A lot of people thought Nebraska's game against Purdue reminded them of an Iowa State game in 1992. Me, this reminded me of a game against Kansas.
In that game, a quarterback was making the first start of his career, and really seeing the first significant playing time of his college career. In the second quarter, his coaches decided to abandon the run and go to the air. Nebraska ran the ball just once in the second quarter, and threw 17 passes. The third quarter wasn't much better as Nebraska rushed the ball just four times with another 17 passes in the third quarter. The result? A team that had scored 19 points the previous two weeks combined scored 76.
So how does that compare to 2015? In the second quarter, Nebraska rushed six times (three by I-backs, three more by Ryker Fyfe on sacks and bungled wide receiver sweeps) and threw eleven passes. In the third quarter, six runs and 16 more passes. And just like in 2007, a one-score game turned into a blowout.
Even the stat lines look awfully similar:
- Joe Ganz, 25-50-4, 405 yards, 4 touchdowns
- Ryker Fyfe, 29-48-4, 407 yards, 4 touchdowns
There are a bunch of mitigating circumstances to consider this week: by the end of the game, Nebraska was down their starting quarterback, top I-back, two of their top wide receivers, an starting offensive lineman, their best linebacker and a starting safety.
But there's another factor, which frankly takes precedence: it was against (expletive deleted) Purdue.
Purdue, who hadn't won a conference home game since 2012. Purdue, which is 94th in S&P+ and 102nd in Sagarin's computer rankings.
It's Purdue, who hadn't scored more than 31 points all season and 21 points in Big Ten play.
And oh, by the way, since we are looking back, Mike Riley has only won THREE of his last NINETEEN conference games. And another new record: In over 125 years of football, Nebraska had NEVER lost six games before November 1st. Until now.
Don't blame the effort or the mentality of the players. They didn't give up or quit against Purdue: they scored 29 points in the fourth quarter. So let's not go there.
So on with this week's report card...as always, your comments are always welcome.
QB: I have less of a problem with Fyfe's performance than with what Fyfe was asked to do. Afterwards, Mike Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf talked about the failures of the running game:
After the game, coach Mike Riley insisted Nebraska has a desire — and ability — to keep it on the ground.
"I'm telling you: We want to run, we need to do better, and we will," Riley said.
So what about the last two weeks? Is it that Nebraska can't run the ball? Or won't?
"Your answer is both," Riley said, meaning that when Nebraska struggles to run the ball, it turns to the pass out of necessity.
Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf, Riley's protege and play-caller, detailed after thorough questioning the extent of Nebraska's run struggles:
" Too many carries for loss. Langsdorf said Nebraska tried running the ball more in the first half, but couldn't always get untracked because of tackles for loss.
"If we can just get 1 yard out of it, we wouldn't be playing so far behind the chains," Langsdorf said. Purdue had six tackles for loss, two of which were sacks. An end-around to De'Mornay Pierson-El was blown up on the opening drive by an unblocked Purdue defender, while another end-around was botched between Fyfe and wideout Jamal Turner after Pierson-El got hurt.
The stats tell a different story about falling "behind the chains" against Purdue. Of those six tackles for loss, only two were I-back runs. Two were on those overused gadget wide receiver sweeps, which have failed more than they have worked all season long. And two were quarterback sacks on PASSING plays. On the other hand, Fyfe was 6 for 13 throwing the ball on first down. So when Nebraska fell "behind the chains" against Purdue, it was because of the PASSING game. (Seven incompletions plus two sacks.) For a first time starter, Fyfe did about as well as could be expected under the circumstances. It's not his fault he was thrown to the wolves, throwing 18 passes in the first half and 34 passes in the first three quarters. Grade: C-
I-Back: Terrell Newby looked pretty good running the ball until he got hurt, and Imani Cross didn't look that bad in a relief role. They combined for 18 carries and 95 yards, averaging a nice 5.3 yards per carry against a defense that was giving up an average of 4.8 yards per carry each game. It's not Cross' fault that he only carried the ball five times for 32 yards (over 6 yards per carry) in the second half. The running game was there, despite what the coaching staff wants you to believe. Grade: Incomplete
Wide Receivers: 10 guys caught passes, and the receivers did their job just fine IMHO. That's a shame that De'Mornay Pierson-El hurt his ankle celebrating; people who saw the replay suggested it was "gruesome"; hopefully, it's not as serious as it appears. A lot has been made about the number of different players who have started this season; the reality is that Riley and Keith Williams have rotated receivers quite a bit. Guys like Taariq Allen and Lane Hovey aren't starting because nobody else is available. Grade: B
Offensive Line: Those high snaps have been there all season, but this was the week that it couldn't be overcome. Say what you will about Alex Lewis' interactions with the boo-birds that have criticized his play this season, but on the field, he's been a warrior. Note that he was the guy who made the tackle on the fumbled snap. In the second half, I did see some tremendous push on those few and far between second half runs. Grade: C
Defensive Line: I saw a few things I liked from Vincent Valentine in the first quarter, but not after that as the game spiraled out of control. Maliek Collins didn't start - perhaps some discipline from the previous week - but did make a splash after that. The rest of the game? Didn't see much, if anything. Grade: F
Linebackers: With the ESPN telecast, it was tough to figure out just who was where on the field...though I did spot Dedrick Young getting burned in pass coverage again. I want to give this a better grade, but this defense gave up 457 yards to Purdue. So guess what the grade is: F
Secondary: Aaron Williams played pretty well for a true freshman, all things considered. But let's be honest, this secondary struggled yet again, and it started with Nate Gerry, who set a heck of a pick on Daniel Davie to spring DeAngelo Yancey on his long touchdown catch. (A return of the favor from last year's Wisconsin game?) People don't like it when I give the secondary a failing grade, so I'll just award a "Participation Ribbon" instead.
Special Teams: Now Bruce Read's group can't even line up for an extra point without getting flagged. (Blocking for extra ponts also appears to be a lost art as well.) But Stanley Morgan looks like he might be the answer on kickoff returns. Grade: D-
Coaching: I've already hit this staff hard, and so I won't belabor the point much more, except to say that it sure looks like the inability to run the ball is more of a "don't want to" then "can't" issue. Especially when Nebraska has three four-star running backs warming the bench. Grade: 0
Overall: F Nebraska just got trucked by Purdue. Let me repeat that: Nebraska got trucked by (insert a half dozen or so of Jon's favorite words) PURDUE. Is there any other grade that is possible?
Elsewhere in College Football
ESPNU: F Was the Worldwide Leader trying to produce this game from a public access cable TV studio in Florida again? We had cameramen getting discombobulated multiple times, and live look-ins at the Ole Miss game with the audio from West Lafayette. For as bad as FSN was on game broadcasts, at least they had a clue what was going on at their game.
Illinois: 0 Only 167 yards of offense and making Christian Hackenberg look like a legitimate quarterback? So much for Bill Cubit.
Iowa State: A+ Memo to Mike Riley: Give Paul Rhodes a call and ask him for some tips on how to handle a first-time starting quarterback. Or just watch the video, where you'll see the Cyclones run the ball 54 times to blow out Texas.
Iowa: B+ The Hawkeyes are on their way to Indianapolis, it appears. Even if they coasted a bit in the second half against Maryland.