It’s darkest before the dawn.
It’s somewhat ironic that on a clear, sunny September Saturday, the prospects for Husker football couldn’t have looked bleaker at halftime with Nebraska tied 7-7 with North Dakota. Not North Dakota State, the Division 1-AA National Champions nine out of the last 11 years. This was the North Dakota Fighting Hawks, the hockey school that was going toe-to-toe with the Huskers. CN’s Jon Johnston called it the “saddest half of football in Nebraska history.” I’d disagree, because I’d say that the saddest half was in 2007 when Oklahoma State took a 38-0 halftime lead into the locker room. That’s not to say it wasn’t bad, because it was bad. Scott Frost even said so during his BTN halftime interview.
But the second half was better. Not great, but better. We saw Nebraska decide to establish the ground game with Anthony Grant and Ajay Allen separating themselves from the rest of the I-back room. And perhaps most importantly, Nebraska didn’t beat themselves at the end of the game. The running criticism of Nebraska is that teams just need to keep it close and wait for Nebraska to fold.
Nebraska not only didn’t fold; they made the final score look about what people expected (coming within one point of Friday’s 22 point spread). It wasn’t a fourth quarter folding; it was a commanding fourth quarter performance. Did this team figure themselves out towards the end of the game? We won’t know if this holds, but it is refreshing to see Nebraska closing a game out properly to break an eleven month losing streak.
That’s not to say all is well in Huskerville. Nebraska football still has it’s issues that I believe start up front on both sides of the ball. The Huskers are really young on both lines; only Broc Bando (senior),Trent Hixon (senior), Ochaun Mathis (junior) and Garrett Nelson (junior) are upperclassmen in the starting lineup. The lines will get better, but it will take time and patience..and that’s something that I think Husker fans are out of at this point
So with that, it’s on with this week’s report card. As always, your feedback is welcome in the comments.
QB: Casey Thompson starts fine on the script, but then seems to struggle as the game proceeds. Not sure if that’s on Mark Whipple or Thompson. I suspect it may be complicated by the apparent fact that at this point, what Whipple wants to do may not be what the players are best at. I think we saw that in the second half where Nebraska ran the ball rather effectively to take command of the game. I think Nebraska has some good receivers, but Thompson was erratic on several throws. Trey Palmer had to wait for the pass to open the second half, and that interception was a really bad read. Thompson hasn’t been bad...but he hasn’t been great either. Grade: C-
I-Back: Nebraska’s newcomers have separated themselves from the pack. Anthony Grant has become for the offense what JoJo Domann was for the defense previously: an eraser for others mistakes. He made yards appear when there was no blocking (or when the handoff was blown) Whether he can do it against elite defenses remains to be seen, but it’s clear that Grant is this offense’s best weapon. Ajay Allen looks like he’s a keeper as well. I really wonder what Frost’s offense might have looked like last season with either of those backs. Grade: A
WR: Trey Palmer was the big receiver this week, but Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda hardly saw many snaps; I have to wonder if he got dinged up. Omar Manning continues to be an enigma who looks like he could be a dominant receiver at times who then disappears for extended periods. (Maybe it’s his blocking that holds him back at times.) Nate Boerkircher finally got the nerves out and got a touchdown catch. Grade: B
OL: Teddy Prochazka is clearly not recovered from his ACL injury; he might be the Huskers best option at left tackle, but he’s not the player he was prior to the injury. He’ll almost certainly get better as he recovers. At right guard, I’m starting to think that Henry Lutovsky is going to end up being the long term answer there. I do think this line will be much better next year than this year because the best pieces have multiple years of eligibility left. This line did a better job run blocking in the second half, and that’s something to build from. Grade: D
DL: To me, this was the most disappointing part of the game as North Dakota could regularly get enough push to get three yards up the middle. It was good to see the linemen rotating around more to stay fresher, but this whole group is going to need to become much more physical over the net ‘Bama transfer Stephon Wynn might have been the most impressive defensive lineman. Grade: D-
LB: The absence of Nick Heinrich probably was a big factor in the defense’s troubles. True freshman Ernest Hausmann has the athletic ability to play at this level, but tackling college players instead of high schoolers led to some growing pains with some early missed tackles. I thought Caleb Tannor probably had the best game of the linebackers, for what it’s worth. Grade: D
Secondary: Marques Buford had a hot and cold game; he got spun like a top trying to wrangle Isaiah Smith on his 63 yard run, but then followed it up with a strong pass breakup. Erik Chinander had a couple of mistimed blitz calls that lead to big gains (like the 63 yarder). One player who looks like an up-and-comer is nickel Issac Gifford, filling the hole Jojo Domann left. The stat for the day is that North Dakota completed seven of ten passes on third and long (7 yards or longer). That’s not getting off the field, and Nebraska needs to be MUCH better than that. Grade: D-
Overall: D+ The Huskers needed to sweat this one out against a spunky 1-AA team clearly more motivated than they were. It’s not the first time NU has struggled with an opponent like this (South Dakota State 2011, McNeese State 2014), but it was certainly a stronger finish than those other two games.
Pregame: A Loved the idea of replicating the entrance music for Edwin Diaz of the New York Mets prior to the opening kickoff. For those of you that didn’t see it, the Mets closer uses “Narco” from Blasterjaxx and Timmy Trumpet as his entrance music, but earlier last week, Trumpet played “Narco” live at a game and video of it went viral. So I wasn’t completely surprised that Nebraska tried to copy it..but what surprised me is that former Husker Will Compton was the trumpeter. This could become a fun way to recognize former players before each game...as long as they don’t mike up the trumpet for these athletes!
Grade the Huskers for their 38-17 over the F’n Hawks
This poll is closed
A - A win!
B - Better than a loss
C - Could have been a lot better
D - Disappointed it took until the 4th quarter to close this game out
F - I’m still mad over the previous games
Elsewhere in College Football
I-wa D- Squawkeye fans can’t ridicule Husker fans this week for their struggles against a 1-AA -pp-nent. At least Nebraska sc-red a t-uchd-wn. (Great defense keeps them from failing.)
Ohio State B- Kept things far more interesting than expected in primetime.
LSU/Florida State BANANAS The last two minutes were “must watch TV” as two fabled programs tried to lose to the other.