As Nebraska’s game with Illinois seemed to get tighter and tighter, I couldn’t help but think back to the Huskers game against Iowa last season. (Granted, the weather was infinitely better in this game.) In either game, Nebraska’s ground game wasn’t particularly effective early on; in this game, the Huskers were averaging under 3 yards per carry through the third quarter. Unlike against Iowa, Nebraska didn’t give up on the run...and in the fourth quarter, was rewarded handsomely as the Illini defense wore down. Trailing 16-10 at the end of the third, the Huskers scored three times to get the win.
Certainly, the go-ahead score was aided by two crucial Illinois penalties and several fortunate spots that could have easily gone the other way. If any of them had gone the other way, would Nebraska be 5-0 now? Maybe, but I suspect not.
The oddest statistic of the game was that Nebraska never punted. Usually that only happens in a 63-7 blowout, not a game where you are trailing 16-10 in the fourth quarter.
It wasn’t a pretty win...and might be a really costly win, depending on how long tight end Cethan Carter (elbow) and wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp (foot/back) are out. Thank goodness Nebraska has a bye week, though I’m not sure I expect either of them to be ready to return in two weeks. But the time might allow others to be ready, and hopefully get others (such as Alonzo Moore) to return.
As always, your comments are welcome in the comments. This week’s report card is fairly early - and probably a bit condensed, as I have a family commitment on Sunday to take care of.
QB: It wasn’t Tommy Armstrong’s best game...but it wasn’t anywhere near his worst game. The Illinois defensive line wreaked havoc all afternoon, and that probably forced Mike Riley and Danny Langsdorf to dial back the quarterback run game (not that it was terribly effective) for fear of injury. Aside from that interception, it was a decent day throwing the ball for Armstrong. Grade: B-
I-Back: Terrell Newby’s second-to-last run showed the game-breaking capability that I think all of Nebraska’s coaches have thought were possible ever since he stepped foot on campus. But until that point, it was a really rough day running the ball. Newby’s numbers were cetainly inflated by that 63 yard touchdown run; subtract that, and he was averaging just under 3 yards per carry. That’s not good. But the other backs weren’t much better: Devine Ozigbo averaged just 3.5 yards per carry and Mikale Wilbon’s single carry only went three yards before he fumbled. But since both those guys ended the game injured, it fell to Newby to finish the game. Grade: C+
Wide Receivers: Jordan Westerkamp had some crucial clutch catches (and a costly pass interference penalty) until he left the game with a serious injury that landed him in the hospital. Who knows how long he’ll be out, but in the past, Westerkamp has been remarkably resilient, so if he can return, he will return. Cethan Carter’s injury also looks serious. But the receivers that did survive the game looked good. Stanley Morgan made a great grab, and the catch of the game was made by Sam Cotton. Hopefully the bye week gets Alonzo Moore back and healthy. Grade: B
Offensive Line: I really have mixed thoughts here. On one hand, in short yardage situations, Nebraska pushed Illinois three yards downfield consistently. But all game long, Nebraska really struggled to get the running game untracked, and in passing situations, couldn’t block Dawuane Smoot most of the afternoon. David Knevel got pulled in favor of Cole Conrad, who didn’t fare much better from my perspective. Grade: C
Defensive Line: Another mixed bag. Freedom Akinmoladun came up huge on Illinois first drive, but never made much of an impact after that. An experiment in having him line up wide like a linebacker left him out of position later in the game. Illinois rushed for just three yards two weeks ago, so letting Illinois’ third-string running back rush for 72 yards isn’t exactly comforting. Grade: C
Linebacker: One of the best plays of the game was Dedrick Young’s pass breakup in the end zone...but two of the worst were letting Kendrick Foster go untouched for a 31 yard touchdown run and fullback Nathan Echard go uncovered right up the middle of the field for a 26 yard gain. Grade: D+
Secondary: A couple of really nice pass breakups by Joshua Kalu and Aaron Williams, but Illinois’ Malik Turner found himself wide open a few times too many in this game. Grade: B
Overall: C+ It’s a win, but it was a sloppy win. Nebraska once again won the fourth quarter, but the Huskers can’t continue to wait until the fourth quarter to begin to click. In a month, the Big Red will find themselves too far behind in a couple of primetime ballgames if that continues.
Elsewhere in College Football
State of Iowa: F Between Iowa State blowing two 14 point leads and Iowa assuming the position once again against Northwestern... well, DERP.
Washington: A+ Huskies, you have our attention.
Indiana: A "SPARTY NOOOOOOO" has become too much of a thing this season.
Oregon: F Mike Leach’s team rushed for 284 yards. Yes, I said MIKE LEACH.