I dare say that no Husker fan expected this year's season opener to come down to a pass sailing out the back of the end zone after time expired. I think most fans expected this game to be a name-your-score rout, assuming that the 15 point spread and six win betting line were just the oddsmakers being ill-informed about what was happening in Lincoln.
Turns out maybe we were ill-informed. Or perhaps, just guilty of being overly optimistic. After the game, everything swung 180 degrees the opposite direction. Now the temptation is to be overly pessimistic after watching Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen torch the Blackshirts early and late.
Just like I cautioned against buying into the hype of this offseason, I also suggest holding off on buying into the despair. This was, after all, the first game of the season. The defense looked like they were trying to be vanilla early on and Hansen feasted on Blackshirts ala mode. After new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco decided to go ahead and expose a little more of his defense on video, Hansen wasn't finding nearly as many open receivers as in the first half. But when you let a team stick around too long, they believe in themselves more, which sets the stage for some craziness late
So here's the opening game report card. This week, I had the pleasure of taking my daughter to her first night game, which meant I had to share my binoculars (and take her on a trip to the restrooms in the fourth quarter). So I know I missed a few things; correct my mistakes in the comments.
QB: After a rough start where we saw Tulane Tanner Lee start, Lee settled down and looked more like the Tanner Lee that sportswriters have adored lately. When he has a clean pocket, Lee throws a beautiful ball. But when under pressure, he broke down quickly. 59% passing with no turnovers was relatively efficient for a first start in a Nebraska uniform, but I worry about what will happen against stiffer competition. Lee only completed three of eight passes in the fourth quarter, which opened the door for the Red Wolves to make the game much more interesting than it should have been. Grade: B
I-Back: All the talk about nobody emerging from the pack at I-back turned out to be just that: talk. The coaches clearly decided that Tre Bryant was their top pick, and Bryant delivered. As the game went on, Bryant began displaying more and more play-making ability, most notably a second quarter run where he broke four tackles on a 24 yard gain. Mikale Wilbon made the most of his limited touches; he continues to impress every time he gets the ball in his hands Grade: A
WR: Pretty solid performance all-around for the receiver corps, with the freshmen J.D. Spielman and Tyjon Lindsey showing flashes of ability. I really haven't worried much about NU's receivers in recent years, and Keith Williams continues to do good work developing this group. I really was impressed by tight end Tyler Hoppes, who showed me the best hands I've seen on a Husker tight end in many seasons. Grade: B+
OL: When the offense rushes for 225 yards, the line is probably doing fairly well. But much of that yardage was on the edge, and there were more than a few breakdowns inside on passing. And on that safety, Tre Bryant didn't have a chance to get out of the end zone. Grade: B-
DL: I'm not quite sure what to make of the defensive line in this game; I think the entire defense was put into positions not suited for success. Keep an eye on true freshman Deontre Thomas this season; he played a lot in the opener, and for good reason. Freedom Akinmoladun stopped one second quarter scoring threat by deflecting a pass to Tyrin Ferguson. Grade: D
LB: Luke Gifford took advantage of his playing time to lead with nine tackles. But trying to use linebackers to cover three receiver sets is going to lead to breakdowns. Grade: D-
Secondary: Early on, the corners were really on an island without any help, and they got burned over and over and over again. Bob Diaco gambled that he could sacrifice this game a bit for an advantage down the line; we'll see if it pays off. Let's see where this goes, but for now, we'll just grade this as a D- and move on
Special Teams: Definitely a work in progress, as we saw some really good (Caleb Lightbourn's punting, J.D. Spielman's kickoff return) and some really awful (Arkansas State's punt return touchdown and Stanley Morgan's uncalled fumble) Grade: D+
What would you grade the Huskers performance vs. Arkansas State?
This poll is closed
A: A win’s a win
B: Lot of good things, the D will take care of itself
C: Yes it’s a win, but yes there’s work to do
D: The defense was too much to overlook the offensive output.
F: We should just cancel the season
Overall: C- It's a win, but not exactly a confidence inspiring win. A lot of teams had uninspiring first halves in their season openers (Wisconsin, Ohio State and Northwestern, just in the Big Ten), but made up for it with impressive second half play. Nebraska didn't really do that.
Elsewhere in College Football
Alabama: A Saban gonna' Saban.
Oregon: A The Ducks hung 77 on 1-AA Southern Utah. Husker fans really hope Bob Diaco held back a bunch of coverage for next Saturday
Liberty: A+ Turner Gill finally got a Big XII win at Baylor.
Purdue: B Nothing to be ashamed of in losing to Louisville by a touchdown. The days of Purdue being the laughingstock of the Big Ten west division may be over.