Final Take: Saturday was exactly what it needed to be
The only thing missing on Saturday was a drug-free halftime pledge.
Other than that, Saturday's Nebraska vs. Bethune Cookman game was as close to a spring-like scrimmage as you'll see in Memorial Stadium. As the late Dennis Green would say, "they are who we thought they were."
The Wildcats were an undermanned FCS school that was physically overmatched, and it played out that way for most of the game. Maybe their biggest highlight came when one of the members of their traveling party was seen buying a Runza during a second-quarter TV timeout.
Credit Nebraska though, as they made this thing what it needed to be from the opening kickoff. NU was up 14-0 before Bethune-Cookman ran their fourth play from scrimmage. It was 28-3 in the first quarter and 38-3 at halftime.
“We needed that to happen. We needed to go out and get the game secured early," NU head coach Scott Frost said following Nebraska's 45-9 win. "I’ve said it a bunch, 12 weeks in a row is a long time, 13 weeks of practice in a row of practice 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, 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.”
And to be exact, Frost's starting offense played 41 snaps in the first half, while the defense took a few series in the second half before Erik Chinander called on his reserves.
Saturday was a throwback in a lot of ways. Games like Bethune-Cookman were like a lot of Big 8 Saturday's during the Tom Osborne era.
Games where second and third-teamers got rewarded for their hard work. We saw that on Saturday. Moments like fifth-year senior defensive tackle Peyton Newell coming up with a first-half interception are what Saturday will be remembered for.
Seeing guys like Loup City defensive end Matt Jarzynka coming up with a sack in his first ever playing time in five seasons. Or a Class C-1 backfield featuring quarterback Noah Vedral and running back Wyatt Mazour was another special moment. That's what Saturday's in Memorial Stadium was about for a long time, and there haven't been very many days like that the last several years.
“I would say that when you get your chance here, it’s a really special opportunity," Mazour said. "Everybody can see what we’re building here, and we had the rough start, nobody wanted it. It happened, it’s in the past. As you can see, now our offense is rolling, our defense played well today. It’s only up from here. For those Nebraska kids, I know personally being one, you really want to help the program turn it around and now it’s the time.”
The question is what has the last month done for this football team? How much have they grown since hitting "rock bottom" at Michigan on Sept. 22?
We are going to find out next week when they travel to Ohio State and face off against a mad Ohio State team fresh off a loss to Purdue and an open week to follow.
"This is what the Big Ten is about, playing the top teams in the country, and Ohio State is definitely that," freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez said. "We’re going to their place and we’re going to have to come to play.”
Now on to the breakdown...
What I saw on Saturday
***It was a great moment seeing fifth-year senior defensive tackle Peyton Newell get a first-half interception. You won't meet a more well-liked or harder working player on the team than Newell. It was nice to see his five years of hard work rewarded with that moment on Saturday. The entire sideline was going crazy.
***A total of 30 players took snaps on the offense and 37 on the defense Saturday.
***Nebraska made sure that Stanley Morgan Jr., Devine Ozigbo and JD Spielman all get their touches early in the game. 26 of the first 41 offensive plays were either runs or throws to those three players. They had 264 of Nebraska's 364 first half scrimmage yards.
***The second quarterback in the game on Saturday was Noah Vedral. The starting offense did not play a single second-half snap. It's been a long time since that's happened at Nebraska.
***Both Deontai Williams and JoJo Domann continue to trend in the right direction. Domann forced a fumble on Saturday, and Williams recovered it. Then later in the game Williams came up with an interception in the end zone. These are two players I could see playing big roles down the stretch.
***We saw defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg play for the first time in a month on Saturday. Stoltenberg underwent minor knee surgery after the Michigan game. He was lined up at both defensive end and nose tackle for 17 snaps on Saturday.
***Spielman's first quarter punt return for a touchdown was the Huskers first since Bo Pelini's last game at Iowa in 2014.
***Outside linebacker Breon Dixon and defensive end Daishon Neal did not suit up for Saturday's game with Bethune-Cookman.
***York's Simon Otte was the only true freshman walk-on that took a defensive or offensive snap on Saturday.
***Saturday was a good reminder of why Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany is not a fan of teams in the conference playing FCS schools. They are physical mismatches in every which way. The situation with this game though and how it came together was a unique circumstance.
***I think it's safe to say playing this game on Oct. 27 made a lot more sense than waiting out Akron for a Dec. 1 home game. The stadium was full and the weather Gods delivered a perfect 70-degree day with light winds. It was as nice of a late October afternoon as you could draw up.
***When I talked to Zach Dean earlier this week from the Daytona Beach News-Journal, he said don't be surprised if you see Bethune-Cookman's players in long sleeves. He was right, nearly all of their players were wearing long sleeves and a few even had full ski masks on during pregame warm-ups. Temps were in the 40's for pregame warm-ups.
The final grade out
Rushing offense: B
Devine Ozigbo got his numbers in early, as he finished with 110 yards on 11 carries in just two quarters. NU had only one run longer than 20 yards and none longer than 29. The ability to finish long runs like last week was missing on Saturday.
Passing offense: B
Adrian Martinez was an efficient 15-of-22 for 213 yards and two touchdowns but did have an interception. The protection at times also broke down for Martinz, but his efficiency to operate the offense once again jumped out on Saturday.
Rushing defense: A-
Bethune Cookman had just two runs longer than 10 yards and none longer than 20 on Saturday against the Huskers top defensive unit. It was a solid effort up front, and most importantly there weren't any busts that allowed big plays on the ground.
Passing defense: B
Interceptions by Newell and Williams, along with sacks by Luke Gifford, Ben Stille, and Mohamed Barry led the day for NU's pass defense. There were a few coverage busts on Saturday that led to big plays, including a 54-yard catch early in the game against the starting defense. It was by no means the best day for Nebraska's passing defense considering the foe, but the forced turnovers and red zone defense were the highlights.
Special teams: A
A punt return for a touchdown by Spielman highlighted the day for Nebraska's special teams. NU also got a very good punting day from Isaac Armstrong, as his 73-yard punt on Saturday is tied for the seventh-longest in school history. Barrett Pickering made his only field goal attempt of the day.
Sean Callahan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and he can be heard each day at 6:45 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 in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap-Tuesday's at 7 pm.