10 things we learned from Nebraska's win over Fordham
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10 things we learned from Nebraska's win over Fordham

Here are 10 of our biggest takeaways from Nebraska's 52-7 victory over Fordham on Saturday afternoon...

After a slow start and strong finish, it's hard to take away from Nebraska's win over Fordham.
After a slow start and strong finish, it's hard to take away from Nebraska's win over Fordham. (Associated Press)

1. We didn’t really learn much

Nebraska got the lopsided win it desperately needed and hadn’t had in far too long, but in the big picture of this season and the overall state of the program, Saturday didn’t mean much at all.

The Huskers’ struggled on both sides of the ball through the first quarter and a half before breaking the game open just before the half, and it took two interceptions deep in their territory and a blocked field goal to finally get there.

This was supposed to be a cruise-control type of game where the starters were out by halftime, and everyone left feeling a little better about what the season could become. Instead, the same questions and concerns remained glaringly present.

Fordham was a late addition to the schedule to give the Huskers an easy tune-up game following their opener at Illinois and before the trip to No. 2 Oklahoma.

Even though it ended in a 45-point victory, Saturday did nothing to change the cloud of fan concern and pessimism currently hovering over this season.

2. The offensive line is a big problem

It’s one thing to be caught off guard by some unexpected wrinkles from a Big Ten team with a new coaching staff on the road in Week 0.

It’s an entirely different problem when the same issues carry over to a home game against a wholly overmatched FCS opponent.

Nebraska’s offensive line has been one of the biggest red flags over the first two weeks of the season. After looking lost against Illinois’ four-man defensive front, the Husker o-line could hardly get a push in the run game or protect the pocket for most of the first half vs. Fordham.

The unit eventually got things under control as the day went on, but this was a matchup where “The Pipeline” needed to dominate and take the game over from the opening possession.

Instead, the starting unit remained in the game until early into the fourth quarter.

The Huskers will continue to be in scramble mode with the football until the offensive line gets fixed.

3. Special teams remains a mixed bag

The good news was that Nebraska saw some marked improvements in several areas on special teams. The bad news was that other spots still had significant issues.

After missing two extra points last week, Connor Culp drilled all seven of his PATs and added a 39-yard field goal in the win.

Marquel Dismuke blocked a critical field goal in the second quarter, marking NU’s first block since 2014.

The kickoff specialists, led again by Brendan Franke, recorded touchbacks on all nine of their kicks. Franke was a perfect 5-for-5, while Kelen Meyer was 4-for-4.

However, there was an equal amount of bad from the special teams.

Cam Taylor-Britt muffed a punt return for the second time in as many games, spotting Fordham with the ball in NU territory.

With Oliver Martin out for the game, Brody Belt took over as the punt returner for the bulk of the second half. Even he bobbled a punt that fortunately bounced out of bounds.

The kickoff returns weren’t any better, either, as the Huskers failed to take one past the 25 on just two tries.

So, while there were some necessary improvements, there is still clearly a long way to go for Nebraska’s special teams to become an asset rather than a liability.

Running back Markese Stepp (30) made his case to be the new No. 1 going forward.
Running back Markese Stepp (30) made his case to be the new No. 1 going forward. (USA Today)

4. Markese Stepp is RB1

It took an entire offseason and two games to do it, but Nebraska should finally know who its top running back is at this point.

USC transfer Markese Stepp has been the most consistently productive player at the position so far this season, and Saturday was the exclamation point on his push to be the starter.

Stepp rushed for a game and career-high 101 yards on 18 carries, nine more than any other NU running back. That was after hauling in a 30-yard catch and scoring his first touchdown as a Husker last week at Illinois.

He might not have game-breaking speed, but the 6-foot-1, 230-pound sophomore will keep the offense on schedule and give the running game some needed physicality.

5. Samori Toure is Martinez’s go-to guy

It was no secret that Nebraska had high hopes for Samori Toure this season. Still, Saturday showed the type of player he could potentially be with his rapidly developing connection with quarterback Adrian Martinez.

The former FCS All-American at Montana was the biggest difference-maker in the game on either side of the ball. He hauled in eight catches for 133 yards (six for 103 in the first half) and rushed for 35 more on three carries, including an eight-yard touchdown.

Even more impressive was that of those 11 touches, seven of them converted first downs, and another went for a score. Four of those seven first downs came on third or fourth down.

Whenever Martinez and the Huskers needed to make a play, Toure was the No. 1 target. Martinez even commented after the game on how much trust he already had in one of his newest weapons.

