Nebraska fans have learned not to take lightly).  Nothing he does the rest of his career is likely to trump his first TD catch though.  A lot of that was right place and right time, but credit the freshman for his sticky hands and nimble feet.  I expect mustaches to make quite a comeback around Lincoln.

Defensive MVP: Avery Moss DE.  Moss' ten yard sack was great.  His pick six was better.  In a game where someone needed to step up and make a play, Moss did exactly that.  Moss' basketball skills were on full display as he plucked a pass out of the air and sprinted home.

Special Teams MVP: Sam Foltz P.  Yes he had a shanked punt, and yes his other punts always seemed to bounce the wrong way, but it's hard to argue with his overall body of work: 35 yd average and 3 punts downed inside the 20.  He was a big part of Nebraska winning the field position battle in the second half.

Freshman MVP: This one also goes to Westerkamp.  If you make a once-in-a-lifetime play like that, you deserve two MVPs.

Assistant Coach MVP: Terry Joseph, DB coach.  Joseph's charges accounted for six of Nebraska's ten tackles for loss.  Josh Mitchell had a clutch pass breakup on a 4th quarter pass that would have been a first down inside Nebraska territory (beautifully covering two receivers on a play where Nebraska blitzed eight defenders).  And Ciante Evans had one of the best games of his career, leading the team with eight tackles including a sack of Kain Colter in which he literally held on to a thread of his jersey and got the big quarterback down. Nebraska's secondary held Northwestern to 8 of 21 passing for 81 yards, and were a big part of shutting down the Wildcats' run game after the first quarter.

5 Who Stood out:
*Quincy Enunwa WR.  His 23 yard catch between two DBs on that long third down in the first quarter was more like the Enunwa we've come to know the last three years.  His adjustment to the lob pass he caught for a TD shouldn't be underestimated.  Sure he dropped that last pass that would have set Pat Smith up for a long field goal try, but he was just setting the Wildcats up for the epic final play.

*Ameer Abdullah RB.  Forget about the 132 yards rushing and another 1000 yard season, Ameer's greatest contribution yesterday came on the pass plays that last drive.  Serving as the safety valve for Kellogg III, Abdullah caught three passes including a clutch 16 yard catch-and-stretch to convert on 4th and 15.  And when you go back and watch that final play for the 501st time, notice what number 8 is doing in the backfield to give RKIII the time to make that final heave.  

*Randy Gregory DE.  Gregory will haunt the dreams of Trevor Siemian for several nights after crushing the NW quarterback as he released the ball on Moss' pick six.  Gregory's not all the way there mentally as evidenced by his poor read on Treyvon Green's 4 yard TD on a zone read in the first quarter, but he's learning, as evidenced by his great read on the two yard TFL on Colter to force a field goal at the end of the game.

*Ciante Evans NB.  Eight tackles, one sack and four tackles for loss.  The senior played his heart out yesterday, making play after play and willing his defense to shut down the Wildcats.

*Josh Banderas MLB.  The freshman's roller coaster year continued yesterday with an upswing as he replaced Michael Rose at MLB, making three tackles including a nice solo tackle on Colter to force a punt.  Bando is an absolute beast physically and when he fully grasps the college game, he's bound to become the stud that he looks like.

Key Stat:  0 for 12.  NW didn't convert a third down after the first quarter.  That helped Nebraska in so many ways.

Play of the Game: Obviously the hail Mary TD pass.  That was pretty much a textbook example of how a Hail Mary is supposed to work.  I can't watch it enough times.

Play We Want Back:  RKIII's interception in the first quarter.  Poor throw from Kellogg, and a poor play call by Tim Beck.  Two plays later, NW is up 21-7 and who knows what kind of impact that had on the game.

Blown Call:  The holding call on Mike Moudy that negated a first down run by Abdullah inside the NW 30 yard line was pretty silly.  Yes, Moudy had a handful of jersey, but it was hardly more egregious than the 30 holding calls they missed on both teams all game long.

And honestly, the holding call on NW's 2nd and 20 in the 4th quarter should have been offsetting penalties because Randy Gregory pretty clearly shoved his hands up in the NW tackle's nose while he was being held.  Nebraska declined the penalty so no harm, no foul.

Hit of the Game: Randy Gregory made one of the best plays of his young career by tackling Kain Colter for a two yard loss on third down to force NW's last field goal.  His ability to cling to Colter and get him to the ground turned out to be one of the game's most important plays.

