Stop me if you've heard this story before: Tie game until a freshman turns the ball over in the fourth quarter. The Blackshirts don't yield a first down, forcing the opponent to kick a field goal to take the lead. Undaunted, Nebraska drives the field and scores a late touchdown to win the game.
Yep...it happened again. And the freshman who might have been the goat the week before is the freshman who leads the team down the field for the game winner, while the freshman who made the clutch catch the week before to be the hero muffs a punt to put the Huskers in the hole this week. That's inexperience for you; sometimes making great plays while making freshman mistakes.
Over time, those mistakes will disappear, and we'll see far more of the great plays down the stretch. And that's why I'm growing so excited about the future of Nebraska football. For the second week in a row, Nebraska fans have been treated to a ferocious defense worthy of the label Blackshirts. Yes, Nebraska's defense had flaws last season: talent and depth was an issue. This year, we swapped that problem for another: inexperience. A second half meltdown against UCLA. Bad form up in Minneapolis. But adjustments have been made, and there's something to start getting excited about.
If you choose to believe.
Yes, Michigan's offense was awful. Give Michigan State for extracting their pound of flesh from their little sister the week before. But let's not forget this same Michigan offense rolled up 753 yards of offense against Indiana three weeks ago. Fitz Toussaint rushed for 151 and Devin Gardner threw for 503 more. This offense scored 63 that week. Before that, they scored 42 against Minnesota, 41 against Notre Dame, and 40 against Penn State. Michigan's offense isn't Baylor's offense, but it's not horrible either.
But against the Blackshirts, Michigan looked like a Sun Belt team on offense. Fitz Toussaint rushed for 6 yards. Five star recruit Derrick Green rushed for 11 more. Gardner was running for his life in the pocket. Maybe the Spartans beat the life out of the Wolverines the week before, but you can't completely dismiss the Spartan-like effort the Nebraska defense delivered.
Are the Blackshirts fixed? It may be a touch too early to proclaim them back, but fans should be excited about where this defense seems to be headed. Now, onto the grades for this week:
QB: After a couple of sub-par performances by Tommy Armstrong, Armstrong bounced back. Until the fourth quarter, the best part of Armstrong's day was not turning the ball over...and escaping a safety late in the second quarter. But young Mr. Armstrong calmly led the Huskers down the field late for the game-winning touchdown drive. Many people questioned why Ron Kellogg III was inserted into the game in the second quarter when Armstrong was playing fine; I didn't. If you are going to declare a two man rotation at quarterback, the second man has to play. And when that second man led the team to the game-winning drive the week before, he deserved to play as well. By giving both quarterbacks opportunities, it gives Bo Pelini and Tim Beck the opportunity to change quarterbacks if one player is struggling without making it seem like a benching. That being said, Tommy Armstrong may be on the verge of shedding the "Armstrong or Kellogg" distinction on the depth chart. Grade: B-
RB: Michigan's defense has been stout against the run all season, and there was no reason to expect Ameer Abdullah to duplicate his past heroics...especially with a patchwork offensive line. But Abdullah was there from the opening drive, gutting out tough yard after tough yard. Is the Big Ten's best running back in line to earn B1G offensive player of the week honors this week? It might be a tough choice between Abdullah and Wisconsin's James White. Grade: A+
WR: Kenny Bell didn't look like himself early; a little slow and hesitant. But on that crucial drive, Bell was the man, especially converting that fourth and two into first and goal. Quincy Enunwa made a couple of really tough catches, but his fumble could have been a killer, if it wasn't for the defense coming through in blockbuster fashion. Jordan Westerkamp's muffed punt shouldn't overshadow a nice punt return early in the game, and a great 27 yard catch. And while he didn't touch the ball, Alonzo Moore deserves special mention for his block that cleared the way for Abdullah's game-winning touchdown. Grade: B
OL: I really want to grade this on the curve with three starters out against a stout rush defense, but I can't. Considering the circumstances, I saw an impressive debut from Zach Sterup at tackle. He'll have to step up his game even more this week because an even more ferocious defense awaits him this next week. Grade: C-
DL: If Randy Gregory isn't named the B1G Defensive player of the week, it'll be an outrage. Three tackles and a quarterback hurry officially...I think he had a few more unofficial hurries, to tell you the truth. And the rest of the defensive ends played well. Even Jason Ankrah and Thad Randle had tackles for loss. Nice contributions from Greg McMullen, Avery Moss, Aaron Curry, and Vincent Valentine. Give them all a game ball! It's so nice to finally be able to type this. Grade: A+
LB: Michael Rose was a monster all game, and now qualifies for in-state tuition at Michigan after spending most of the day in the Wolverine's backfield. Zaire Anderson had a big sack, and David Santos played well, except for breaking up an interception by Ciante Evans. Grade: A
Secondary: Nebraska sold out to put pressure up front on Michigan, which put pressure on the secondary. And they came through. One of the more unheralded plays was LeRoy Alexander's tackle of Devin Gardner on a scramble. If Alexander doesn't get there, who knows how far Gardner would have gone. Grade: A
Overall: B+ Nebraska is going to need to find a way to generate more offense next week, but this defense is ready to take on the Michigan State offense, if they play like they have the last seven quarters.
Elsewhere in College Football
Sean McDonough, ESPN: D I've never understood the love some people have for McDonough as a football or baseball announcer. During this game, he repeatedly express surprise at Nebraska's lining up in the pistol formation, even though that's pretty much a base formation. He and his spotters were oblivious to the penalties that were called, so nobody should have expected to get any discussion of the penalties that could have been called but weren't.
That's fairly out in the open pic.twitter.com/TgL3XopImV— Damon Benning (@damonbenning) November 9, 2013
The back judge is eyeing the QB area, pretty sure this hold is right in front of the QB. #iknowholdingoneveryplay pic.twitter.com/v8ug5P6bnN— Damon Benning (@damonbenning) November 9, 2013
@stellz34 @BenCotton81 you see the bad missed clip on Gerry on that punt return too? Poor Mo Seisay— Damon Benning (@damonbenning) November 9, 2013
Even more distressing was being oblivious to the status of Ameer Abdullah when the trainers are coming out on the field. ESPN/ABC...you have better announcers in your stable. Use them on your bigger games.
Miami: F Swirling the bowl.
Texas Tech: 0 Kliff Kingsbury was better prepared for a GQ photo shoot than for a college football game.