I’ve got to admit that I’ve got some mixed opinions on this game. If you would have told me Nebraska would have defeated Buffalo 28-3 a month ago, I would have been a little concerned. Last week, on the other hand, I’d grudgingly say that’s OK.
Especially that three part. Any time you keep a team out of the endzone, that’s a good performance defensively. But only scoring 14 points in the first three quarters doesn’t make me feel particularly good. Nebraska SHOULD be able to run the ball more effectively - especially against a MAC squad - than they showed this week. That’s not all on the running backs; there was little room for them to run against Buffalo. I do believe that Scott Frost and Matt Lubick decided to try to challenge their offense to work through it, rather than change their game plan to compensate. The way the Blackshirts were playing, the game seemed someone under control...though we all knew that all it would take is one awful turnover to tighten this game in a hurry.
And that turnover never came. For all of the criticism that Adrian Martinez has taken during his career for turnovers, he’s been significantly improved this season. Yes, there was the awful game-changing turnover against Illinois, but that’s been it. Three games, one fumble and ZERO interceptions.
To me, Frost decided to just see if the Huskers could just gut this game out. The receiver corps was limited with Oliver Martin and Omar Manning sidelined. Austin Allen and Zavier Betts soon joined them. (How many of you had to Google walk-on tight end “Nate Boerkircher” after he caught a pass on Nebraska’s first drive?) And the bottom line is that Nebraska did gut this one out. So with that, it’s onto the report card. As always, your feedback is welcome in the comments.
QB: If you are looking for an offensive player of the game, it’s undoubtedly Adrian Martinez. 68% completion percentage, 242 yards passing and 112 yards rushing...and once again, no turnovers. And he just looked a little more poised in the pocket this week. Early on, I wanted to really downgrade him for his overthrow of a wide open Chris Hickman, but he did so many other good things on a day when he didn’t have a whole lot of help, I can’t downgrade him much. Even Logan Smothers threw a nice deep pass to Hickman. Last year, Nebraska’s longest downfield pass was 37 yards; against Buffalo, Nebraska had three pass completions of at least 55 yards. Grade: A-
I-Back: Yuck. Nebraska’s three I-backs combined for 33 yards on 16 first half carries. The numbers improved a bit with Gave Ervin’s 21 and 11 yard runs in the second half, that just moved it from pathetic to poor. That’s not going to work the rest of the season, because Nebraska is going to see stronger defenses the rest of the way. Grade: D-
WR: I’ve long believed that one of Nebraska’s biggest offensive problems the last several seasons is the failure to recruit or develop receivers post-Pelini. The last good receiver was Stanley Morgan Jr. (technically a Pelini recruit), though Wan’Dale Robinson showed flashes (despite being misused). Finally, we have a dependable receiver in Samori Toure, who ranks 21st nationally in receiving yards per game with 102. Finally, Nebraska has someone who can get open deep and make defenses pay for stacking the box. Against Buffalo, Frost didn’t play that card much, but against other teams, it’ll be a requirement. Chris Hickman’s emergence makes the tight end group look even more deep. Grade: A
OL: The run blocking was simply awful, but to be fair, the pass blocking was OK. So I can’t put an “F” on this group. One observation I had occurred when Matt Sichterman left the game briefly with cramps; Nouredin Nouili came in for a few plays and the running game came to life briefly with a couple of nice runs. It may have been a coincidence, but hopefully the coaches noticed that as well. Grade: D-
DL: Either Damion Daniels’ alternate helmet had some major malfunctions or the referees missed at least two facemask penalties. Ben Stille had three quarterback hurries. All told, it was a strong performance by the defensive line in holding down an offense that put up 69 points the week before. Grade: A
LB: Normally, I’d say that Luke Reimer’s 16 tackle and almost-pick-six interception would be a lock for Big Ten defensive player of the week honors. But with Iowa’s Matt Hankins picking off two Cyclone passes, Reimer might not get the kudos he deserves. Nick Henrich also had a strong game as well with two quarterback hurries and eight tackles. The only linebacker who had an off day was Pheldarius Payne, who ended up getting picked on a bit in the run game. Grade: A
Secondary: I know Nebraska was more concerned with Buffalo’s ground attack than passing, but the coverage was a little soft for most of the game. Not a lot of yards, mind you...but Buffalo was able to keep the sticks moving in the first three quarters. Grade: B+
Special Teams: Kickoffs were fine, though two kicks were returned. Punting was subpar, and punt returns were a debacle once again. Connor Culp missed three field goals officially, though it was clear from the replay that the last kick was good. There were reports last month that Culp had some injury issues a couple of weeks ago; if that’s the issue, it might be best to let him rest. Grade: F
Overall: B- Offense left a bit to be desired, but considering the injuries, it’s understandable to some extent. Anytime your defense doesn’t give up a touchdown, you have to be pleased. But next up is a real test.
How would you grade the Huskers for their 28-3 victory over Buffalo?
A - A great game in the heat
B - Great defense...OK offense
C - Could have played a lot better on offense
D - Displeasure with running game prevents a higher grade
Elsewhere in College Football
Iowa State: D- It doesn’t matter how well your defense plays...going minus-four in turnovers is a losing proposition.
Texas: F According to Burnt Orange Nation, Steve Sarkisian’s honeymoon is over after two games. Of course, losing to a bottom feeder in the conference you are planning to escape to is LOLworthy.
Florida State: Zero. I think their cheer squad says it best.
The Florida State cheerfolks said pic.twitter.com/TXds3a89Nt— Josh Sánchez (@joshnsanchez) September 12, 2021
Notre Dame: D- A week after surviving that same Florida State team in overtime, the Irish needed a last minute comeback drive to hold off an upset bid by (checks notes) Toledo.