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September 12, 2011Every once in a while covering Nebraska you get some games where an "ugly win" is almost treated like a loss by the fans and the media.
The Huskers went into this past Saturday's game against the Fresno State as a 28 point favorite, but were taken down to the wire and finally pulled away with a 42-29 victory.
During the win NU's young offense once again struggled at times, but maybe the biggest surprise is the way Bo Pelini's defense played. Fresno State had their way with the Blackshirts for nearly the entire night, as Pelini's crew failed to force a turnover, sack or even a tackle for loss.
The Bulldogs are traditionally known for their strong offensive line play under Pat Hill, but this year's group up front was different. There was a redshirt freshman and a sophomore starting and Fresno lost their starting center at Cal the week before.
Is there cause for concern as Nebraska heads into their rubber match this week against Washington? Or was Saturday just simply a bad day at the office? Everybody has them in college football. Heck, Auburn was taken down to the wire against Utah State in week one, Eastern Washington outgained Washington 504 to 250 in yardage and Toledo took Ohio State down to the final seconds last week in Columbus.
Everybody wants it to look easy every week. Fans want classic 10 play, 76 yard scoring drives that take up five minutes of clock. Those are the expectations at Nebraska. Pelini understands that and his message to all the critics from this past Saturday was pretty simple.
"I could care less," Pelini said. "There is consternation around here if you don't win 50-0 every week. That's just the way it is. I look at the reality of where we are and where we need to go to get better. That is what I focus myself on. If I start worrying about what others think, I'll end up in a rubber room."
Pelini called Saturday's game against Fresno State a "wake-up call" for the Blackshirt defense.
You almost got the impression that after a strong outing in week one against Tennessee-Chattanooga, the defense bought into their own hype a little too much.
"I think every now and then you need to get smacked in the face and get a wakeup call," Pelini said. "When people are telling you how good you are, sometimes you need a reality check. In this world, you get humbled in a hurry. Last week, we were humbled.
"At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what people say you are, or what you are supposed to be, you have to put it out there. You have to do it between the white lines. I don't care who you are. I don't care if you're a projected All-American or if you're a first-year guy. You have to go out there and play. That's what makes this game great. You're only as good as your last snap. Hopefully our guys learned that."
Where was the substituting?
Every August it feels like we here the same thing. NU is as deep and talented as they've been in certain areas and they plan to do more substituting both on offense and defense.
In week one against Chattanooga we saw a fair amount of bodies see the field, but that wasn't the case this past Saturday night.
According to Jermarcus Hardrick the only other offensive lineman who played in the game other than the starting five was Jeremiah Sirles, who came in for two series after Harderick went down with a hand injury.
On defense you saw a few back-ups play on the line, but it was very limited. During the post-game press conference Carl Pelini said when the game gets tight he has to do a better job of gaining "trust" in the back-up players instead of riding his starters out for every play.
I think particularly on the defensive line NU needs to use their depth better. There are at least eight to 10 capable bodies that can contribute. In the long run I think this will only help guys like Jared Crick and Cameron Meredith out more, as they will stay fresher for key situations during the game.
NU stole one from SEC country
It's no coincidence why the SEC Conference wins the national championship and dominates non-conference match-ups almost every year. The Southeastern Conference region is loaded with raw and natural talent that you can't find in this neck of the woods.
A perfect example is freshman running back Ameer Abdullah out Alabama. Auburn and many other teams in the region wanted him as a defensive back. Nebraska said running back. The rest is history.
Players like Abdullah grow in trees in SEC country. He may be the biggest steal of the 2011 recruiting class for the Huskers.
"I really don't look at conferences," Abdullah said. "I just looked at what school fit me the best and it was Nebraska. I'm happy to be here.
"Nebraska kind of backed off in the recruiting process because they never thought I'd be interested with how far it was. Coach (Tim) Beck came to me when he found out Braylon (Heard) was not going to be possibly eligible and they offered me. I came up and saw the place then and I fell in love it with it. It's been a journey since then."
For the stat geeks
***With an average 17 first downs per game, Nebraska's offense currently ranks 11th in the Big Ten Conference. Illinois leads the league with 25.5 first downs per game.
***NU ranks last in the Big Ten in turnover margin at -2 after two weeks of football.
***So much for the Big Ten being a rushing league. Through two games Taylor Martinez is leading the conference with an average of 150.5 yards per game, the next closest to him is Iowa's Marcus Coker and Wisconsin's Montee Ball at 90.5 yards per game.
***Martinez and Abdullah currently rank first and second overall in the Big Ten in all-purpose yardage per game.
***It should come as no surprise that Lavonte David is tied for the Big Ten lead in total tackles with 24.
***I have to admit, after covering the Big 12 the last several years I got a chuckle to see that 222 yards per game leads the Big Ten in passing yards. In the Big 12 that used to be the halftime stats for Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech's quarterbacks.
Around the state
***Omaha North wide receiver Terry Grigsby continues to put up huge numbers. In a win over Omaha South Grigsby had his third 100 yard receiving game of the season and hauled in three more touchdown passes. I predict Division I offers will be coming soon for Gribsby.
***Grand Island quarterback Ryker Fyfe helped lead the Islanders to their first win over Kearney in 10 years on Friday night. One prominent high school coach in the state told me he's "shocked" Fyfe doesn't have any Division I offers at this point. Grand Island has a great chance to run the table in the regular season.
***Norfolk Catholic kicker Drew Farlee hit a 50 yard field goal in a win over Columbus Lakeview. It was Farlee's first and only field goal attempt of the season.
***Omaha Skutt tight end Matt Miller hauled in three touchdowns in the Sky Hawks win over Lincoln Pius this past Friday. The week before in a loss at Crete Miller had three sacks and also was responsible for causing two intentional grounding penalties.
Sean Callahan can be reached at email@example.com and he can be heard each day at 6:50 am and 4:50 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 TV in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap Tuesday's at 7 pm.