Final Take: Husker offense continues
Saturday's Nebraska vs. Illinois game may have been the Huskers alternate uniform day, but the way the two teams played it looked more like they switched conferences.
The Huskers 54-35 win over the Illini felt more like an old Big 12 shootout, than traditional Big Ten football. The two teams combined for 1,115 yards of total offense, as it was the seventh consecutive game NU has gone for 450 yards or more, setting a new school record.
There will no doubt be questions about how the Blackshirts played on Saturday, but you cannot deny the strides the offense has made since the second half of the Wisconsin game.
There were questions on Saturday how this unit would operate, in what was the coldest game in Memorial Stadium in 25 years. Those questions were answered right away in a first quarter that saw the Huskers rack up 21 points and 241 yards of offense.
"There early on in the game, watching our offense execute, man it’s fun calling plays, it was a thing of beauty," head coach Scott Frost said following Saturday's win. "Those guys were executing everything that we were calling."
Quarterback Adrian Martinez had another impressive day, completing 24-of-34 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns.
Since the Huskers loss at Michigan on Sept. 22, you can argue Martinez has played as well or better than any quarterback in the conference.
“Adrian is impressing me every week," Frost said. "And every week he gets a little more comfortable with the offense. Every week he’s making a few more better decisions. There’s still a couple things he needs to learn, and he learned a couple new things today on protections and some things. But there’s not going to be anybody better than him once he gets as good as he can be.
"He’s so fun to be on a team with because he was disappointed today that he didn’t play better. I don’t think he’s ever going to be happy until he plays a perfect game, which is never going to happen, so he’s going to be hungry.”
At 3-7, the Huskers have a real chance now the next two weeks when they play ranked opponents in Michigan State and Iowa.
This is going to be a great measuring stick to see the growth this football team has made moving forward.
“It’ll be a great opportunity," Martinez said of the next two games. "We play Michigan State, a very solid football team next week. We’re excited, I feel like we’re playing our best football right now. It’ll be a great match-up and we’ll be ready to go.”
Now on to the breakdown...
What I saw on Saturday
***Nebraska scored a touchdown on their opening possession for the sixth time in the last seven games on Saturday.
***Saturday's Illinois game was the coldest kickoff temperature at Memorial Stadium since the 1993 Oklahoma game. Kickoff temp on Saturday was 23 degrees.
***It appeared Maurice Washington got banged up on Saturday. After a 49-yard run in the first half, he was noticeably limping. Last week at Ohio State Washington also looked a step slow. He came back in for one play after that and did not look 100 percent. On a kickoff he fielded from the 1, Washington also only returned it to the 11.
***The Huskers got a huge break when Illinois running back Reggie Corbin left the game with an injury. He was gashing Nebraska early with 59 yards on 9 carries.
***The touchdown throw Adrian Martinez made to Stanley Morgan in the southwest corner of the end zone was a thing of beauty. Martinez played the wind like an old pro, as he overthrew the ball and let the wind knock it down.
***Jerald Foster got two drive-killing holding penalties on back-to-back drives. The first one took away a first down run by Martinez on third down.
***How about long snapper Chase Urbach. He ran down the field and recovered a fumble on a muffed punt by Illinois.
***The Tre Neal fumble strip on AJ Bush was a big play in the game. The Illini were driving again, and that was a play that helped the Huskers turn the game. It was one of two forced fumbles by Neal on Saturday.
***With five defensive takeaways on Saturday, Nebraska has 18 takeaways on the season. In 2017, the Huskers had just 12. NU's turnover margin is now -1 on the year after Saturday.
***Frost elected to go with Barrett Pickering as his kickoff specialist over junior Caleb Lightbourn. I'll be very curious how Lightbourn's future plays out after this season.
***Jeremiah Stovell continues to be a spark on special teams. He recovered a fumble right before halftime that allowed the Huskers to take a 38-21 lead going into the locker room. Plays like this don't show up on the stat sheet, but they are the little things that helped turned the game in the Huskers favor.
The final grade out
Rushing offense: A
Nebraska had 316 yards rushing on just 34 carries on Saturday. Devine Ozigbo is edging ever so close to 1,000 yards, as he finished with 162 yards on 11 carries, including TD runs of 66 and 60 yards - the two longest runs of his career.
Passing offense: A
On a cold, windy day, Adrian Martinez was a very efficient 24-of-34 for 290 yards and three touchdowns. He had plenty of time to read the field and make throws downfield. His first TD pass to Morgan into a stiff wind was one of the best balls he's thrown all season. He did have one interception, but it ended up not being a costly one. JD Spielman left Saturday's game with what appeared to be a foot injury. That is something to keep your eye on for next week.
Rushing defense: F
The Huskers may have won the game Saturday, but there is going to be a lot to look at with how the Illini ran the ball at will for most of the day. Illinois finished with 383 yards rushing on 49 carries, including five rushing scores.
Passing defense: A
Illinois was not able to do much damage through the air. AJ Bush was just 11-of-25 for 126 yards. NU picked him off twice, including a fourth-quarter interception by defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg.
Special teams: A
Nebraska had two forced fumbles on punt coverage, along with a blocked punt that resulted in a safety. Barrett Pickering made his only field goal attempt of the day and Isaac Armstrong was solid on his punts. NU didn't just win this phase on Saturday, they changed the game with their special teams play.
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.