Fordham made Husker fans sweat for much of the first half on a cloudy and cool Saturday morning before the game settled down to finish out the way everyone should have expected when the game was announced last spring. After the game, Scott Frost said they tried to keep things basic against Fordham, though they did show enough wrinkles to make future opponents think twice about stacking the box and force Nebraska to throw the ball effectively.
The stats pretty much reflect the reality of the game. At the end of the first quarter, Nebraska led in first downs (8-5), total yards (107-88) and on the scoreboard (7-0). Led yes, but way closer than anybody would expect a team like Fordham, who should have been outmatched badly. But in the second half? Nebraska dominated in first downs (17-1), total yards (331-71) and in scoring (28-0). Double that for a full game, and that would result in a decent grade. But give Fordham credit; they battled the Big Red for a quarter and then some, so this week’s report card has to reflect that.
So with that, here’s this week’s report card. As always, your feedback is welcome in the comments.
QB: I heard the grumblings when Adrian Martinez was announced as part of the starting lineup as the band left the field. Martinez didn’t, because he was still back in the locker room. There wasn’t much need for grumbling about him after the game. He needed this game to help establish a rhythm with his receivers, and completing 74% of his passes is progress. He had plenty of time to go through his progressions...perhaps too much. Mario Verduzco talks about wanting a “quick blinker” at quarterback, and at times, Martinez was anything but quick. He can get away with that against Fordham, but he won’t against this Big Ten schedule. Logan Smothers played just over a quarter in relief, but I’m not sure much can be taken away from his debut. (He’s not going to really challenge Martinez at this time, in case some of you are still asking.) Grade: B
I-Back: I think Southern Cal transfer Markese Stepp established himself as Nebraska’s top I-back in this game with a 101 yard performance. After the first quarter, Stepp averaged over 6 yards a carry in this game. Sevion Morrison looks like he might be worth watching with more playing time. And in garbage time, Jaquez Yant looked like he was man among little kids when he came in late; if Frost ever decideshe wants to implement some old-school I-formation plays and run some of the offense he ran 25 years ago, Yant is your fullback. Still, you’d like to have seen bigger numbers earlier in the game with the physical advantage NU enjoyed over Fordham. Grade: B-
WR: Samori Toure might be even better than the player Nebraska fans hoped he would be; he’s the downfield passing threat that’s been missing since Stanley Morgan graduated. That option pitch is something that Frost put on video for opponents to see and have to prepare for. Omar Manning also showed as a complimentary deep threat as well...and Austin Allen continues to be Mr. Reliable. Would like to see more consistency from Zavier Betts as well. Many people instinctively blamed Adrian Martinez for the overthrow of Wyatt Liewer, but they didn’t see Liewer slow up... or note that Liewer spent a lot more time on the sideline the rest of the day. Grade: A-
OL: Cam Jurgens didn’t have his best game snapping the ball, though Martinez did a good job controlling them. And let’s be honest... against an opponent like Fordham, you’d like to see the offensive line driving into the second level and engaging players like 1-AA All-American linebacker Ryan Greenhagan before they tackle a running back. (24 of Greenhagan’s 30 tackles were of a running back.) Grade: D+
DL: I get that the scheme was to play a base defense and not put any schemes on video, but I expected a lot better defense early on. Once Nebraska established their physical superiority and wore down Fordham, things were fine. Still, I expected a lot more things to get shut down at the line, and that didn’t really happen Grade: C
LB: Somewhat the same situation as with the line. It’s interesting to note that Northern Iowa transfer Chris Kolarevic saw a lot more playing time as the game unfolded. In the fourth quarter, junior college transfer Etuva Mauga-Clements made an awful lot of noise with a couple of tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Grade: C+
Secondary: Deontai Williams’ two interceptions had to rate as two of the biggest plays of the game defensively for the Big Red. Grade: B-
Special Teams: The good was Brendan Franke and Kelen Meyer putting all nine kickoffs into the end zone with no returns. And don’t forget Marquel Dismuke’s blocked field goal. The bad was Zavier Betts not being able to return either kickoff to the 25 yard line. If this continues, just fair catch it and take the ball at the 25. The ugly was once again Cam Taylor-Britt’s miscue returning a punt. It’s probably time to let someone else field punts. Grade: B-
Overall: C The final score doesn’t reflect how close the game was early on. Did Nebraska figure something out as the game went on? That’s the question we’ll wait to answer.
How would you grade the Huskers for their victory over Fordham?
A - All I could ask for
B - Could have been better at the start
C - Not good initally, but finished strong
D - Disappointed by the start of the game