I want to see more...
*Zone read/option plays.  Sure, Armstrong isn't as likely to take it to the house, but his consistent 8 yards per carry are better than the boom or bust style of a healthy Taylor Martinez, much better than the "fall into the fetal position and fumble" style of a hurt Taylor Martinez.  Having a quarterback healthy enough to be a legitimate rushing threat is an unmistakeable boost to this offense.
*Starting with a bang.  Yesterday marked the 5th game in a row that Nebraska scored on their first possession.  Obviously, that doesn't necessarily translate to continued success the rest of the game, but it says something positive for Tim Beck's game planning.
*Blitzing.  We've had this discussion before.  Nebraska started bringing more pressure on Northwestern's third drive and was rewarded with a three and out.  The Huskers managed several more three and outs the rest of the game, didn't allow a third down conversion after halftime and finished with 10 TFLs or sacks.
*K.I.S.S.  In the Army we use the acronym "Keep It Simple Stupid" to remind our leaders (usually lieutenants) that complexity doesn't necessarily equal success.  Tim Beck's offense usually ground to a halt when he tried to do anything more than feed Ameer Abdullah or let Tommy Armstrong loose in the running game.
*Takeaways.  Other than Avery Moss' beautiful pick six, Nebraska didn't get any takeaways yesterday.  When your own offense throws four INTs, you need to do something to get the ball back.
*Stanley Jean-Baptitste.  The senior was Nebraska's best playmaker until he got ejected from the Purdue game.  Since that game, he hasn't really made any game changing plays.  SJB dropped a sure pick six yesterday, and though he had some nice tackles, it was Josh Mitchell making plays in the passing game.
*Ndamukong Suh.  Suh was in town during the biggest recruiting weekend of the year.  Coincidence?  Doubt it.  

I want to see less...
*Missed tackles.  Kain Colter is a good athlete, but he made the Nebraska defense look ridiculous on an early 3rd and 6.  Defensive linemen grasped air, linebackers got run over and defensive backs slipped off ball carriers the entire first quarter.  Terrible.  Thank God the Blackshirts figured it out quickly.
*Interceptions.  With the exception of the tipped ball on Tommy Armstrong's second INT, the interceptions thrown yesterday went straight to Wildcat defenders as if they were the intended receivers. Were the QBs forcing plays, or do they just have no idea how to read a zone?
*Defensive confusion.  Nebraska was forced to call a timeout on Northwestern's first drive because they couldn't get lined up properly.  Northwestern wasn't doing a whole lot with motion or formations either, so I really don't understand why, in week 10, the Blackshirts can't even get lined up.  Things went much smoother when Banderas took over.
*Three and outs.  After storming down the field on their first possession, the Husker offense stalled with three and out after Northwestern answered, forcing the tired defense back onto the field.  The offense went three-and out several more times as the game devolved into a defensive slugfest.
*John Deere Gators.  I don't ever remember seeing a game where the Gator came on the field twice in the whole game, let alone the first quarter.  Lots of injuries yesterday, but with the exception of Will Richards, Bo didn't seem too worried about getting all those guys back.
*2:30 kickoffs.  I know that they're probably the best kickoff time as far as recruiting goes, but dangit I like grilling on Saturdays and the 2:30 games always climax at dinnertime. Trying to watch a grill full of country style ribs AND an epic comeback by a 5th year walk-on quarterback is difficult.  It worked out alright though:


Armchair coach: I don't like the way Tim Beck called passing plays in the second half.  With beneficial field position most of the second half, and playing from a tie from the third quarter on, Beck did his young quarterback no favors by calling passes at strange times (why does he insist on calling pass plays on first dow??!!), and not giving him any of the option passes that worked well in the first half.  

Jennifer's Take (my wife doesn't know much about football, but she still has opinions)
"You can grow a mustache if it looks like Jordan Westerkamp's."

Done.

Opponent Watch:
*Penn State pulled off another OT victory over Illinois as the Nittany Lions' freshman QB Christian Hackenberg threw a TD and then Ryan Keiser picked off a Nathan Scheelhaase pass in the end zone in the extra period.  Penn State is not a great team, but they play hard and they play all the way to the final gun.

