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Report Card: Illinois Fighting Illini 14, Huskers 13

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Our David McGee pretty much nailed what happened in Champaign between the Huskers and the Illini:

For those of you who either weren't old enough or have purged that from your memory banks, that 2004 game between the Huskers and Iowa State was played in that wind tunnel known as Jack Trice Stadium. Despite Cory Ross gashing the Cyclones for 6.6 yards each time he touched the ball, Bill Callahan elected to have Joe Dailey throw the ball 42 times.

Only 18 were caught.

Nebraska lost 34-27.

It was pretty clear in the first quarter that the wind was playing tricks anytime it went in the air. De'Mornay Pierson-El fumbled his attempt to field a punt. Neither quarterback could complete a pass early on.  And supposedly "against the wind", Sam Foltz boomed first quarter punts of 63, 52 and 51 yards.  Stadium flags sometimes pointed at each other as the wind swirled.

It was pretty obvious to everybody not named Mike Riley and Danny Langsdorf that the conditions weren't conducive to throwing the ball around. I'm somewhat surprised that "Run The Ball" wasn't trending on Twitter, frankly.

Some of us used a little stronger language.

Nebraska's coaching staff wasn't having any of that. In his halftime interview with the Husker Sports Network, Mike Riley dismissed the conditions and said that Nebraska had to do a better job throwing and catching the ball.

Weather be damned, there were plays that needed to be made through the air. Because, of course.

What we have to realize is that this a core part of Mike Riley's offensive philosophy: you throw the ball, and run only to complement it. It is who Mike Riley is, and he's 62 years old. He's not changing his stripes. Which ultimately takes us to the question that an adult in charge in Lincoln is going to have to ask: is this ever going to work in the Big Ten when the weather turns south?  Because if you ask any Oregon State fan, they'd tell you this wasn't working in the Pac-12 either.

Don't answer that question now; it's too early, and besides, it wouldn't change anything at this point.  But once we get to Thanksgiving?  Let's ask that question again.  Or maybe we won't need to; the answer may be painfully obvious at this point.

And with that, here's the report card, as painful as it is.

QB: As good as Tommy Armstrong was in the first four games, he was awful against Illinois. He didn't get any help from his coaches either.  He was fine running the ball, but the idea of chucking the ball deep in this game was pure insanity from people who really should know better.  Grade: D-

I-Back: Bright spot #1 on the day; Nebraska may have found their I-back in freshman Devine Ozigbo. It's been clear for much of the season that Terrell Newby wasn't the guy, but the coaches seemed reluctant to try somebody else. (Mikale Wilbon, anybody?) So it looks like it's Ozigbo moving forward. I'm tempted to give this an incomplete due to lack of use, but I'll grade it a B.

Fullback: Everybody loves the idea of the fullback getting a few carries.  11 is way too many...and using him as a single back in this offense? It's more lunacy from this coaching staff.  Grade: B+

Wide Receivers: Cethan Carter did manage to pull down a circus catch of one of Armstrong's desperation heaves, but the other receivers struggled to catch the ball in swirling winds. Not all their fault, but it wasn't the receivers finest day.  Grade: D.

Offensive Line: The line was adequate, though Nick Gates got flagged twice. This tweet regarding Alex Lewis got a lot of people upset last night, though I'm not sure why.

Context is important.  Was it the kisses that have people offended?  Aimed at fans in general, well, I can see why people are upset.  Aimed at his mom? Something completely different.  Was it the apology? Hate to say it, but he's being honest. Now what's he doing about it? I don't know, but he did tweet this earlier today.

Grade: C

Defensive Line: Bright spot #2: finding ways to free up Maliek Collins for nine tackles, three for a loss. Kevin Maurice also played really well, with six tackles.  Props to Mark Banker and Hank Hughes for shuffling things up.  Grade: B+

Linebacker: Bright spot #3: Sophomore Chris Weber and his 17 tackles. He was all over the field on Saturday; give him a Blackshirt tomorrow. I still see Dedrick Young out of position at times, though.  Grade: B-

Secondary: The weather gave them a huge assist on the day, and for the first three quarters, they played better.  Then they lost coverage on Marchie Murdock (wiiiiiiide open for a touchdown) and Maliek Turner for the killer 50 yarder that put Illinois in position to win the game. No, the secondary isn't fixed; it's still the nation's worst pass defense, still ranked #127.  Grade: F

Special Teams: Drew Brown drilled his field goals while Sam Foltz is back to his honor-winning punting ability. But that kickoff just before halftime was another special teams snafu that having a full-time coordinator was supposed to prevent. Why on earth would you squib onside kick with 11 seconds left before halftime? It put Illinois just one 25 yard play away from a scoring opportunity. Thankfully, Ke'Shawn Vaughn didn't think to run out of bounds to set up a field goal attempt.  Grade: C-

Coaching: Danny Langsdorf tried to explain the game plan afterwards; it didn't help:

"We were trying to get some rhythm going," Langsdorf said, adding that he didn’t want to fall into a pattern of running on first and second down and throwing on third. "We had a hard time with it. Whether it was a route or a throw. I thought we had some guys open at times and we just couldn’t get it to them ... we ran the ball pretty well. We did not do well enough in the passing game."

So instead, Nebraska fell into a pattern of punting on fourth down.

What really bothered me was Riley's refusal to accept responsibility for that final third and seven call, claiming there was no "pass option" on the play. It clearly wasn't Tommy Armstrong improvising; people viewing the replay all say the entire  team was running a pass play. So that leaves us with two possibilities: Riley is lying or there was another communications snafu. (Remember the intentional safety at the end of the spring game?)

To me, it's the coaching staff throwing his quarterback under the bus. It's the coaches responsibility to get the play called correctly, and honestly, a quarterback sweep isn't exactly the best call in that situation. Why? Because a sweep gets the ball towards the sideline, and unless Armstrong gets a first down, going out of bounds is just as bad as an incompletion. Nebraska didn't need the yards; it needed the clock to run.

Mike Riley needs to own this mistake in his opening comment in his Monday press conference, and then own the horrific offensive game plan they installed for this game.  Grade:  ZERO.

Overall: F Nebraska has the talent to be 4-1 or maybe even 5-0 at this point of the season.  Nebraska's coaches really should be 1-4 at this point with the job they've done.  Dreams of Indianapolis are slowly fading - and even worse, the prospect of this carol being the theme song for the season are becoming a very real possibility.

And for Mike Riley, that could involve a moving van heading back west towards Corvallis, if Nebraska plays like this the rest of the season. Nebraska has been in a position to lose the game at the end in four out of five games this season, and the teeth of the schedule is still ahead. Buckle up, it could get really bumpy.

Elsewhere in College Football

Purdue B+  Don't be sleeping on the Boilermakers; they had a chance to upset Sparty in East Lansing.

Michigan: A  The Wolverines might be the best team in the Big Ten right now.

Wisconsin: D  Husker fans can take some solace that the Big Red at least made it into the end zone on Saturday; the Badgers didn't.

Ole Miss: F  You just can't have nice things.

Chain Gangs: F  It just wasn't at Illinois; Oklahoma State gained a first down with an 18 yard gain on third and 23. How does that happen twice in one day?