Six weeks ago, Nebraska football looked to be in shambles. The Huskers had just been whipped by Ohio State, and the team was exposed as a fraud. Or so it seemed. In his postgame press conference, Bo Pelini said Nebraska needed to win out.
Guess what... Nebraska's played five games since, and won all five. Those embarrassing losses to UCLA and Ohio State are looking better than they did before. Ohio State is 11-0; one of only two undefeated teams in the nation. UCLA is 9-2 and heading to the Pac-12 championship game. And Nebraska is 9-2 as well.
It was a dominating performance by the Blackshirts. Minnesota only gained 177 yards on the afternoon, and didn't score until after Pelini emptied the bench. The Gophers went 1 for 13 on third down and were beaten soundly on both sides of the ball. No second half comeback was needed this week; Nebraska scored on their opening possession and never trailed. Nebraska led 10-0 before Minnesota even achieved a first down. Nebraska pounced on the Gophers like Carl Spackler...but unlike in Caddyshack, there was no escape.
In the polls, Nebraska fell to 17th (passed by UCLA, which seems strange since UCLA probably should have been ranked ahead of the Huskers all along) in the AP poll, and remained 14th in the USA Today coaches poll
QB: Taylor Martinez had another pretty good day from start to finish. 21 of 29 passing on a windy day shows should erase any and all doubts that his passing has improved. No interceptions, though he did get stripped of the ball while being sacked. His best run of the day ended up being wiped out by an offensive line penalty. Some fans will question why Martinez kept ducking out of bounds, but if you watched the fourth quarter, you know why. Ron Kellogg really struggled in relief, though he didn't have much help from the rest of the subs. Martinez would get an A, but Kellogg's performance brings this grade down to a B+.
RB: Ameer Abdullah ran OK, but the yards weren't coming. Add in a fumble, and it wasn't a great day. Braylon Heard had a couple of nice runs when he was in. I get the feeling the coaches aren't comfortable with him in the game much, though. Imani Cross ended the game strong at least, even if he got shut down on the final play of the first half. Rex Burkhead apparently could have played, but didn't. He looked rather gimpy in pregame warmups; that might have been the deciding factor. We did see a few wrinkles this week of note. The Diamond formation reemerged with Abdullah and Heard flanking Martinez, with Cross behind Martinez. Abdullah apparently was looking to pass, but pulled back and took a sack. And on that final play of the first half, offensive tackle Andrew Rodriguez lined up in the backfield as a second fullback to help clear the way. Grade: C-
WR: Anybody who was waiting to see Jamal Turner get a lot of touches in a game finally got their wish. I don't know if the results were what we had dreamed of (especially on punt returns), but six catches for 83 yards isn't bad. Kenny Bell caught nine more for 136 yards and two scores. Solid performances the next two weeks should earn him first team all-Big Ten honors. His best catch of all might have been his last one, leaping to pull in a catch then maintaining possession while getting blasted on both sides. Quincy Enunwa made a big third down catch, though he also made it more difficult by bobbling it. Grade: A
OL: Minnesota is eighth in the Big Ten in rush defense, and their average actually went down playing the Huskers. That shouldn't happen. Yeah, Nebraska substituted liberally in the second half, but the production wasn't good in the first half either. The snaps for the reserves was really the only positive takeaway on the day. Grade: D+
DL: Donnell Kirkwood ran for 152 yards last week, but the Huskers limited him to just 11 yards on the day. That shutdown performance started right up front. The line didn't necessarily get the tackle, but they clogged things up enough to allow the linebackers to clean things up. And it's not like Phillip Nelson was able to be patient in the pocket either. Solid game. Grade: A-
LB: Will Compton, ho-hum, a ten tackle game. Alonzo Whaley added five more, and since these gains on the ground were for little to no gain, that meant there wasn't much getting through to the third level. Grade: A
Secondary: Six pass breakups pretty much tells you how the secondary shut down Minnesota. It wasn't perfect coverage, mind you, but even when mistakes were made, it still seemed to go Nebraska's way. Take Stanley Jean-Baptiste's interception; the receiver was running wide open underneath and headed for the first down. Instead the ball gets tipped to Stanley, and the former wide receiver knew exactly what to do with it. Ciante Evans made the huge stop of Kirkwood for no gain on Minnesota's second play of the game; that set the tone for the game. The secondary is simply playing really, really well now and is gelling under Terry Joseph. Grade: A+
Overall: B+ The only disappointment in my eyes was the lack of production on the ground. But the defense played so well, it's hard to get too disappointed. Indianapolis is close enough that you can almost smell it. (Smells better than Iowa, that's for sure...)
Elsewhere in College Football
Kansas State: F The Wildcats just don't like nice things.
Baylor: A What a week to finally find a defense.
SEC: F In game after game, the SEC mailed in performances against 1-AA teams. And suddenly there's talk of another SEC vs. SEC championship game, should Notre Dame lose? For shame.
Iowa: F Once again, the Hawkeyes mailed it in again and are now officially bowl ineligible this season. But don't overlook Iowa on Friday. Iowa is known to win a couple of games each season they shouldn't, and this is their last chance.
ESPN Gameday: F I didn't see it, so if someone finds it on YouTube, please provide a linky. In any event, it sounds like a Bernard Goldberg-style hatchet job that was heavy on the innuendo and light on the facts. The truth is out there if anyone goes looking for it, but the sad truth is some people will believe the story that ESPN presented. And that could have repercussions down the line.
I doubt there's ever been a GameDay segment more damaging to a team's recruiting than this overblown piece on Pelini's sideline demeanor.— Paul Myerberg (@PaulMyerberg) November 17, 2012