Game Rewind: Rose-Ivey welcome in return
Nebraska was down two linebackers against South Alabama, but it might have gotten its best one back.
It's easy to forget how impactful of a defender Michael Rose-Ivey was in the second half of the 2013 campaign. He missed the entire 2014 season with an ACL injury, then was suspended for the opener last weekend. Saturday's game showed just how much Nebraska missed him.
Defensive coordinator Mark Banker had a feeling Rose-Ivey might have a performance like this. Not only is the linebacker a solid player, but his desire to get back on the field stood out early in the week of practice when Nebraska was just supposed to be wrapping up on tackles, not taking fellow players to the ground.
"My man was just killing people," Banker said with a laugh.
The junior showed no ill effects from the potentially devastating injury, flying sideline to sideline and leading the team with 10 tackles. He also gave a shot in the arm to a pass rush that desperately needed it, providing some pressure on a few blitzes and even coming off the edge when asked to do so.
His importance has been amplified by Nebraska's lack of depth at the position. With Josh Banderas (quad) and Dedrick Young (foot) sidelined, Rose-Ivey played alongside a pair of youngsters - Chris Weber and Marcus Newby - making their first career starts. No matter. Rose-Ivey has long been one of the defense's best leaders and it showed Saturday. South Alabama had just 19 rushing yards on a measly 0.8 yards per attempt.
The process was, at times, a miserable one for Rose-Ivey. Missing last season with the injury was bad enough. But being forced to watch Nebraska struggle to slow BYU's attack last weekend while fully healthy was near torture.
"It was something I expected for a while but dealing with the whole ACL thing was tough," Rose-Ivey said. "It's always tough when you have the opportunity to go compete and whatever the case was, I let my teammates down in a moment of weakness and not doing the right things. It's been a journey but I don't want to get into how tough it was.
"Everyone has a story and everyone has struggles. It was tough, that's all I can say."
Rose-Ivey has been dying to get a Blackshirt, and he knows the only reason he doesn't have one is his suspension. He made up for lost time Saturday night, putting on arguably the best individual defensive performance of the young season.
This defense still has a lot of improving to do in the coming weeks, but it has its backbone back.
"I couldn't be happier for him," Banker said. "He wasn't in a good place when we first got here. He was still down from what he went through last year, he'd never been hurt before. Then academically he got behind, but he worked through that. He's done a great job."
Three defining moments
Nebraska's first touchdown drive: Hangover? Not with this start. After Nate Gerry picked off Cody Clements on South Alabama's opening drive, the Husker offense moved the ball 75 yards in 10 plays to completely establish its will early on. Newby ran six times, including a 13-yard scamper for a score, flashing what was to come the rest of the game.
Brown's first-half field goal: Don't underestimate the importance of this moment. Drew Brown had a strong fall camp, but he looked like a mess in missing a pair of field goals against BYU. This late first-half attempt, which came after the Jaguars missed a punt, gave him a pressure-free opportunity to see the ball go through the uprights. Brown banged home the 42-yarder to send Nebraska into the locker room with a 24-0 lead.
Armstrong's block: For the second straight week Tommy Armstrong made a critical block to spring a big gain. Last week he took out several Cougars to help Jordan Westerkamp find the endzone. This time Newby cut back on a third-quarter run and Armstrong took out the nearest defender, clearing the way for a 32-yard gain. Nebraska scored two plays later to expand its lead to 31-0 and gain a complete stranglehold on the game.
Running back Terrell Newby: The coaching staff said it wanted to scrap the rotation at running back, and did it ever. Newby carried 28 times for a career-high 198 yards and two scores and added another two catches for 38 yards and a touchdown. He finally showed some of the burst and open-field speed that made him a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school. If he can keep this effort up against better competition, the concerns surrounding NU's running game will vanish.
Wide receiver Alonzo Moore: This offense appears to be a perfect fit for the junior. Moore caught five of the six passes thrown his way for 39 yards and a touchdown and again excelled in the screen game. He also took an end-around carry for 19 yards. Moore has the chance to be a real weapon on the perimeter and after a few years of teasing his talent, he appears to be coming into his own.
By the numbers
3: Different starting linebackers from last week. Rose-Ivey returned from a suspension, while both Weber and Newby made their first career starts in place of Banderas and Young, respectively.
70: Completion percentage for Armstrong, who connected on 21 of his 30 throws.
5: Carries for halfbacks other than Newby - three for Mikale Wilbon and one apiece for Imani Cross and Devine Ozigbo. There is no question who the top dog in the backfield is after this game.
0: Fumbles by Nebraska. The Huskers have had slippery fingers in the past but have put the ball on the ground just once in the first two weeks.
They said it
"Mike makes plays and that's something you need on defense - someone to make plays. Mike does a terrific job and he's also a terrific leader out there. That's something we need on that level of defense. The 'backers have to talk quite a bit, and Mike is a very vocal leader. He makes plays too and leads by example."
-Gerry on how Rose-Ivey's return impacts the defense
"I think the way he's playing, the system being new to him, I've been pleased overall. I think there are some throws that he'll tell you that could be better, but where we are right now, I feel good about it."
-Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf on Armstrong's performance through two games
Biggest question/concern: Can Nebraska slow down the passing game?
For all the positives to take from this contest, Clement still had a pretty nice outing (271 yards passing). This comes a week after Taysom Hill and Tanner Mangum carved up the Nebraska secondary with 379 yards last week. Now the Huskers must face Miami's Brad Kaaya, the talented sophomore who threw for 359 yards and three touchdowns in last year's matchup. The problems have been two-fold for Nebraska - the pass rush has been inconsistent (though Rose-Ivey's return really helped) and the cornerbacks have played a bit soft on the outside. One or both of these things must improve or Kaaya is going to have a field day.
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