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Report Card: Huskers 37, UCLA Bruins 29

Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

To some, "run the (explicitive) ball" had become a tired cliché; a tired, oversimplistic explanation of what Nebraska's issues were. But if you listened to Mike Riley during Christmas week, you heard tacit admission that his critics had a point.

And as the Foster Farms Bowl played out, the talk started to walk. Or more precisely: run.

Run, run, run the ball. Then more run, run, run the ball.

Against Minnesota, Nebraska's run/pass ratio was 60% run/40% pass, and afterwards Mike Riley called it "optimal" for the Huskers. But in subsequent games, Mike Riley returned to trying to have Nebraska run Oregon State's offense. Last December, Mike Riley admitted that it didn't work anymore at Oregon State, and needed to change. But rather than change philosophies, Riley changed personnel and jersey colors, thanks to winning Shawn Eichorst's PowerBall ticket in getting a free pass to Lincoln.

Riley's obsolete offensive philosophy and 5-7 record made the move to Nebraska with him, earning him Dave Bartoo's dreaded "Dead Coach Walking" label.

But in the week before the Foster Farms Bowl, Riley talked about being one of the "top three rushing teams" in the Big Ten - presumably looking to outrun teams like Indiana, Iowa or perhaps Michigan State or Ohio State as well. And Saturday night in Santa Clara, CA, Nebraska made the shift in philosophy very much real.

Nebraska ran the dadgummed ball over and over again. 62 runs and just 19 passes. The Huskers controlled the game, with a 31-17 edge in first downs and a 38 minute to 22 edge in time of possession.

If you want to cry over spilled milk, you can rightfully claim that this approach likely would have resulted in victories over Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue and, yes, Iowa. (Michigan State proved in the Big Ten championship game that Iowa could be worn down on the ground.) But it doesn't matter anymore: Nebraska finished the season 6-7; it's third losing season in the last 54.

All that will be forgiven if Nebraska wins in 2016, and Nebraska's new offensive philosophy should give all Husker fans a reason to be optimistic for a turnaround season.

With that, it's on to the report card. As always, your feedback is always welcome in the comments!

QB: The goat from the day after Thanksgiving became the MVP of the day after Christmas. What was the key? Simple: giving the quarterback a game plan he can succeed with. Armstrong was still Nebraska's most productive offensive weapon; the coaches just took the pressure off of him to carry the entire offense. Nebraska isn't going to win games throwing 40 or more passes, but Nebraska can win a bunch by relying a little less on Armstrong's arm. Armstrong isn't a Peyton Manning; Nebraska needs to stop trying to use him like one. Fewer YOLO throws is a good thing. Armstrong played well; even his turnover wasn't really his fault. (When UCLA pulls the Travis Ochs' tackle of Eric Crouch on you, your fumble can be forgiven.) Grade: A-

I-Back: Did Nebraska find a new top I-back in Devine Ozigbo? Ozigbo ran well all night long in relief. I'm curious whether Terrell Newby was suspended for the first quarter; his appearance on the first play of the second quarter certainly gives that impression. But if Nebraska is going to put increased importance on running the ball, then there should be less importance on pass blocking, and that could open the doors for Mikale Wilbon or Adam Taylor to play, should they elect to stay in Lincoln. Grade: B+

Wide Receiver: Just because Nebraska wasn't trying to throw the ball 40 times doesn't mean that receivers aren't important: Jordan Westerkamp, Brandon Reilly, and especially Alonzo Moore and Stanley Morgan each had big, clutch catches. (On the flip side, Westerkamp and Reilly had some regrettable drops.) Jamal Turner finished his Husker career with a huge improvisation of yet-another failed jet sweep. (Hopefully the coaches will either revamp or gut that play in the offseason because it simply wasn't working in 2015.) Grade: B-

Offensive Line: What an awful way for senior center Ryne Reeves' career to end with a broken fibula. Paul Thurston was fine with snapping the ball, though it appeared that he wasn't as sharp with his blocking. But in the context of this game, with Nebraska pounding UCLA at will on the ground, the line was just fine. When you gain 326 yards on the ground with this offense, you have to assume the line did their job. Grade: A

Defensive Line: Although the line didn't actually get to Josh Rosen, they certainly flushed him from the pocket more than once...and made him awfully uncomfortable throwing the ball. More importantly, the Bruins didn't find any running room after the first quarter. Grade: B

Linebackers: The linebackers really struggled early containing Paul Perkins and Nate Starks on the outside. Screen passes were a comedy of errors all night long as the linebackers were slow to pursue. It was nice to see Michael Rose-Ivey play a lot, though. Grade: C+

Secondary: Early on, the secondary was being out-athleted by UCLA - especially in one-on-one coverage. But adjustments were made, and the Bruins struggled to move the all from midway through the second quarter until the fourth. Byerson Cockrell and Antonio Reed really played well at safety, as did Joshua Kalu. Nate Gerry was having a strong game before the officials made one of the biggest blunders of the bowl season. I understand why the official threw the flag to call targeting; it was a high hit, and the officials have to make a quick decision on the fly. That's why the targeting rule requires that the penalty be reviewed by the replay official, and Jack McElwee failed to correct the call in the replay booth. We can only assume that the ACC will act quickly to discipline their officials. Grade: B-

Special Teams: Two offsides penalties on extra points, earing UCLA a mulligan after they missed on the Drew Brown missed on an extra point himself. Punt returns have been abysmal all season long, and kickoff returns were bad as well. After year one, having Bruce Read as a dedicated special teams coordinator has been a complete waste of resources. Grade: D-

Overall: B A very impressive win for the Huskers. Traditionally, it's easy to read too much into bowl game performances, but this one might stick. It was clear that both teams wanted to win this game, so this could be a very real thing. Was this new commitment to the ground game a one-game thing, or a real change in philosophy? I get the feeling that it's a real change...but we won't know for sure until September.