Final take: Getting it all out
In a lot of ways, Saturday's South Alabama game was the opener Nebraska never had a year ago.
A game where you can play nowhere near your best, but still get a lot of work in and win the game.
There were plenty of positives to take away from Saturday's 35-21 win, but the negatives were hard to ignore. NU struggled to run the football, which in turn put the offense in very predictable second and third-down situations for most of the day. There were also three very costly turnovers - two on offense and one on special teams that changed the game.
Quarterback Adrian Martinez was not his usual self on Saturday. He looked a step slow and didn't throw the ball near as accurately as we saw a year ago. There were a lot of Week 1 "jitters" from the offense. Saturday was a reminder of how much work this football team still has ahead of them, and that a trip to Indianapolis in December is a very long ways away.
"We're ranked in the top 25. We certainly didn't look like that type of team today," head coach Scott Frost said. "I know we can be based on what I've seen in practice. I didn't know if we'd be a little over-confident or not confident enough. I don't really think any of that was the issue. I just don't think that we executed very well for whatever reason, and we'll get it figured out."
Martinez knows the offense didn't play their best on Saturday. The big play was missing, as NU had just one play longer than 20 yards - a 42-yard pass to tight end Jack Stoll.
The offense feeds off big plays, and it needs them to function at a high level. They weren't there against South Alabama for a variety of different reasons.
“I think it is a big deal and I think it’s good that we can get this out on a win," Martinez said of the sluggish performance. "At the end of the day, that's what matters, we won the game. Obviously, our offense didn’t come to play the way we wanted it to, but we get to fix it. We have another week, another game, and we’re going to look back at the film and get better from it.”
And that's what matters. NU is 1-0 heading out to Colorado for one of the most anticipated non-conference games in years.
Nobody on the offense is happy about how they played on Saturday, but this is something they will build off of as they head out to Boulder.
"I would definitely tell you we obviously would've like to go out there and play better offensively than we did," Stoll said. "That was not up to our standard. That's absolutely unacceptable. I'm just happy that we can afford to do something like that and win the game. I think it's pretty obvious the defense went out there and won the game for us this week.
"I'm just going to sit here and challenge us offensively to do better than we did because that was just absolutely unacceptable what we did offensively. We are going to make sure something like that never happens again."
Now on to the breakdown...
What I saw on Saturday
***Nebraska's first drive was near perfection. We got a taste of Martinez, J.D. Spielman, the tight ends, Wan'Dale Robinson and Dedrick Mills. However, after that, there weren't very many bright spots for the offense on Saturday.
***The woes really started on Nebraska's second possession. Martinez missed Spielman on a third-and-12, and the pass should've been picked off, but the Jaguars dropped the ball.
***Looking at the early Pro Football Focus grades from Saturday, Cameron Jurgens really struggled. He was NU's lowest graded offensive player with an overall mark of 37.5 on 51 snaps. Will Farniok had a 55.8 on 18 offensive snaps. Brenden Jaimes was the only offensive lineman that received a good grade on Saturday with a 73.5, which was higher than any offensive player.
It will be interesting to see how Frost handles the situation at center next week. Neither Jurgens or Farniok appears to have a lock on the job.
***The only thing that went to plan on Saturday for the offense was what Wan'Dale Robinson gave NU. He showed everyone what type of player he's going to be at NU. He had 10 all-purpose touches, second only to Dedrick Mills.
***You can argue Saturday was the worst game we've seen from Adrian Martinez. He was the second-lowest graded player on offense, with a mark of 45.0. He just looked sluggish and never felt comfortable on Saturday. A lot of his pass also floated and didn't have much zip on them.
***I love the wrinkle by defensive coordinator Erik Chinander bringing different pressures from the edge with the corners. NU doesn't have a lot of elite pass rushers, and this allowed them to get a pass rush from multiple different people.
***The time away from practice in August sure didn't hurt linebacker JoJo Domann on Saturday. There was a drive in the second quarter where he made three big plays in a row.
***Nebraska's offense looks different when Maurice Washington is in at running back. I predict you will see a completely different looking team next week in Boulder when he's fully part of the game plan.
The final grade out
Rushing offense: F
Nebraska finished with just 116 yards on 29 carries from their running backs. Maurice Washington and Wan'Dale Robinson were the only two that averaged over 5 yards per carry, as Dedrick Mills struggled with just 44 yards on 15 carries, including a costly fumble. A lot of the issues had to do with offensive line struggles up front, as the interior of NU's line struggled to block nose tackle Sean Brown. NU's rushing struggles put the offense in very tough passing situations.
Passing offense: D
Adrian Martinez struggled to get into a rhythm, as he was just 13-of-22 passing, with one interception. Jack Stoll was a real bright spot with 66 yards on three catches, while Robinson also added three catches for 33 yards. An illegal motion penalty by Robinson wiped out his biggest play of the day though and ended up killing a drive that would've probably led to points. It was also surprising to see just three targets to JD Spielman. Robinson led NU was seven targets on Saturday.
Rushing defense: A
The Blackshirts did their job here, holding South Alabama to just 83 yards rushing on 44 rushing attempts. They kept Jaguar running back Tra Minter in check as well, holding him to 37 yards rushing on 10 carries. USA's long run of the day was 15 yards.
Passing defense: A
The Blackshirts forced five turnovers with their pass defense, as they had three interceptions and two forced fumbles. All five turnovers forced by the Blackshirts came from the secondary. There were some missed tackles at times, but still a very solid day by the passing defense. We haven't seen NU force this many turnovers in a while. Eric Lee and Cam Taylor had career days on Saturday.
Special teams: B-
JD Spielman had a punt return for a touchdown, but he also had a costly muff that let South Alabama back in the game when the Huskers were about to put them away. Dylan Jorgensen stepped in for Barrett Pickering on Saturday and had his one field goal attempt blocked, but made all five extra points. I thought they did a nice job of directionally kicking with him, as South Alabama's long kick return on the day was on 17 yards. Robinson's 39-yard kick return was longer than any the Huskers had all of last season. However, you can say special teams cost NU 17 points on Saturday. The missed field, the muffed punt that led to a touchdown, and Isaac Armstrong's 32-yard punt that gave USA a short field to score their first touchdown on.
Sean Callahan can be reached at email@example.com 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.