I worried going into the Kansas game how much the Huskers had left in their tank after a grueling 10-3 upset of the Oklahoma Sooners last week. Defending the Sooner offense for 87 plays took a lot out of the defense, and the emotional high of last week might just lead to a letdown this week against the Jayhawks. Initially, the defense started the game just fine, preventing Kansas from gaining a single first down in the first quarter. But from that point forward, the Jayhawks started to find a way to move the ball on the Nebraska defense. It started with scrambles that neutralized the pass rush from the defensive line, which in turn opened up the passing game.
But the Husker offense finally got untracked with Niles Paul making four catches that made the Jayhawks pay for lining up 9, 10, and sometimes all 11 defenders in the box. Add in some good scrambles from Zac Lee, who finally started to commit towards taking yards on the ground rather than forcing a bad pass into coverage, and the offense showed signs of life against a BCS conference opponent. Yes, the Jayhawks have their issues defensively this season. But in recent weeks, Kansas has looked better defensively, holding Kansas State to 17 points last week and holding Texas Tech to 14 points in the first three quarters.
In the end, Nebraska imposed their will at the end of the game and found a way to win once again in the fourth quarter, just like at Missouri a month earlier. Here's our grade; as always, please comment below to add your observations or correct my mistakes.QB: Zac Lee had his best game of the season as far as I was concerned. I thought he made decent decisions with the ball, and was able to connect deep with Niles Paul four times for huge pass plays that made the Jayhawks pay for loading the box. I was also pleased with his commitment to run the ball, especially on that 32 yard run where he finally showed his speed and even broke a tackle. No, he's not going to convince anybody he's Tommie Frazier or Eric Crouch out there, but he's got the physical ability to be a dual-threat quarterback. He's showing signs of breaking through the mental aspects of doing just that. Grade: B+
IB: When he's healthy, I think Roy Helu is the best running back in the Big XII. Sadly, he wasn't healthy for three games in October. He finds holes and hits the line hard. He was heads-up as well, diving on Zac Lee's fumble in the endzone for the opening score. Only negative on his performance was a missed block, and that might be because his shoulder is still limiting his ability to use his arms in pass protection. Postgame interviews have me concerned; he came off the field holding his arm gingerly and his arm was wrapped up in postgame interviews. The Huskers need him to be ready to go this Saturday against the Wildcats. Treye Robinson also had a couple of ok runs in limited playing time. Grade: A
WR: Anybody else get the impression that Shawn Watson told Zac Lee to look hard for Mike McNeill at halftime? His disappearance is one of the biggest mysteries when the Huskers began to flounder offensively; nice to see him get back into the mix. Niles Paul was money on deep routes, and Brandon Kinnie made a great one-handed catch. Menelik Holt got a chance to get out of the doghouse at the end of the first quarter, and dropped a screen pass. It looks like Holt will finish his Husker career playing special teams on punt coverage. All in all, a solid performance from Paul, Kinnie, and the tight ends who played. Grade B+
OL: Generally solid performance, but that tripping flag on Keith Williams was unnecessary and damaging to a team that already has enough problems putting the ball into the end zone. Otherwise, the line did ok. You'd like to see more of a push, but with the Jayhawks putting anywhere between 8 and all eleven defenders in the box every play, you knew running room was going to be tough to come by. Grade: B-
DL: They expended a lot of energy last week, and Todd Reesing's mobility counteracted the aggressiveness of the line...but the Kansas offensive line has been bad all season. They've been so good all season, I guess they were do for a clunker performance, and if so, this might have been the week to do it. Grade: C-
LB: Once again, the Blackshirts ran dime so this was all Phillip Dillard. Like the rest of the Blackshirts, he was merely ok. I wondered if bringing in Sean Fisher or Will Compton for either Eric Hagg or Dejon Gomes at times might have given Reesing a different look and counteracted Reesings scrambling. Grade: C+
Secondary: Some of Kerry Meier's catches could have been classified as "what are you going to do?" One handed ridiculous catches all afternoon even when covered for the most part. The only option at times would be to just tackle Meier and take the 15 yard flag. Sadly, that's the result of a lack of pass rush. Do not underestimate Dejon Gomes strip of Kerry Meier at the Husker five yard line. Meier was headed for the endzone, and it was one of two game-changing plays yesterday. (The other being the Khiry Cooper face mask call.) Grade: B+
Coaching: If you've got an axe to grind against against Shawn Watson, you won't be convinced. (Hello, Dirk Chatelain.) But Watson is turning this offense around midseason once again. Last year, it was a mid-season spread implementation. This year, it's a power formation look. What Chatelain illogically dismisses is the impact of the injuries to Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead last month. Hard to implement a power rushing game without a running back. So he tried turning to the receivers, hoping they'd step up. That failed...so off goes Treye Robinson's redshirt, and Watson adjusts once again. This is still an offense needing better playmakers outside of the running backs, but this week we saw both Niles Paul and Zac Lee make strides in that area. This isn't pro sports where a general manager can make roster moves to shore up limitations; it's going to take a little longer to clean up the mess that Bill Callahan left in Lincoln. In the meantime, Watson is doing the best with what he's got. Grade: A-
Overall: B It's a win...on the road in comeback fashion. Not the prettiest win, but it's a win that many people didn't think was possible this summer. Survive and advance, and keep getting better. For the second year in a row, that's exactly what's happening in Lincoln.
Elsewhere in College Football:
USC: F 55 points at home?
Missouri: A Nice rebound for the Tigers. Danario Alexander has to be all-Big XII this season.
Kansas State: F It's feast or famine this week. Win and you are playing for a Big XII Championship; lose, and the off-season begins.
Texas and TCU: A Trying to get the attention of voters in the first half is not RUTS.