Defensive breakdowns late in the fourth quarter turned a less-than-satisfying season opener into an actual hold-on-for-dear-life near-upset. Credit Wyoming and quarterback Brett Smith, who made the plays when the Huskers wouldn't and seemingly couldn't. And once again, Nebraska's defense gave up yardage at a terrifying pace. Listening to KOZN (1620 AM) radio in the early morning hours, a stat emerged that is most sobering. The Huskers have given up over 1,800 yards in their last three games. That's over 5,400 feet... or more than one mile of offense.
Now many of the players have changed from last season to this, and many of the players who did return this season are in new roles. But the trend is clear, and it can't be allowed to continue any further.
The offense had it's own issues. Blocking was an issue, especially on runs up the middle. Tim Beck seemed to be obsessed with screen passes, which allowed Wyoming to cheat into the box. And at the end of the game, when Nebraska needed the offense to maintain possession, Nebraska stopped doing what was working and went with power formations that simply didn't work at all.
So here comes the report card, and it's none too pleasant. The cliche is teams improve the most between their first and second game. For everybody's sake, it better come true this week.
QB: Martinez pretty much did what he was asked to do. Hard to criticize the 77% completion percentage, and the interception looked like a missed route by walk-on Sam Burtch. Hope the injury to his non-throwing shoulder isn't too bad. Grade: C+
RB: Ameer Abdullah looked off almost all night, save for that 62 yard run. Imani Cross, on the other hand, looked great. Call him "beast" or whatever you want, but he's improved his speed and lost no power. Terrell Newby looked solid as well in his relief appearance. Frankly, I join those who second-guessed putting Abdullah back into the game late. Cross and Newby were doing fine at that time. Grade: B
WR: Like Martinez, the top line receivers did everything they were asked to do...and then some. Quincy Enunwa is going to embarrass several cornerbacks this season. Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner were solid as well. But Sam Burtch's bad route opened the door for the comeback. Grade: B
OL: Really needed the line to seize control in the fourth quarter...it didn't happen. "Best line" of the Pelini era didn't show up for the season opener. Grade: C
DL: A mixed bag: The bad: Jason Ankrah was in position to make plays behind the line of scrimmage...and didn't. Some of that goes to Brett Smith's ability, but we've seen this before with Ankrah. Randy Gregory looks like he'll be a playmaker, though. I still don't really understand what the refs didn't like about his third quarter sack of Smith. The good: Thad Randle's knee seemed to hold up well. Redshirt freshman Vincent Valentine fought through a lot of double teams. He's a very welcome (and needed) addition to the defensive line. Grade: C
LB: With Nebraska spending virtually the entire night in dime, it was David Santos night to shine. And he didn't. He seems to be indecisive both in his play and getting the calls made. True freshman Josh Banderas played a lot in relief in the second half, and I'm not sure the heat was the main reason. Grade: D+
Secondary: A few hits, and a bunch of misses. Stanley Jean-Baptiste had a great first quarter, then an interception than two key stops to force a punt. The rest of the game was fairly anonymous. Josh Mitchell seemed to play well as well. Safety play was another matter entirely. I've never been a big fan of Andrew Green at corner, and my opinions haven't changed with him at safety. I'll take Harvey Jackson instead please. Corey Cooper didn't have the greatest game either, but I think there's something to work with. If things hadn't collapsed in the fourth quarter, I'd probably give this a "D"...but all the breakdowns pretty much require an "F".
Special Teams: Sam Foltz was outstanding punting, Mauro Bondi great on kickoffs, and Pat Smith was fine on placekicking until he shanked his last extra point. But I'd like to see some way to field rugby punts other than letting them bounce down the field like my drives on the golf course. Grade: C
Overall: D+ It's a win, but a whole lot things need improvement. But let's put it in perspective; the last time Wyoming played in Lincoln, the Huskers won 42-32. Struggling with Wyoming didn't derail the 1994 season, and while it's unreasonable to expect similar results in 2013, let's wait a little longer before hitting the panic button. This season, the old adage that a team improves the most between the first and second game has to count for triple or more.
Elsewhere in College Football
Division 1-AA teams: A+ Everywhere you turn, a 1-AA team was either upsetting or putting a scare into a BCS conference team. Kansas State lost to Craig Bohl's North Dakota State. Iowa State lost to Northern Iowa. Eastern Washington upset Oregon State. McNeese State blew out South Florida. Makes Illinois' struggle with Southern Illinois (a 6-5 team in 2012) look pretty good in comparison.
Michigan State: C The defense is scary good. The offense is scary bad. And truth be told, after watching the Spartan secondary intercept passes and run the ball back, the Spartans might want to consider having some of their defensive backs take snaps on offense.
ESPN Hype Machine: F Between Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel, ESPN's obsession with hyping players to be bigger than they really are only hurts the game (and these players) in the end. #timTebowWaivedAgain
Overdoing Thursday Games: F The Thursday night game is a nice novelty, but it's starting to become too much. North Carolina/South Carolina kicked off at 5 pm central time, and Rutgers/Fresno State didn't end until 2:02 am. Do we REALLY need NINE hours of televised games on a Thursday night? I've even heard some people talking about a 24 hour football marathon. What's the point of Southern Cal playing Hawaii with a 9 p.m. Honolulu (2 am central time) kickoff?