Brandon Kinnie bobbles a pass. Kinnie has been such a wonderful spokesperson for Nebraska - I want him to play well enough to get NFL money. Come On, Kinnie!
As always, this is my postgame overreaction. It's not intended to be a thorough review of the game, but a quick (and possibly EMOTIONAL) look at what took place.
If you're a Fresno State fan, I imagine that you're saying "What if Ameer Abdullah doesn't make a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, and then Taylor Martinez doesn't take that speed option at the end of the game for a long touchdown, and what if Napoleon would have had a B-52 at the Battle of Waterloo?
The first half was a mess. As fans we tend to pay too much attention to what the team is doing on the field, but as I watched the game I wondered what the hell Tim Beck expected of the offense. He kept trying to turn Martinez into an accurate passer, and that's not who Martinez is. The passing game in the second half was much more successful because of something that I called ‘area passing' in the game threads - having Martinez throw the long ball in the air and let his speedy receivers run underneath it.
When the other team stacks the box, and you have guys that can burn the field, what what you do? Good for Tim Beck for using the tools at hand.
If you were looking for sustained drives, that achievement still hasn't been unlocked yet. On the other hand, if you play EA Sports NCAA Football like my 12-year old, you loved this game. Just throw the ball up and someone will catch it. Woohooo! Then you get to the tough games and well, that doesn't work so much. And that's the main worry everyone has, right?
The problem? The offense is still too dependent upon Martinez, but I think it made some improvements. The offensive line played poorly in the first half, but somewhat made up for it in the second. On the drive in which Martinez scored on the speed option to put the game away, the line was making all or nearly all of their blocks. Hence why Rex Burkhead was getting great gains on the ground that we hadn't seen all night.
If you thought the defense played poorly, let me give you a different perspective. Carl Pelini got flat-out outcoached most of this game. Evidence of that was a Pelini blitz that was perfectly blocked by Fresno State late in the game. You don't get that without knowing exactly what your opponent is going to do, teaching your players and then putting it into action in the game. Good for Fresno State.
Brandon Kinnie. At this point, I think Kinnie has two catches for seven yards. This is not good. You might be included to say bench him and put in Jamal Turner, but we'll need Kinnie's physical nature for those tough games down the road (see: sustained drives).
Sustained drives. Lack of a consistent running game. It is a concern, but when the other team stacks the box you can't just wish a ground game to happen. End of the game, though, when we needed to run out the clock the ground game came through. The line made their blocks, the Burkhead was turned loose, and most importantly, Martinez put the game away on a speed option that was SET UP by the previous running plays.
That speed option - if you're thinking, well, it worked so well on that play why didn't we run it all night, and that's the key to putting the game away. I'm not sure why Beck didn't run it all night, but when it happened at that point in the game, Fresno State was so not ready for it. They had sold out to stop another Burkhead power run. That speed option was like an ingredient in a recipe. By itself, it means nothing. Take it out of the recipe, though, and you've made something completely different - "It's missing something", you say as you take the first taste.
If you have the chance, go back and watch that play. The most beautiful part of it is watching Burkhead as Martinez hits the corner. Burkhead knows he's gone, and in way, waves goodbye. It's just wonderful. It's worth all the angst the game caused in the first half. It was something that Shawn Watson never did, ever. It was progress.
Was this a good game? It was a typical "Fresno State takes on a BCS school on the road" game. The Bulldogs were tough. Derek Carr will be a future NFL quarterback like his brother before him (and hopefully won't get drafted by a team that allows him to be beaten to death in his first two seasons). Robbie Rouse ran all over our Blackshirts.
Back to that bit about Carl Pelini being outcoached, how the defense performed, and the season ahead. How many teams will Nebraska face the rest of the season with the combination of quarterback and running back that Fresno State possessed? Wisconsin, with Russell Wilson, Montee Ball and James White. Michigan State, with Kirk Cousins and Edwin Baker. And... uh.... uh...
Maybe that's giving Derek Carr more credit than he's worth right now, only time will tell.
Bottom line - it was a rough game, but we saw a Nebraska team that's evolving into a better team. It may not be the team you dream about, but that's the beauty of college football. For all the predicting we do, the projecting, what comes out at the other end may be something so unexpected. Tim Beck showed tonight that he could adjust to make it better. Shawn Watson never did.