10 things we learned from Nebraska's win over BCU
1. Nebraska deserved this game
In the grand scheme of things, Saturday’s blowout of Bethune-Cookman did little to change to overall perception of Nebraska’s season.
But for a program that has experienced victory so little over the past two years, particularly in such dominating fashion, a game like that was exactly what the Huskers – and their fans – needed.
The most important part was that no key starters got hurt in the game, and most of which were pulled at halftime. Considering Nebraska has to play 12 straight weeks, Saturday and this past week in general was about as close to a bye as it could get.
This was a matchup where everyone involved knew the deal: BCU was coming to Lincoln to give the Huskers a win and make $800,000 for it in the process. There was a point in the first half where a Wildcat coach was even seen buying a Runza from a stadium vendor on the sideline.
Nebraska’s win doesn’t change much at all about how you view next week’s incomparably more difficult showdown at Ohio State, but it served its purpose in full by giving the Huskers two straight weeks of positivity.
“We wanted to win the game, first and foremost; we wanted to play well second," head coach Scott Frost said. "Ideally, we wanted to be in a game where we could get a lot of young guys experience. There were some details that were good and bad throughout the game but I thought we accomplished all three of those things.”
2. NU's top dogs got their due
While the main goal for Nebraska was to earn a convincing win and avoid any major injuries, there was also plenty of incentive to capitalize on the mismatch and rack up some stats.
Nearly all of the Huskers’ top offensive threats got their chance to put up big numbers on Saturday, led by quarterback Adrian Martinez. The true freshman played just two quarters but still 15-of-22 passing for 213 yards and two touchdowns (he did have a bad interception as well).
Martinez now has 1,656 passing yards on the season, setting the Nebraska freshman record previously held by Taylor Martinez (1,632 in 2010).
Receivers Stanley Morgan Jr. and J.D. Spielman also had a field day, combining for 12 catches for 154 yards and three touchdowns in just one half of action. Spielman also added a 77-yard punt return for a score in the first quarter, giving him 149 total yards and two touchdowns overall.
Running back Devine Ozigbo broke the century mark for the fourth time in the past five games, finishing with 11 carries for 110 yards and a touchdown in one half of work. Freshman Maurice Washington also carried six times for 48 yards and a rushing score.
Best of all, each player was able to nicely pad their season totals, not get hurt, and rest their legs for the entire second half.
“We needed that to happen," Frost said. "We needed to go out and get the game secured early. I’ve said it a bunch, 12 weeks in a row is a long time. Thirteen weeks of practice in a row is a long time without any break. It isn’t just the physical, it’s the grind of it. It takes a toll on you emotionally, especially with what these guys have been through this season.
"We needed a break, (and) we didn’t get one. Physically it was important for us to put the game away so that the guys could play 30, 35, 40 snaps and be done. I think that’s going to help us down the stretch with the last four.”
3. Backups get their shot
Saturday also served as the perfect opportunity for Nebraska to dig deep down its depth chart and play as many backups and true freshmen as possible.
In all, the Huskers ended up getting a whopping 74 players in the game on offense, defense, and special teams, far and away the appearances of any game this season.
Included in those new faces seeing their first action of the year were notable names like quarterback Noah Vedral, running back Miles Jones, tight end Katerian Legrone, and defensive linemen Vaha Vainuku and Chris Walker.
We’ll hit on Vedral later, but Jones made the next biggest splash with one rush for five yards and a 21-yard reception. Legrone also made his first catch as a Husker with an eight-yard grab.
Senior running back Mikale Wilbon, who had 88 carries for 379 rushing yards and six touchdowns last season, also made his first appearance on offense in 2018, rushing once for two yards.
"I think (the starters) knew if they went out and took care of business that some of those other guys would get some reps," Frost said. "Then, you’ve got (senior walk-on defensive lineman Matt) Jarzynka makings sacks and the guys going crazy, and some other guys out there making plays that haven’t gotten a chance to yet.
"That kind of feeling of team and camaraderie has really grown over the course of this year and it was exciting to see the old guys that excited for the kids that haven’t played much.”
4. Vedral makes his debut
Two weeks ago, just about two hours before kickoff of Nebraska’s road game at Northwestern, Vedral learned he had been ruled immediately eligible by the NCAA.
The Wahoo, Neb., native and Central Florida transfer immediately flew out to join his teammates in Evanston and was suited up and available to play vs. the Wildcats, but he didn’t see the field.
Vedral’s opportunity finally came on Saturday, as he took over for Martinez to start the third quarter and played the entire second half. It was an on-and-off debut, as he completed 2-of-9 passes for 29 yards and an interception; was sacked twice; and fumbled once (which NU recovered).
With 13:39 left in the fourth quarter, though, Vedral did break loose on a 20-yard run and dove over the pylon for his first touchdown as a Husker.
It remains to be seen what Nebraska does with its No. 2 quarterback spot between Vedral and sophomore Andrew Bunch, who has seen action in three games this year and started vs Troy.
