September 18th went a long way towards solidifying Nebraska's position in the Big XII this season. For the second week in a row, a quarterback moved down the NFL draft board after facing the Blackshirts. Missouri and Texas A&M needed fumbled and bumbled around all evening before making a final comeback late to win games that should have been over much earlier in the evening.
Based on what happened yesterday, there is an argument to be made that Nebraska's toughest game remaining might just be October 7th at Kansas State. The Texas offense seems to fall right into the Blackshirts wheelhouse, while Daniel Thomas could be just the player to be the Huskers' foil. Of course, the Texas defense is nothing to dismiss, and we could be in for quite the defensive struggle on October 16th.
After the jump, I'll grade yesterday's performances by the Huskers and some of the others around college football. As always, your comments and feedback are always welcome.QB: Taylor Martinez didn't let the 45,000 Washington fans who didn't sell their tickets bother him. He came out poised, firing his first touchdown pass on the opening drive to Mike McNeill. Early on, however, Martinez held onto the ball too much, either rushing or passing on 18 straight plays, whether that was by design or Martinez's decision. Martinez took a bad sack by staying in the pocket too long. But this also was his third game; there's plenty of time to work on it. We now know that Martinez is faster than a BCS conference defense (at least Washington is one technically), and his sleight-of-hand on the fake handoff fooled yet another opponent. Martinez is worthy of an A-, but Cody Green's two fumbles causes the quarterback grade to slip to a B+.
RB: When Nebraska unleashed Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead in the second quarter, it was game over at that point. Both backs gashed the the Huskies for huge gains throughout the game, especially right up the middle. My only question is why it took so long? There wasn't any need to expose Martinez to the abuse he took earlier in the game. Helu averaged 11 yards a carry and Burkhead 8. The one disappointment is Dontrayevous Robinson, who looked downright mediocre once again on four carries. Grade: A+
WR: While Niles Paul is the bigger name in the receiver corps, Brandon Kinnie has now emerged as Nebraska's best receiver. Twice yesterday he took a short pass and broke tackles to get Nebraska a first down. Paul also had a key reception yesterday, and Mike McNeill caught Martinez's first touchdown pass. Grade: A
OL: When Nebraska turned to the I-backs in the second quarter, the line started plowing the field just like the old classic lines used to do. The improved depth on the line is really starting to pay off, and defenses now need to pick their poison. Do you want the Huskers to run wide or right up the middle at you? Your choice. In any event, the only negative on the line were penalties (2 on Jeremiah Siriles, but he gets a pass because he's a freshman.) Grade: A-
DL: As the game wore on, I saw a lot to like about the play of the defensive line. (ABC's closeup of Baker Steinkuhler's backside in the second half needed to be censored, however.) They kept Jake Locker from ever discovering his rhythm, other than the opening possession of the second half. For that, I'm giving the line an A-.
LB: ABC's coverage left a lot to be desired (more on that later), and so early on, it was tough to track exactly who was in the game. I consider the Peso to essentially be a Nickel defense with only two linebackers. Likewise, the dime includes Hagg and Dejon Gomes lined up essentially as linebackers. But I consider both players in this defense as defensive backs and not as linebackers...and this really effects the grade here. In the first quarter, when Washington had success running the ball, it appeared that the majority of the time, Nebraska lined up in the dime. Last week it was the same story; Nebraska seems to be susceptible to the run with only one linebacker in the game. It's not the fault of the linebackers when they aren't in the game. After that drive, Nebraska kept Martin in the game more, reverting to the dime on third and long, and essentially shut down the running game from that point forward. Want proof? Note who lead the Huskers in tackles: Eric Martin. So I'm giving the linebackers a B+ on this one.
Secondary: It's hard to downgrade this bunch for the coverage they put on Jermaine Kearse and making Jake Locker look more like Jammal Lord (minus the running ability), but the inability to handle the running backs is going to limit the flexibility that the Pelini brothers want. Fortunately, it appears that this will only affect Nebraska against Kansas State at this point. Oh, there were a few busted coverages (like at the start of the second half), but for the most part, the Huskies were effectively neutered by this bunch. Grade: A-
Overall: A- Many people thought this game was going to be close; some even predicted that Washington would pull off the upset. Didn't happen. Nebraska took control of this game right from the start, and Washington never seriously challenged them. How good is Washington? Don't know, but I think it's safe to say that the Huskers appear to be pretty darn good at this point.
Elsewhere in College Football
Texas A&M D Trailing Florida International 20-6 in the fourth quarter in College Station?
Missouri D- Needing a last second 68 yard touchdown pass to defeat San Diego State in Columbia? I suppose you can hang your hat on blowing out McNeese State last week to build your resume.
Oklahoma D+ The manic depressive Sooners strike again. Struggle to beat Utah State and Air Force, but blow out Florida State in between. Any given week, it appears this group could beat anybody...or lose to anybody...
Iowa C- The Squawks handed Arizona 14 points to start the game, which proved too much to overcome despite a ferocious second half comeback. At least we don't have to wait for November for Iowa to cough up a hairball this season.
Baylor F I thought Robert Griffin could make this game competitive...guess no.
Michigan State B+ That was a gutsy call to call the fake field goal in overtime...but I have to wonder if coach Mark Dantonio felt the need to get the game overwith. After the game, Dantonio was diagnosed with a heart attack and underwent heart surgery overnight. Doesn't matter...it was a great ending.
Colorado First half F, Second half B+. At halftime, the Buffies were being shut out by Hawai'i, but they came on strong and won convincingly in the second half.
ABC/ESPN D+ I expect bad coverage from Fox...but not from the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader. The consistently mediocre Sean McDonough was his usual droll-self, noted only for confusing who was in the game. The cameramen had an affinity for using the wide shot that allowed you to watch both sidelines, making it nearly impossible to follow the play. I shouldn't need to use binoculars to watch a game on TV. By the way, has anybody clued in Doctor Lou that it's not "Martin- Ezze"?