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September 21, 2013
Final take: Plenty to think about
For the first time this season Nebraska's offense looked like what it was supposed to.
There was tempo, deep shots executed down field and crisply run option plays. There was 645 yards of offense, 335 on the ground and 310 through the air. There were 34 first downs and NU averaged 8.4 yards per play.
It was the most yards and first downs ever by a Bo Pelini team at Nebraska and the first time in school history the Huskers have had over 300 yards rushing and passing in the same game. What's even more interesting about this is NU did all of it without their school-record breaking quarterback Taylor Martinez under center.
Back-up quarterbacks Tommy Armstrong and Ron Kellogg split the reps in Nebraska's 59-20 win over South Dakota State and gave everybody something to think about over the next two weeks.
If Martinez is not able to run effectively, does he give NU their best chance to win? Against UCLA Martinez left several rushing yards on the field and missed multiple open receivers as he battled through a turf toe and shoulder injury he suffered in NU's season opener against Wyoming.
Turf toe is a nagging injury, if Martinez can't make plays in the running game he's a completely different quarterback.
It will be interesting to see how Nebraska plays this going forward into the bye week. Both Kellogg and Armstrong looked good on Saturday, but it was Armstrong that really captured your imagination with his ability to execute the quarterback run game and effortlessly put balls in places where his wide receivers could come down with it.
The biggest thing the coaching staff is going to need to figure out is Martinez's health. They know what they have in Martinez. When fully healthy he's arguably the best running quarterback in college football. When he's not able to run Martinez is forced to be something he's not all that comfortable with - a pure pocket passer.
The good thing going forward is if Martinez can't play against Illinois you know a guy like Armstrong appears perfectly capable of stepping in. This should make for some fun debate on talk radio and the message boards for the next two weeks.
Now on to the post game breakdown and grade out .
What I saw on Saturday
***I loved the no fear play calling by offensive coordinator Tim Beck. We saw Beck take advantage of South Dakota State for cheating their safeties up in the run game and that gave the Huskers several big play shot down field.
***Once again we saw a lot of confusion and tackling problems by the defense. South Dakota State's offensive line had their way up front early and running back Zach Zenner took the Huskers young defenders to school. While the offense took a big step forward today, the defense still remains a huge question going into conference play.
***I could just hear the Mel Kiper NFL Draft music reel playing as defensive end Randy Gregory returned his interception for a touchdown. That was sure pretty to watch.
***The Huskers had two costly fumbles from veteran running back Ameer Abdullah and wide receiver Kenny Bell. The defender made a perfect hit on Abdullah to jar the ball free, while Bell's happened for carrying the ball in the wrong arm.
***It was good to see wide receiver Alonzo Moore get his first extensive playing time of the season. Moore showed big play flashes on his 19 yard reception.
***My favorite run of the day was freshman running back Terrell Newby's touchdown where he kept his balance and found his way across the goal line.
***The defensive staff had a quick hook on freshman linebackers Josh Banderas and Nate Gerry after South Dakota State's offense strung off some big plays early. Surprisingly Pelini went back to sophomore David Santos who finished with six tackles and one sack. What this should tell you is there are no "clear cut" starters at linebacker. It can change at any time.
***Going into the year this is how I expected to see Nebraska win. Huge plays and big numbers on offense, with struggles and youth and inexperience on defense. If the offense executes like this going forward NU can play with anybody on their schedule.
The final grades
Rushing offense: A
Nebraska rushed for 335 yards on 51 carries, including 139 yards from running back Ameer Abdullah. His first two runs of the day were longer than any single run play the Huskers had last week against UCLA. That's really all you need to know.
Passing offense: A
Kellogg and Armstrong finished a combined 21-of-26 for 310 yards and two touchdowns. There were no sacks and or interceptions by either quarterback. Wide receiver Kenny Bell did have a fumble and a dropped touchdown pass, but in all 11 different Huskers caught passes on Saturday.
Rushing defense: F
This remains a huge, huge issue. Zach Zenner ran for 202 yards on 21 carries and it would've been more if SDSU decided not to pull him in the second half. There were once again too many missed tackles and assignment breakdowns. The beginning of the game was not pretty, but thankfully the Husker offense came to play.
Passing defense: C-
The Huskers got some good pressure on Austin Sumner, sacking him five times and coming up with two interceptions. However, Sumner was still 19-of-29 for 238 yards and was able to expose some coverage breakdowns from time to time on Saturday.
Special teams: Incomplete
There's not a lot you could say about the special teams play for Nebraska on Saturday. NU only punted one time and had just four returns. The Huskers were perfect on extra points and Mauro Bondi made a chip shot 22-yard field goal.
Sean Callahan can be reached at [email protected] 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.