For the first time in more than a year, the Nebraska Cornhuskers have won two games in a row. That's definitely a ray of hope in what has been an otherwise extremely disappointing season. And thanks to the large number of bowl games (40) that exist, the Huskers seem to be all but assured of making a bowl game in 2015.
Is that a good thing? Not really. But it's not nearly as bad as it looked two weeks ago, after Purdue started to boat-race the Huskers out of West Lafayette. Looking back, was that rock bottom? For the sake of Mike Riley and his coaching staff, it had better be.
Saturday's game was a must-win game for Nebraska because Rutgers is an injury-depleted team that seems to be readying itself for a coaching change in two weeks. And in the first twenty minutes of this game, we saw the Nebraska team we expected to this season. The Huskers pounced right away on an overmatched opponent to take a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter.
The final twenty minutes were also the Nebraska team we expected to see: they closed strong and finished off Rutgers. There was no fourth quarter collapse this week, thank goodness.
In between, we unfortunately saw the Nebraska team we've seen too much of this season, especially on offense. 50/50 balls that turned into touchdowns in the first quarter became turnovers, and Nebraska was once again looking like Wile E. Coyote on a banana peel. Rutgers received a huge shot of adrenaline as the lead was cut to 21-14. And if it were any other opponent on the Nebraska schedule, the Huskers would have been in big danger. But this week against this opponent, the Huskers managed to get the win.
QB: Tommy Armstrong's numbers in the first quarter looked better than they actually should have been...and as usually happens in these situations, Armstrong regressed to the mean in the second and third quarter. Something to keep in mind is that Nebraska was going with a 50/50 run/pass split for most of the game, which is not the 60/40 run/pass split that Mike Riley called optimal for this team. 14 for 21 passing isn't all that bad...but three interceptions is, and that made Husker fans sweat a lot more than they needed to. Grade: C-
I-Back: Imani Cross was a beast at times, pounding the interior of the line, but also getting good yards at times on the edge. They've been less likely to let Cross run to the edge than they did with Terrell Newby for some reason, though his biggest gainers were on the edge. Devine Ozigbo also looked good on his two carries; considering the weather conditions (cold and windy) and the effectiveness of the ground game, I'd have liked to see the Cross/Ozigbo combination get another 7-8 carries on the day; they were averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Grade: B+
Wide Receiver: Jordan Westerkamp was solid as usual, and Alonzo Moore had a great game. But the star of the game was tight end Cethan Carter. I've been a huge critic of Carter's play in his first three seasons, as coaches on both staffs tried to find ways to get Carter the ball unsuccessfully. Finally, it all came together with his best game in his career. Grade: A
Offensive Line: For as productive as Nebraska's ground game was, I couldn't help but think that Nebraska could have gotten more on the ground. It is interesting that when Alex Lewis got injured that junior guard Corey Whitaker entered the game, which makes me wonder just what the heck the depth chart looks like anymore. Grade: B
Defensive Line: This might have been the defensive line's best game of the season so far, with six tackles for loss. Again, it's Rutgers, but let's give them credit. Grade: A-
Linebackers: Marcus Newby has certainly developed into a solid playmaker at linebacker in Michael Rose-Ivey's absence. Josh Banderas also had a few good plays as well. That being said, Rutgers gained a few too many yards on the ground; their running backs combined for 101 yards on the day. Grade: B-
Secondary: Well, hello guys! The Huskers much-maligned secondary stepped up in a way that we really haven't seen in a year now. Another strong game for Nate Gerry, who led with eight tackles and an interception. Pretty much everybody had a good game back there: Jonathan Rose with three pass breakups, Chris Jones with an interception, and Byerson Cockrell with a couple of key tackles. The Rutgers disclaimer still applies, but let's give the secondary some credit here. Grade: A-
Overall: B+ Letting Rutgers pull to 21-14 in the third quarter prevents this grade from being any higher...but this season, any win is a good win. Now, let's get to six.
Elsewhere in College Football
Alabama A The Tide is on a roll right now.
Ohio State: B+ The season starts now.
Iowa State: B- Almost another "So Proud" moment. Almost.
TCU: D- After struggling with Kansas, maybe Trevone Boykin should be the frontrunner for the Heisman. Boykin injured his ankle on the second play of the game, and Kansas somehow was in the game all day.
Oklahoma: A Welcome back to the playoff discussion, Sooners.