Nebraska comes up with a must win over Baylor and there is much gnashing of teeth throughout the land. I have to admit, I don't understand the angst. Husker fans got their wish when Cody Green got the start over Zac Lee, the first true freshman to start at quarterback since Tommie Frazier took the reigns in 1992.
Freshman receiver Khiry Cooper got his first start as well. Another true freshman, Dontraveous (Tray) Robinson looked pretty good running the ball until an injury in the second half ended his day. If that weren't enough, a true freshman, Eric Martin, blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown by (gasp!) freshman Justin Blatchford. You sense a theme here?
Fans tend have a video game mentality when it comes to watching young players. In other words, they believe that swapping one player with another doesn't much much of a difference. Unfortunately, it's the same as any other skill, it takes time to get good. You're not the same at your job as you were when you just started, right? Why, then, should anything different be expected from the football team?
Friday I posted the weekly keys to victory article regarding Baylor. This is an examination of how we did in those key areas.
Find A Leader:
Here's What I Said:
You might say we're searching for playmakers, but that would only be partially correct. What we're searching for is someone who wants to lead.
Not all playmakers are leaders, but all leaders are playmakers. They're the guys who make the tough catches on third down to keep the offense going or make an extra block to spring someone else for a long gain. They're the guys who the team looks to for strength and confidence when everyone's is wavering. Name the Nebraska player who does this on offense and you quickly understand what's missing because there isn't one.
Cody Green rushed eight times for 43 yards and 12 of 21 for 128 yards passing. In the first half he was six-of-nine for 85 yards. Second half - not so great. He had an interception returned for a touchdown. That sounds typical of a true freshman starting for the first time, doesn't it?
Green's first rush picked up a first down to keep a drive going, a play that was missing from Zac Lee's repertoire most of the season. His 45-yard pass to Niles Paul to set up Nebraska's second touchdown was a beautiful throw.
Robinson looked great running the ball. Khiry Cooper tied with him in leading the team with receptions. The best reception of the day, however, came from Martin to Blatchford on a blocked punt to start the day.
Bottom line - Nebraska found some leaders. Now it's only a matter of how quickly they can improve. I have no intention of writing off this season, but if this doesn't make you feel good about the future, then I don't know what to tell you.
Wear ‘Em Out
Here's What I Said:
Wouldn't it be nice to see a strong running game (not necessarily a power running game, mind you) that could sustain drives, picking up third downs, and eventually wearing a weaker Bear team out by the end of the game?
It would warm the hearts of Husker fans everywhere. Make it happen without excuses about what the defense did or didn't give you.
The Huskers ran the ball 38 times while attempting 21 passes. For those (like me) who wanted to see more emphasis on the run game, we got it. Unfortunately the ground game gained only 145 yards and had a 3.8 yard per carry average. That's not earth-shattering by any means.
The one series that bugs the hell out of me came right after Green's interception was returned for a touchdown. Green and Robinson combine on consecutive rushes for 24 yards and it looks like the ground game is going well. On a second-and-one, Ricky Henry completely misses his block and Austin Jones gets buried for no gain. Next play, Henry picks up a false start, making it a difficult conversion.
A Green to Niles Paul pass converts first down. On the first down play, Jacob Hickman gets called for holding, and we move to first-and-20. The next two plays, Green and Jones rush for a combined 11 yards, then Khiry Cooper drops a pass and Nebraska is forced to punt.
The offense committed zero penalties in the first half. Then they commit two in a single drive. The result is a lack of success. More than halfway through the season, and there's still inconsistency. Turn that around, and we have a good football team.
No Big Plays On Defense
Here's What I Said:
The defense is playing very well, but given how poor the offense has done they have no margin for error. Stop giving up the big plays and the Huskers win all their games the rest of the season. Is that too much to ask?
That 40-yard pass from Baylor's Nick Florence to David Gettis right after Cody Green's fumble had to make you say "Oh, not again!", but Baylor was unable to capitalize after Ben Parks missed a field goal.
Then after three Lester Ward rushes failed to gain a first down, it's Florence to Gettis again, for 41 yards this time. Again, Baylor failed to capitalize after failing to convert a fourth down.
The secondary play in the fourth quarter (after Alfonzo Dennard's injury) was discouraging. I don't know what it is about this defense that they consistently give up big plays, but if they do this against Oklahoma, they'll get killed.