*Minnesota almost blew a 35-13 third quarter lead, but a 50 yard TD pass by Phillip Nelson with three minutes left lifted the Gophers to a 42-39 victory.  The Gophers are now at 7-2 with games against Penn State, Wisconsin, and at Michigan State remaining.  9-3?  A distinct possibility, but so is 7-5.

*#22 Michigan State allowed only 168 yards and two field goals in a 29-6 win over #21 Michigan.  The Spartans straight dominated the Wolverines in East Lansing and they're the clear Legends division favorite.

*Iowa kept it tight until the 4th quarter at home against #24 Wisconsin, but the Hawkeyes couldn't contain James White, allowing two TDs in the final period en route to a 28-9 loss.  The Badgers are one of the toughest teams in the Big Ten, and they essentially ended any outside chance Iowa had at winning the Legends.

*Hapless little Purdue got run over by #4 Ohio State 56-0 as the Buckeyes try to keep their BCS championship hopes alive by blowing out the teams they should blow out.

*Southern Miss "only" committed two turnovers but still got run over by Marshall 63-13.  The Golden Eagles have now lost 20 straight games, which is silly considering they went 11-2 just two seasons ago.

*#20 UCLA got back on track after two straight losses to #5 Stanford and #2 Oregon by beating Colorado 45-23.  Nothing shakes you out of a two game losing streak like a visit from the Buffaloes.

Keeping an Eye on the Rest of the College Football World...
*Georgia busted out to a 17-0 lead and held off Florida for a 23-20 win.  In my dreamy impossible fantasy world, Will Muschamp gets fired at Florida after going 6-6 and then Bo Pelini hires him to be his defensive coordinator.  Only a few issues with that scenario...

*#9 Missouri stomped a better-than-you'd-expect Tennessee team 36-3.  The Tigers have to beat Kentucky, Ole Miss and Texas A&M to win the SEC East with no help.  Seems doable.

*#25 Notre Dame needed a late TD to escape Navy at home.  The Fighting Irish might be one of the most hot-and-cold teams in the country and that's not going to help them down the stretch with games against Pitt, BYU and Stanford.

*#17 Northern Illinois and #16 Fresno State kept their BCS hopes alive with wins over UMass and Nevada respectively.  If it came down to both teams being unbeaten, who would get in?  I'd take the Huskies.  Their best win over Iowa trumps the Bulldogs' best win over Rutgers.

*Most overrated 2-loss team?  #12 Texas A&M in my book.  Anyone with a decent defense and an offense with a pulse has a chance to beat the Aggies.  UTEP, of course, isn't one of those teams, losing 57-7 last night, but I'd give Mississippi State, LSU and Missouri all at least .500 odds of beating the Aggies.

*#18 Oklahoma State further exposed #15 Texas Tech as pretenders.  The Cowboys played like the Big 12 favorites they used to be, racking up 281 rushing yards and forcing the Red Raiders into two turnovers in a 52-34 beat down.

*#3 Florida State stomped all over #7 Miami 41-14.  The Seminoles should move to #2 in the BCS this week, but an impressive win by Oregon over Stanford on Thursday will knock Florida State back down to #3.  With #4 Ohio State seemingly a lock to go 13-0, and #6 Baylor still facing the meat of its schedule, there's all sorts of potential for chaos come December 9th.  The BCS is not going to go quietly.

Last Thought

I don't think Spielberg could have scripted that any better.  A third-string, 5th year walk-on senior quarterback comes into the game with a little more than a minute left and leads the team down the field with no timeouts and heaves a miracle Hail Mary touchdown to a Catholic freshman wide receiver and saves his team's season?  Magic.  I'll let the shine wear off a little bit before I go pronouncing any final judgements, but I think it's safe to say that yesterday's game will reside in my top 5 Husker memories for quite a while.

Also, can we get a trophy for the Northwestern game?  The Wildcats have been, and will probably continue to be a thorn in the Husker's side, and while I don't anticipate any hatred coming up between the two teams (who could hate that lovable band of nerds and their classy head coach?), the series has all the other ingredients for a serious rivalry.

Anyways, enough about the Wildcats.  Nebraska has a big game with a beat-up Michigan team next Saturday in the Big House.  If the Huskers can scrape out a win, hold your horses folks, we got us a football season. The Huskers are likely to look pretty different next week depending on the latest twists in the ongoing quarterback drama and the expected return of Jake Long, Kenny Bell, and/or Jamal Turner.

Fan forecast: Catholic churches in Nebraska see a huge uptick in attendance.