I am starting to feel like a broken record; asking different questions but registering disappointing results with similar answers. After the super-toxic fan responses post-Illinois, I was really worried about Husker Nation overall. The Husker world is not completely right after yet another loss to Wisconsin but there is a more noticeable effort by positive Husker fans to be encouraging and hopeful rather than give in to the negativity. I also saw some encouraging steps forward for many parts of the team (except the pass offense). At this point, I am happy to celebrate where I can.
Will the chess match between Dave Aranda (Wiscy DC) and Danny Langsdorf (Husker OC) decide the game or will it come down to a wild card like turnovers or special teams?
It came down to a wild card, but it never should have. The Huskers got lucky that the Badger kicker missed that first field goal, but you knew if he got another chance, it wasn't going to happen again. You knew it, right? I watched and hoped with the rest of you, but I knew he was not going to miss again.
Overall, the Husker offense had the kind of success they should have against this Badger defense (even with the pass game going AWOL), but when they needed one more first down, it came apart. For. The. Second. Week. In. A. Row.
An injury-depleted, exhausted defense was put in front of the firing squad when they just needed their offense to get one more first down. Yes, I get that the pass defense is a huge mess, but overall, the defense performed pretty valiantly, especially when you consider the injured players (Valentine and Newby especially; I am sure there were more) that had to be on the field simply because there was no one else.
On the bright side:
- I saw a cornerback look and knock away a pass - more than once. As a matter of fact, defensive backs were credited with more pass break-ups than the LBs (7 to 5). Of course, when Wiscy puts up 50 pass attempts, we better see double digit break-ups.
- How ‘bout that offensive line? I know we have not been kind to the big guys so far this season, but they showed up Saturday against an aggressive Badger defense. The Huskers gained 196 yards on the ground with a 5.3 average. Tommy was not sacked once (Badgers had been averaging 3 sacks per game and had the nation's sack leader in LB Schobert) and they held Wiscy to three tackles for loss (totaling 6 yards). Plus, the line held up well even after losing a starter (Nick Gates) - who is also going to be out vs Minnesota next week.
- For as crappy as the pass game looked, Tommy did not throw an interception.
On the not-so-bright-side:
- For the second week in a row, we watched the coaching staff stubbornly (although not as stubbornly as the Illinois game) stick with a passing game that was largely a wasted down more often than not. The Badger defensive backs were disrupting the receivers, the wind was disrupting the ball in the air, and Tommy's mechanics regressed to some of the worst I have seen - even compared to his early starts. He was just chucking it around; falling away from his passes, non-existent footwork, and he seemed to be conflicted about improvising vs sticking with a bad script.
- About all those pass break-ups by the defense....it felt like half of them were dropped interceptions. Stave was desperately trying to give the ball away in the first half but the Blackshirts just could not hold on.
- I gave props to the offensive line above. Here, I have to mention the fact that the coaches called three running plays in that last offensive series. A series where we HAD TO HAVE a first down. Those three plays gained 5 total yards. That is not good enough - even with a starting lineman out.
Can the emerging Husker pass rush disrupt Stave enough to help out the secondary?
After Freedom was ruled out of the game, I was really worried about this. There was only one sack of Stave (by the gimpy Vincent Valentine) but there were 7 QB hurries (3 by Gangwish). The pressure or illusion of it, in some cases, led to some bad throws by Stave in the first half (see above for dropped interceptions commentary). The Blackshirts looked solid in the first half, but depth and injury issues made for a second half that kept feeling more and more tilted in favor of the Badger offense. You could see the Husker defense getting tired in the third quarter and exhausted in the fourth.
I will repeat my earlier statement and add to it. These past two losses should be blamed as much, or more, on the offense as on the Blackshirts and their well-documented woes. An offense with the firepower that Nebraska has SHOULD be able to gain one lousy first down in do-or-die situations; especially when one of those two opponents is Illinois and the other game is at home in front of a crowd that is willing you toward that marker.
Will we see redshirts burn?
Yes and no.
The Davis redshirt is still intact, but the Jordan Stevenson rumor was true. He did go back for kickoffs and returned one for 14 yards. The Monday post-game presser by the coaches indicated he is still mostly working on special teams at this point. Given the pass game woes, an offensive line that appears to be getting its crap together, and the number of "good" backs the Huskers are trotting out, it seems like the coaches need to commit (SERIOUSLY COMMIT) to the running game. (Yes, I know it is a pipe dream but let me finish my rant).
There are many with the strong opinion that we need to commit to a feature back. Considering that the past three Husker starting running backs are all playing in the NFL (Helu, Burkhead, Abdullah) it is easy to see why a feature back has become part of the Husker identity. Unfortunately, we do not have a Helu/Burkhead/Abdullah on the roster right now. As much as we all love Janovich, a fullback with a 4.7 forty; even one who can crash through tackles, is a luxury and not a bread-and-butter runner. If we do not have the quality, let's go with a quantity approach. I want to see Coach Davis throw RB after RB after FB after RB at the opposing defenses until they cry "Uncle!". And, when they do that throw in a DPE jet sweep, just to make them cry. Repeat and occasionally feed Westerkamp and Reilly (as long as the wind is not blowing 25-40 mph).
Yes, I realize it is probably a good thing I am not a football coach.
Regardless of what the coaches do next - I hope we get to see more of this:
Bonus Question: How awesome will Chris Weber be this week?
Trent Bray's young protege only racked up seven tackles this week. Of course, he left the game with a neck injury in the 3rd quarter (I believe) and is questionable to play against Minnesota according to Mike Riley.
Sidenote re: linebackers. Prior to this game, Marcus Newby was considered to be a pass-rush specialist (in 2014) and has been pressed into service as a starter in places in 2015. During this game, he showed his chops in pass coverage (FOUR pass break-ups to go with his four tackles). He was battling cramps (or something that looked like it) and was in and out of the game but really showed up when he was needed. Our young LB coach, Trent Bray, deserves props for his work with the LB corps. Bray was handed a razor-thin depth chart that has been decimated by injury. He has responded by coaching these players into producing stats that would have impressed us even if from the first string. #CanWeCloneTrentBray?
What are your thoughts? Did I miss something? Did you have different thoughts? Tell me in the comments!