Illinois Game Thoughts:
It was a good win. Not a great win. Not a season changer. However, it did show some progress. The offense grinded it out in blustery conditions. The defense was better than before, which doesn't say much, but also showed they are willing to make some adjustments with some well timed blitzes. Overall, it was a solid performance with much more consistency and it was a much smarter plan employed by our coaches, but we will get to that at the end.
Tommy Armstrong looked smooth. His passes were a bit high but making just his second career start, he looked poised, in control and he kept the chains moving. He never tried to do too much, ran the option beautifully and that fake pitch that froze the Illini defense was a thing of beauty. Bell provided the highlight play and Abdullah got all the headlines with his performance, and rightfully so, but the offensive line was great allowing no sacks on 19 actual pass attempts and hardly any pressure. Further, they came off the ball and moved people which is always nice to see.
The defense, although how much was wind aided is another story, looked improved. We saw the Blackshirts frustrate Scheelhaase most of the afternoon with a good pass rush and what even more shocking, blitz calls that were actually well timed by the coaches AND the players. It was somewhat refreshing. Certainly it helped to have the wind in their face in the 1st quarter and allowed the defense to gain some swagger but overall, it was a solid performance for the team and encouraging even if it is Illinois.
Now, before we just discount Illinois, keep in mind many, including myself, were a tad bit worried about this game coming in. There offense had been on a torrid pace, albeit against less than stellar competition and many, including those on BTN had the Huskers on upset alert so while it is easy to discount the Illini and take them for granted, give the team their due. The Huskers seemed to come out with some urgency on display Saturday and took care of business.
Now, to the coaching. It may just be me, or it may be the QB situation, but the Huskers did something I've been saying they should do for quite some time this year. They took their time on offense. The uptempo, fast paced offense from start to finish was put on hold for a more methodical, time consuming pace. Was it by plan? I hope so. I've maintained since our defense isn't we were hoping it was going to be, our intention shouldn't necessarily be to out score the opposition quickly, but rather efficiently. Take our time, work the ball and limit the time our defense can be exposed by other team's offenses. It is one reason I'm not so sure Taylor Martinez is the best thing for this offense, or team, if he truly sees himself as a pass first QB. If he is reluctant to run and it isn't because of his injury, then we can't afford to put a feast or famine QB out there because for every big play we get, it is followed up by a turnover or 3 & out which puts our defense right back on the field. That is my theory anyway. Hopefully he returns healthy and willing to run the ball, extend drives and move the chains. Otherwise, our coaches can't be afraid to pull the trigger on plan B. So, aside from the bizarre QB rotation we are fixated on and some equally bizarre play calling by Beck, it was some smart coaching by the Huskers that I hope is here to stay.
What Others Said:
"The Nebraska defense left its elementary school play-ground beatings behind, and may have entered its adolescence." -- Tad Stryker, HuskerMax
I'll tend to agree with that to an extent. Odd play calls at odd times still scare me with this team, especially in closer games. Tim Beck still seems to be a kid with ADD at times and the shiniest toy in the box will draw his attention from the task at hand.
"Nebraska's front seven played perhaps its best game of the season thus far." -- Chris Whitney, KLIN
Well, yeah. However, that's not saying much. Further, the wind certainly helped the Huskers too. Still, I liked some of the defensive calls at times in this game and I certainly thought that helped the front lines.
"There's no path more immediate into the hearts of Husker fans than by running a smooth option play." -- Mitch Sherman, ESPN.com
Can't argue that. That fake pitch by Armstrong had me jumping up with a fist pump for certain.
"Nebraska showed that it could win in the Big Ten if it plays smart." -- Brandon Vogel, Hail Varsity
Baby steps Vogel. It was just Illinois and nothing has shown me we will consistently play smart but it is a start, that is for sure.
"I don't know that the Blackshirts turned a corner, but they made critical situation plays." - Derek Johnson, HuskerMax
Fair assessment. Can't argue that much.
"This was a game for old-school Husker fans." -- Steve Sipple, Lincoln Journal Star
20 passes isn't exactly old-school but it is as close as we have seen in a long time.
"Nebraska's football tradition ... is too far advanced for an Illini program forever struggling to regain its footing." -- Loren Tate, Champaign News-Gazette
Obviously a lot of disappointment in Illini Nation, if there is such a thing. I think they believed they would move the ball and compete in a high scoring shootout. It did not happen.
"The Huskers played like they knew the importance of this game." -- Sean Callahan
I think they did play like they had something to prove, with a bit of a sense of urgency in this game, especially on defense.
"Even Ron Brown can't help but think of Tommie when he sees Tommy." -- Dirk Chatelein, Omaha World-Herald
There is flashes for sure, but he isn't Frazier yet. However, for this team, he may be our best hope to play conisistent football that keeps the offense on the field, and the defense off of it.
"With November weather as a blustery backdrop, the Huskers might have found something. Maybe." -- Tom Shatel, Omaha World-Herald
That is basically where I am at. Yeah, it looked good, showed promise, but will we stick with the plan.
"Taylor Martinez is Nebraska's best quarterback. Or at least, when he's healthy." -- Husker Mike's Blasphemy
He might be the biggest threat of a big play, but I'm not sure he's the best bet for this team right now unless he becomes a run first QB again.
"Yes, you can and should credit Abdullah, but the work of the O-line should not be ignored." -- Bob Hamar, Grand Island Independent
Ditto. Their blocking down field blocking was even better.
"The Huskers' offensive line was versatile, tough, smart, disciplined and productive." -- Randy York, Huskers.com
It helps when the OC sticks to a plan, for the most part, and doesn't get away from it. Nonetheless, we clearly have a good offensive line this year.
Purdue, coming into last week was ranked 99th in F/+ at 1-4, 89th overall in S&P+ rating. Nebraska, overall ranks 38th coming INTO the Illinois game at F/+ and 44th in S&P+ rating so we are clearly the favorite but it will be a road test, the first one of the season, even if Huskers show up with 10,000 plus and likely a Freshman QB at the helm.
They are rated the 99th overall offense while the Nebraska defense came in ranked 107th which shows that could be a push. Purdue's rushing offense ranks in at 104, while the Huskers rushing defense clocks in at 114 and their Passing is ranked 97 while Nebraska is ranked 117. These rankings are much better since it factors in actual attempts and not yards since of course our passing defense looks good when teams run the ball on us and forego throwing the ball all together. The key will be getting Purdue into passing down and distance situations where the Huskers actually improve and rank 68th in the nation while Purdue's offense, when in those spots, rank 113.
Early down and distance will be key for our defense. When Purdue is put in obvious passing downs, they struggle and that is Nebraska's strong suit, if they have one. Stuffing the run early will be key.
Looking at Purdue's defense, it is their best bet at a strength but that won't be a great thing going up against the Huskers. They are the 64th ranked defense and Nebraska the 10th ranked offense. Their defense is 98th versus the run, while Nebraska counters with the 25th most efficient ground game. Their pass defense is ranked 97 and again, Nebraska will counter with the 17th best passing offense.
Simply put, establish the ground game, stay ahead of the chains. NU is 7th in the nation on play success rate while Purdue's defense is 113th on defense in that category. It should be a pretty big match-up advantage on this side of the ball for the Huskers.
So long as Nebraska doesn't have blunders on special teams, they should be able to gain some more confidence heading into another dreaded bye week. Go Big Red!