Final take: Ready or not, Big Ten play is coming
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[rl]Ready or not Nebraska the Big Ten is coming.
Through four weeks it's hard what to make of this Husker football team other than a lot of questions still remain. The first half of Saturday's Southern Miss game looked dominant at times, but the inability to finish drives and settling for five field goals almost came back to bite the Huskers in the end.
Yes NU won the game 36-28, but some of the same questions we saw over the first three weeks remain as the Huskers get ready to start Big Ten Conference play.
"Well, I guess it's really true, it's never easy. I think everyone gets an overall picture of what that game was. We played pretty well early but we didn't capitalize in the red zone with touchdowns," head coach Mike Riley said after the game.
The big questions still remain with the passing defense. The Huskers gave up 447 yards and 314 yards in the second half alone to the Golden Eagles.
What compounded matters for Nebraska was they settled for five first half field goals, which kept the game at 22-0, leaving potentially 20 points on the field. That gave Southern Miss life, almost exactly how NU was able to get back into the game last week at Miami when the Hurricanes were forced to kick five field goals.
"When you're on the other side of the coin, you celebrate that. That's a job well done," Riley said. "It's kind of a victory for the defense when that happens and that's what kept us motivated in getting stronger in the Miami game. We were a victim of that today."
Still this offense was able to produce 610 yards and only punted once, but the inability to finish drives is why they ended up with only 39 points.
Quarterback Tommy Armstrong was very impressive, finishing with 433 yards of total offense in the win.
"We've got to be physical. We've got to make plays. Like I said before, we've got to stay consistent," Armstrong said of the offense's performance. "We've got to play the first half like we play the second half, and we've just got to make sure we play every single minute of the game. It's going to be a physical test for us in general."
Looking ahead the Big Ten West is very much wide open. With games against Iowa, Wisconsin and Northwestern in Lincoln you can argue the division race very much runs through Lincoln.
"I am excited to get going with that. It feels like that time," Riley said of entering conference play. "I know our team will be excited about it. I hope that a few of our players that have been down get healthy before the week, so we can make a good plan with who is going to be able to play. I'm looking forward to it."
Now on to the post game breakdown….
What I saw on Saturday
***Hard not to be impressed with what fullback Andy Janovich showed on Saturday. He finished with 121 yards of offense and you could argue it's the best game we've seen at Nebraska by the fullback since the Osborne years. Statistically the last game that even comes close to that was 2001 Baylor where Judd Davies finished with 119 yards on 12 carries, but that was a game where NU rushed for 641 yards and had four backs go over 100 yards.
***Sticking on the running game, Terrell Newby continues to lack the pop in his game to spring the big play. His long run on Saturday was just 17 yards. If you take away that run he had just 59 yards on his other 17 carries for a 3.5 yard per carry average. The Huskers have to figure out how to get more consistency in their running game going forward.
***The Mikale Wilbon questions continue to come my way from Husker fans. He showed a couple of flashes Week 1 vs. BYU, but we haven't seen him since. On Saturday freshman ]Devine Ozigbo got into the game, so it's safe to assume Wilbon was the No. 4 back heading into Saturday.
***I felt like the offense's inability to finish off drives is what put the defense in a tough spot Saturday. They played great early, but you knew with a number of key guys out there would very little margin for error. Once Southern Miss got some momentum and Nebraska's offense failed to answer, the defense was just not in a position to respond today. It's hard to say if it's scheme or just execution right now?
***You could argue defensive end Freedom Akinmoladun is one of the first half MVP's of this Husker defense. He's gotten better each and every week.
***Elkhorn High School has turned into "Walk-on U" for Nebraska. Chris Weber is the next great walk-on Mark Wortman's program has produced joining Trevor Roach, Spencer and Jake Long. He gave the Huskers a lot at the linebacker position on Saturday.
***Safety Nate Gerry missed some time this week with the flu, and I got the impression on Saturday he still wasn't himself against Southern Miss. He had a very quiet game and was really a non-factor in the passing game.
***If you can believe this, linebacker Marcus Newby also suffered a groin injury on Saturday, joining linebackers Josh Banderas and Michael Rose-Ivey with similar injuries.
The final grades
Rushing offense: B-
Nebraska finished with 259 yards on 39 attempts, but only got 87 yards on 23 carries from three different running backs. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong and fullback Andy Janovich accounted for 131 yards on 12 carries.
Passing offense: A
Another 300 yard game for Armstrong, as he finished 23-of-35 for 368 yards and two touchdowns. Both Jordan Westerkamp and Brandon Reilly had over 100 yards receiving. They almost use short passes to Westerkamp as a form of the running game on Saturday.
Rushing defense: A
Southern Miss did absolutely nothing on the ground today. Their two running backs had just 51 yards on 18 carries. They came in averaging over 200 rushing yards per game. The running defense was dominant at times on Saturday. They also came up with a big fourth-and-short stop.
Passing defense: F
For the fifth game in a row dating back to last season Nebraska's defense has given up over 300 yards passing. Southern Miss finished with 447 yards, as NU gave up an average of 17.2 yards per completion. Probably the most eye-popping stat was Southern Miss was 19-of-28 for 314 yards passing in the second half. That my friends is not getting it done.
Special teams: B
Kicker Drew Brown tied an NCAA record by making five field goals in the first half, but he missed a 51 yarder and his kick from 29 yards out was blocked. The only other play you could be critical about was the onside kick that Southern Miss recovered.
Sean Callahan can be reached at email@example.com and he can be heard each day at 6:52 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.
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