Frustrating game? Exhilarating comeback? That's the dichotomy of Nebraska's comeback win over Northwestern. When you look at the statistics, it looks like Nebraska dominated Northwestern. The Huskers outgained the Wildcats 543 yards to 301. Nebraska had 26 first downs; Northwestern just 14. Nebraska probably won between 80% and 90% of the plays in the game...but those plays that Nebraska lost, Nebraska lost big. The stat line that explains why the game was so close: Nebraska's three turnovers and Northwestern's zero.
It's tough to win when you go -3 in turnover margin, and Nebraska made this game much more difficult than it needed to be. Add in some key penalties at times, and Nebraska shot themselves in the foot with a Howlitzer. It let an inferior team into the game, and it took a nearly Herculean effort to overcome it in the end. The mistakes are infuriating, because we seem to see mistakes every week. Problem is this week, the mistakes weren't the same ones that were made in past games. Patch a bunch of mistakes from the Ohio State game, and a few new leaks emerge from somewhere else. It's maddening, but even more maddening is the response from some Husker fans who are ready to throw in the towel on the whole program. Do changes need to be made in the program? Yes, but what to what extent? Some people want wholesale changes, and throw out the good along with the bad.
And there was a lot of good on the field yesterday.
QB: Let's start with the good. Taylor Martinez got roundly criticized for his comments in the Monday press conference over his turnovers in the Ohio State game. They had a point. But actions speak louder than words, and Martinez answered every one of his critics with one of his best games of his career. Pinpoint passing, clutch runs. And early in the fourth quarter, pulling a rabbit out of his hat by scrambling to make plays, only to be sabotaged by his teammates mistakes. Yes, he threw a couple of passes that could have been intercepted. But he made so many more plays that frankly, no other Nebraska quarterback would have ever made. When player of the week honors come out this week, Taylor Martinez will be on the list. Grade: A
RB: Thanks to overtime between Ohio State and Purdue, the first sight we saw on ABC was Rex Burkhead lying on the ground in pain. Can that knee ever be healthy this season? What a sad way for Burkhead to go out. Ameer Abdullah ran really well in his place, though I would have liked to have seen a little more from Braylon Heard. (We'll discuss Ameer's big mistake of the day elsewhere.) And Imani Cross converted a key 2nd and short at the start of the fourth quarter. Grade: B+
WR: Anybody who denegrates Rich Fisher as merely a "golf coach" needs to have his head examined. In the past, it was a feeble slam at Bo Pelini's hiring (conveniently ignoring Fisher's work at Idaho, Oklahoma State, and Colorado). But results speak, and frankly, Nebraska has the best group of wide receivers in the Big Ten. Remember when Ted Gilmore's receivers couldn't catch a cold? This group makes plays. Against Northwestern, Quincy Enunwa played hurt and played B1G. So did Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner. Tim Marlowe got open and made a clutch catch late in the third quarter. And Fisher's pupil Taariq Allen pulled in a nifty touchdown catch as well. Grade: A
TE: Yes, Ben Cotton caught the game winning touchdown, and Kyler Reed caught a key 3rd down pass midway through the fourth quarter. But there were fiascos by both in blocking that were the cause of a sack and a 10 yard loss on the fourth down play. And on Reed's first catch, he didn't secure the ball well and allowed himself to be stripped. Grade: D+
OL: On the aforementioned blocking fiascos, the offensive line has to share some blame as well. And on that early fourth quarter sequence where Martinez was trying to channel a little bit of Peyton Manning from his work this summer, penalties on Jeremiah Sirles and Seung Hoon Choi scuttled great plays by Martinez. Grade: C-
DL: My instinct watching the game live was that the defensive line held their own in the game. They got penetration and put pressure on Trevor Siemian, and helped shut down Kain Colter running the ball. Considering the injuries to Chase Rome and Kevin Williams, a good performance. Grade: B+
LB: Aside from getting schemed out of existence on Vendric Mark's 80 yard touchdown run, the linebackers made a few plays...especially David Santos shooting the gap to nail Colter on an option run before he could turn the corner. Grade: B-.
Secondary: Andrew Green was a surprise starter for an injured Josh Mitchell, but seemed to play OK. Stanley Jean-Baptiste had another strong game; he should be locked into the starting lineup going forward. Ciante Evans made sure that Colter was a non-factor in the passing game. But c'mon guys... when you get your mitts on the ball, catch it! Nebraska dropped at least three interceptions late in the game; any one of them would have helped keep EVERYBODY's blood pressure down. Great effort out there. Nebraska played a lot of man coverage to help scuttle the Wildcats rushing attack, and it worked out in the end. Grade: A-
Special Teams: When we're wistfully remembering Santino Panico, you know something has gone horribly wrong.
Hahahaha. DRNIK RT @husker_mike: Where is Santino Panico when you need him?— CornNation (@CornNation) October 20, 2012
A fumbled fair catch by Ameer Abdullah set up Northwestern's first touchdown. Kenny Bell's fumbled fair catch gave away great field position at the Northwestern 38; that almost certainly cost Nebraska points. Daimion Stafford's brain-dead personal foul penalty negated a 60 yard Brett Maher punt that was fumbled and recovered by Nebraska. So instead of Nebraska getting the ball at the Northwestern 16 yard line, the Blackshirts had to go back on the field...and when Nebraska did get the ball back, it was on the Husker one yard line. That's an 83 yard loss of field position, folks. This one isn't a zero (thankfully, punting was fine in the second half), but it's a huge F.
Overall: C+ It took special performances by Taylor Martinez and Quincy Enunwa, plus a strong performance by the Blackshirts to overcome a special teams debacle. Nebraska survived this against Northwestern; they won't against Michigan or Michigan State.
Elsewhere Around Husker Nation:
ABC/ESPN: F I've gotten use to inane announcers and minimal replays from the self-proclaimed "Worldwide Leader". And I understand why you kept the Omaha ABC affiliate on the Ohio State/Purdue overtime instead of getting us to the kickoff of the Husker game. But after Ohio State won the game, we were treated to commercials, band features, and an interview with Urban Meyer...all the while the second game is already underway. ABC missed five plays while taking their sweet old time getting us to the next game. Sheesh.
Husker Fans in the Stadium: A++++ When the home team has to revert to a silent count, you've done good. Real good. Props.
Husker Fans on the Interwebs: D I understand you're frustrated. Penalties and turnovers and mistakes made this game much closer than it needed to be. But some of you who don't recognize that the starting quarterback had an award-winning game and want him benched are completely and utterly clueless.
Elsewhere Around College Football
Kansas State: A+ Miracle II might be better than the original. Yeah, it's painful to see these Wildcats near the top of the BCS standings, but don't forget that Snyder's first few teams looked lost against Nebraska in this comeback.
West Virginia: F Exposed as a fraud. And your offense isn't as good as you think either.
Iowa: F Remember all that Vandenberg smack from this summer? Idiots Out Wandering Around.
Oregon 1st Half: A+ Ohh my.
Oregon 2nd Half: F Talk about letting off the gas.
Penn State: A Talk about making lemonade out of lemons. The Lions looked completely lost to open the season, but now they've managed to look respectable as of late. These Lions are having to pay the price for the transgressions of others; these players and coaches had nothing to do with the crimes of Sandusky.