Did that really happen?
Abso-freakin-lutely. Not sure how this one will go down in the legacy of Nebraska football. Hail Westerkamp, the Westerkatch, or my personal favorite, RK3-To-1. What is clear that all the talk about this program lacking the mental strength to battle through adversity can be ruled out as psycho-babble-malarkey. This was Nebraska's third string quarterback driving the field, completing passes to Nebraska's backup receivers.
And that's the story of the game. Nebraska's offense is wobbly. ANY offense would have issues when they lose an all-American offensive lineman, an all-Big Ten quarterback, and all-Big Ten wide receiver, plus another receiver, tight end, and lineman. That's six out of eleven starters gone. Heck, Michigan State lost less from their 2011 offense, and it's taken them almost two seasons just to become average offensively.
Defensively, it started badly as Northwestern scored on three of their first four possessions. It's the same mistakes we've seen in past games against Wyoming, South Dakota State, UCLA, and Minnesota. Players making bad reads and not tackling well. But then, Bo Pelini and John Papuchis abandoned the three man front, and moved Randy Gregory back onto the line. The results? 13 drives resulted in 11 punts, an interception, and a field goal. Even that field goal was a victory for the defense after Northwestern started the drive inside the Nebraska 10 yard line.
This isn't a great, vintage Nebraska team. Nobody is going to try and argue otherwise. But this team found a way to muddle through a lot of adversity and pull out a win. Now, onto the report card:
QB: Both quarterbacks played great at times, and horribly at other times. Tommy Armstrong started the game fast and on fire. 10 of 14 passing in the first half, and rushing for 52. Third quarter wasn't so good. Fourth quarter was horrible: four incompletions, two interceptions, and no completions. That's why you get with a freshman. Needs more experience; more time in the film room to better read defenses. He'll get better. I wondered when Nebraska got the ball back with under four minutes to go whether Ron Kellogg would have been a better choice at that point. Kellogg had a horrible first half (1 for 5 passing with an interception). Bo Pelini and Tim Beck didn't, and Armstrong's interception nearly cost Nebraska the game. But then Kellogg came in for the final, legendary drive, and was nails. So where to grade when they were all over the board? Armstrong: 1st half A-, 2nd half F; Kellogg: 1st half F, 2nd half A+. Overall grade: D
RB: Ameer Abdullah is the unsung hero of the game. 127 yards on 24 carries when Northwestern was stacking the box with nine or ten defenders. (If you were wondering why Tim Beck kept calling first down throws, that's why. He had to try to loosen them up a little.) But more important were his catches which started the game winning drive...especially that 16 yard reception on fourth and 15, as he broke three tackles to keep the drive alive. Grade: A+
WR: In the second quarter, I scanned the field and saw who was in the game: Alonzo Moore, Jordan Westerkamp, Sam Burtch, and Sam Cotton. Whatever happened to the "best receiver corp in the Big Ten"? Injuries. Quincy Enunwa made it back into the game, but Kenny Bell finished the game in sweats. FWIW, the backups played pretty well. Rich Fisher should be proud of his group. (Do I really need to mention Jordan Westerkamp again? Kind of goes without saying.) Grade: B+
OL: The offensive line played OK for the first three quarters, but then Jake Cotton went down with a leg injury, and the wheels came off the cart. Three penalties pushed Nebraska out of field goal range, kjlling drives in the process. Depending on how long Cotton is going to be out, Nebraska has a tough decision to make. Burn the redshirt of Chongo Kondolo, or try to muddle through and see if Indianapolis is still possible. At this point, I lean towards leaving the redshirt intact. But considering the negativity surrounding the program from the last week, the pressure to win now might be too high. Grade: C-
DL: Once Nebraska went back to a more traditional 4-3 (really 4-2-5) alignment, the defense played much, much better. Nebraska's still trying to figure out how best to use Randy Gregory, it seems. But one thing is clear: keep Gregory and Avery Moss on the field as much as possible. Here's another revelation: get Vincent Valentine in the game more at defensive tackle. The big guy occupies a lot of space and, more importantly, blockers. Where he disappeared to is a mystery to me. Grade: B+
LB: Michael Rose started the game at middle linebacker, and seemed to struggle with his reads at times. Josh Banderas came in and played much better. David Santos had a rough first half trying to cover "superback" (aka tight end) Dan Vitale. Grade: C-
Secondary: Ciante Evans played bigger than he is physically on run support with five tackles for loss. At times saw some really good things out of this bunch. Could have used a little better ability to disengage from blockers, though. Grade: B
Overall: B- Considering the injuries on offense, it's probably what we should have expected. More importantly, it was a win against a team who was expected to contend in the Big Ten west division. Survive and advance.
Elsewhere in College Football
Michigan State A+ With that defense, the Spartans don't need that much offense. Which is what they've got.
Michigan F Brady Hoke should have had the team pose for a team picture after kicking a field goal on the opening drive.
Purdue: 0 Basketball season starts next weekend, Boilermakers.
Florida Atlantic: A+ After the Carl Pelini debacle, upsetting Tulane is a nice way to bounce back.
Notre Dame: D+ The Irish are closer to a service academy than a Top 25 team than they'd like to believe.