But at least now the coaching staff has tangible evidence to base that decision on how each quarterback fared against live competition.
"I've seen Noah practice for a long time and I know how good of a player he is," Frost said. "There were some things that I think he could have done better. We made too many mistakes when those other guys were in there, but it was good seeing him get in the end zone.
"I know growing up here, when I was little that was all I could think about was scoring as a Husker and it's been kind of a weird path for him to get there, but it was great to see him dive into the end zone at Memorial Stadium."
5. Big plays make up for Blackshirts' mistakes
Bethune-Cookman has a decent offense for FCS standards, but it was still a surprise to see the Wildcats have the level of success moving the football that they did against Nebraska.
While BCU only ended up with nine points, it still put up a respectable 355 total yards, 16 first downs, and averaged 16.5 yards on 13 completions. A big reason why those yards didn’t result in more points was NU’s ability to come up with some timely stops backed up against its own end zone.
The first strike came when quarterback David Israel hit receiver Steffon Francois for a 54-yard pass in the first quarter, which led to their lone field goal.
In the second quarter, nose guard Peyton Newell’s interception in the second quarter ended what had been a 10-play, 54-yard march down to the NU 23-yard line. Then on the first drive of the third quarter, the Wildcats got all the way to the Nebraska 8 before linebacker Luke Gifford sacked Israel for a 21-yard loss and forced a punt.
Francois then hauled in a 40-yard strike later in the third to help BCU get down to the Husker 14, but safety Deontai Williams picked up Israel in the end zone to end the threat.
6. Penalty improvements continue
A week after committing a season-low six penalties in its win over Minnesota, Nebraska played by far its cleanest game yet on Saturday.
The Huskers ended up with a new season-low total of five penalties for 35 yards, but its starting lineups only were only flagged two times for five yards on the day.
The bad news was that one of those false starts, an early jump by left tackle Brenden Jaimes in the second quarter, immediately led to back-to-back BCU sacks and then an interception by Martinez.
But overall Nebraska avoided the costly mistakes that had plagued it so badly during its 0-6 start. Add in the fact that there’s been so much improvement in that regard for two weeks in a row, it looks like the Huskers might finally be making some big strides in cleaning up their play.
"We're making fewer mistakes," Frost said. "There's still one 15-yard penalty; I don't know what that is yet, (but) we've gotta get that cleaned up. Having officials at practice I think has helped, so the guys understand and don't practice bad habits.
"But, more than anything, just the standards of the team have gone up and the expectations among the players for what's acceptable and what's not have gotten better and that's led to fewer penalties."
7. Stoltenberg returns
He didn’t start the game and only finished with one tackle, but Mick Stoltenberg beat the odds on Saturday to return to action for the first time since the Michigan game on Sept. 22.
The senior nose guard missed the past four games with a knee injury he suffered in the second quarter against the Wolverines, and the initial diagnosis didn’t look great for his return this season.
But Stoltenberg was back on the practice field this week for the first time in a month, and his return gave a nice boost to a defensive line that will definitely need his presence in the middle of the defense going forward.
8. Barry is a beast
There probably isn’t a player on Nebraska’s defense who will end up on any All-Big Ten teams at the end of the year, but the guy with the strongest case to do so is Mohamed Barry.
The junior inside linebacker has been a monster all season, and he was as good as ever against Bethune-Cookman on Saturday. Barry ended the day with a game-high 11 tackles to mark his fifth double-digit tackle effort of the year.
Included in that total were a career-high three tackles for loss, highlighted by a huge quarterback sack in the second quarter just when BCU was starting to gain some momentum after intercepting Martinez.
9. Newell's determination pays off
Another player who made the most of his increased opportunity was Newell.
The 6-foot-3, 300-pound senior made by far the biggest play of his career on Saturday when he snagged a tipped for his first interception to end a promising Bethune-Cookman drive in the second quarter.
That marked the first interception by an NU defensive lineman since ends Randy Gregory, Jason Ankrah, and Avery Moss each had one in 2013. It was the first interception by an interior defensive lineman since Terrence Moore at Michigan in 2011.
After three active seasons at Nebraska going into 2018, Newell had seen action in just seven games and made two career tackles.
But the senior from Hiawatha, Kan., stayed the course and worked his way up into the No. 2 nose guard spot on the Huskers’ depth chart. He’s now played in all seven games this season and already has a career-high four tackles on the season.
10. Husker fans again show why they're the best in college football
As Nebraska fans well know, the bye weekend on the Huskers’ football schedule is one that is almost always immediately booked up with weddings, family functions, and big yard work projects.
When that week off got replaced with a home game, many fans suddenly had to scramble to open up their schedules.
That’s why the listed sellout crowd of 88,735 is as impressive as any turnout you’ll ever see.
Yes, the top of the student section was empty as well as some and some small patches here and there, but Memorial Stadium was still otherwise full.
Think about it: a crowd of 88,735 showed up to watch a 1-6 team play an FCS opponent on what was supposed to be a bye week. You keep being you, Husker Nation.