Final take: Mood after win tells the bigger picture
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If you were to walk into the post-game interview room on Saturday after Nebraska's 42-24 win over Rutgers and listened to head coach Bo Pelini you might have thought the Huskers (7-1, 3-1) lost to the Scarlet Knights (5-3, 1-3).
Pelini was very disappointed with how his team played in several areas and threw very few compliments their way despite handling a middle-tier Big Ten team by 18 points.
"Well we got the win. I'm happy about that. That's about all I'm happy about," head coach Bo Pelini said on Saturday. "I thought we were sloppy, inconsistent and we didn't play at the standard we needed to. I'll take the win. Anytime you win a football game, it's never easy to win. But I have higher standards than what I watched out there today."
Those higher standards are getting to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Dec. 6. However, not just getting there, but playing the type of football it takes to win to beat teams like Michigan State and Ohio State.
What Pelini saw on Saturday was good enough to beat the mid to lower tier Big Ten teams, but against the league's best it won't cut it. One of those people not happy about the win on Saturday was running back Ameer Abdullah, who broke the school record for all-purpose yardage with 341.
"It tells me a lot about this team because me personally I know we have a lot out there," Abdullah said. "We won by 18 and we could've and should've played much better. It sounds good, but we've got to be much better. We just can't keep talking about it - 'we could've been, we could've been.' We've got to do it and that starts with preparation and that starts tomorrow. We are going to cherish this win, but we are going to get back to the grind tomorrow."
Senior wide receiver Kenny Bell had a similar message after the game. Despite passing Nate Swift and becoming the school's all-time reception leader, Bell wasn't happy either.
"We are not satisfied at all," Bell said. "Today felt a lot like Wyoming from last year when we got a win, but we didn't play the type of football we wanted to play."
Bell also knows his opportunities to get a championship are getting limited. With just four games left in Big Ten play, it's going to take a much better effort going forward to get to Indianapolis.
"We took our foot off the gas pedal," Bell said. "That's something we talk about each week, but eventually our words have to become our actions."
Now on to the post game grade out….
What I saw on Saturday
***Sophomore defensive tackle Maliek Collins is beginning to put his name in consideration for All-Big Ten honors. Collins dominated the inside on Saturday with three tackles for loss and one quarterback sack, along with three quarterback hurries.
***Freshman wide receiver De'Mornay Pierson-El has gotten so comfortable at returning punts, that even when he makes a mistake he makes it look good. Pierson-El nearly muffed a punt, but
was able to still gather himself and return it for 20 yards.
***It was good to see quarterback Tommy Armstrong find tight end Sam Cotton in the end zone on Saturday. It's just another thing going forward defenses will have to prepare for.
***Saturday was the first time all season the Huskers didn't cover the point spread against an FBS opponent. The original line opened between 16 and 17 points this week, but got all the way up to 21 points on Friday.
***Interesting stat on junior center Ryne Reeves per our own Dan Hoppen. Nebraska scored touchdowns on nine of 11 drives he's been in the game the last two weeks. 5-of-6 today and 4-of-5 against Northwestern.
***In some ways I like the fact NU didn't play perfect this week. It's just another motivation ploy now for Pelini to get his team up for Purdue next week. This is NU's first 7-1 start since 2011. They haven't been 8-1 since 2010 when they got all the way to 9-1 before losing at Texas A&M.
The final grades
Rushing offense: A-
Another 200 yard game for Abdullah, as he finished with 225 yards on 19 carries and three touchdowns. Abdullah's explosive runs are what made this game such an easy win for the Huskers, despite the fact not having their A game. The Huskers finished with 292 yards on 41 carries.
Passing offense: C+
Armstrong threw a bad interception on Saturday, but bounced back with beautiful touchdown passes to Jordan Westerkamp and Cotton to finish 14-of-22 for 163 yards. However, two fumbled snaps really set the offense back at times and plays like that could come back to hurt them down the road.
Rushing defense: B-
NU did a great job of shutting Rutgers ground game down for the first three quarters, as the Scarlett Knights had just 104 yards on 31 carries. They finished Saturday with 143 yards total rushing, with only one run longer than 10 yards.
Passing defense: B-
The Huskers knocked starting quarterback Gary Nova out Saturday with a knee injury. He hurt NU early with a 71 yard touchdown pass on a dump down where he was able to avoid a sack and keep the play alive an extra second. I actually thought RU back-up quarterback Chris Laviano gave the Big Red more problems though with his ability to roll out and scramble on the run. Safety Nathan Gerry had another nice interception on Saturday - his third of the season.
Special teams: B+
The Huskers missed a field goal from 42 yards, but made up for it by blocking a 50 yard attempt. NU got a 76 yard kick return from Abdullah and 9 yards per return from Pierson-El on punts. Sam Foltz put two punts inside the 20 yard line with his other going for just 30 yards.
Sean Callahan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and he can be heard each day at 6:50 am and 5:05 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.