Expect that connection to continue to evolve as the season goes along.

6. Logan Smothers is the clear No. 2 quarterback

One of the only benefits of Saturday’s win was that it gave us an accurate look at what Nebraska’s depth chart looks like on both sides of the ball.

Most notably, we finally got to see what the quarterback pecking order is behind Martinez.

While it was said to be a tight competition for that spot all offseason, second-year freshman Logan Smothers cemented himself as the No. 2 on Saturday.

Not only was Smothers the first backup in the game after Martinez exited late in the third quarter, but he also led the next three drives for the Huskers.

The only other quarterback to play in the win was Matt Masker, who took one snap in the closing seconds to finish the game.

True freshman Heinrich Haarberg, who some thought could win the No. 2 job during fall camp, did not see the field despite being suited up and available to play.

We’ll see if there will be any more opportunities for either Smothers or Haarberg to see meaningful snaps the rest of the year, but at least we now have a firm answer for who the Huskers would turn to if Martinez were to miss any time this season.

Logan Smothers is the clear No. 2 quarterback behind starter Adrian Martinez.
Logan Smothers is the clear No. 2 quarterback behind starter Adrian Martinez. (USA Today)

7. Nebraska’s depth finally got its chance

Beyond the quarterbacks, Nebraska was able to go deep into its depth chart and play numerous players who otherwise likely wouldn’t get the chance to see the field in a game.

When all was said and done, a whopping 88 Huskers played at least one snap against Fordham.

The coaching staff would have liked to go to its backups much sooner than it did, as the starting offense and defense were still in the game deep into the third quarter.

The top offensive line didn’t come off the field until the start of the fourth quarter.

Still, getting actual game reps for younger players was a luxury NU hasn’t had since its blowout win at Maryland in 2019. Ten players carried the ball, 10 caught at least one pass, and 25 recorded a tackle.

Outside linebacker JoJo Domann called Saturday a “program game” because all the young guys who got in were now better than they were before the game.

8. Austin Allen must be a bigger part of the offense

In the opener at Illinois, tight end Austin Allen was targeted just four times and had two catches for 23 yards in the loss.

Saturday wasn’t much different in his number of opportunities, but Allen made it abundantly clear that he needs to have a more significant role in the offense.

Allen caught all four of the passes thrown to him vs. Fordham for 61 yards, and 45 of those came after first contact.

The junior captain played with a fire that was noticeably lacking last week and often looked like the older cousin roughing up the younger kids during the family Thanksgiving backyard football game.

Allen is too good of a player not to be a fixture in Nebraska’s passing game, and Saturday showed why.

9. Fordham has ‘a guy’ in linebacker Ryan Greenhagen 

When scanning the final box score of Nebraska’s win over Fordham, pretty much everyone had to do a double-take at the defensive numbers.

At the top of the Rams’ defensive statistics was linebacker Ryan Greenhagen. Next to his name were 30 tackles.

Of those 30, 13 were solo stops, and 17 were assisted tackles. They totaled up to set the Nebraska opponent record for single-game tackles and tied for the all-time Memorial Stadium mark (Clete Pillen, Nebraska vs. Oklahoma State, 1976).

Fordham coach Joe Conlin said he wasn’t shocked with Greenhagen’s performance because the senior FCS All-American and 2020 Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year had long been the Rams’ top defender.

But Nebraska’s players and coaches were still trying to figure out who No. 47 was after the game.

“He’s a guy,” NU head coach Scott Frost said. “I saw Logan scramble there at the end of the game, and that kid came over and got him pretty good. I had to dodge out of the way to get hit by him, or he would’ve had 31 tackles, including one on me.”

Tight end Austin Allen needs to have a much bigger role in NU's passing game.
Tight end Austin Allen needs to have a much bigger role in NU's passing game. (Associated Press)

10. Next week will likely be more of the same

Buffalo will be a substantially better opponent than what Nebraska saw vs. Fordham, but the reality is there likely won’t be much to take away from next week’s matchup either.

Yes, the Bulls steamrolled Wagner in their season-opener, 69-7, on Thursday. But, like NU vs. Fordham today, UB was a 43.5-point favorite in that game.

In other words, even if the Huskers put together another lopsided victory next week, nothing changes the overall narrative around the program.

In many ways, unless it can find a way to play Oklahoma close, Nebraska’s season won’t start again until its trip to Michigan State on Sept. 25.

Until then, the next few weeks likely won’t carry much weight.