I admit it...I predicted a Husker loss today. I didn’t have a lot of faith in the Nebraska offense after last week, especially considering the loss of three offensive linemen plus receiver Billy Kemp.
Fortunately, the Blackshirts didn’t share that same pessimism. It was another great performance by the defense. Are these the same players that was the third or fourth worst defense in the Big Ten last season? For the most part, yep. It just points out to me that one of the biggest misconceptions in college football is the whole idea that “Jimmies & Joes matter more than the X’s and O’s.” This season is proof that the right X’s and O’s matters a heck of a lot more than having a bunch of highly ranked recruits.
Butbutbut... just look at Georgia, the recruitniks say! Well, before Kirby Smart arrived in Athens, he was one helluva defensive coordinator for Alabama. So yeah, X’s and O’s matter. Still don’t believe me? Just look at recruiting champions like Jimbo Fisher...coaches that recruit, recruit, recruit, but can’t get over the hump. Recruiting doesn’t matter if you don’t know what to do with that talent. The other Husker sites that make their money from selling recruiting coverage can’t tell you that...but I can, because CornNation is a free site.
Am I a cheerleader for Nebraska defensive coordinator Tony White? Absolutely, because White and the rest of this coaching staff are the reason why Nebraska sits at five wins going into November...something that hasn’t been done in Lincoln since 2016. Nebraska has outrecruited the Big Ten west over the last decade, but now they are now starting to outplay the offensively-challenged division.
And unlike Iowa and Minnesota fans, I can have faith in Matt Rhule to figure out how to get a functioning offense. Nebraska finds themselves entering November in a four-way tie for first place with I-wa (missing their top quarterback), Minnesota (wishing they were missing their top quarterback) and Wisconsin (missing their top quarterback and now their top running back). Nebraska’s won three in a row and five of their last six. The Huskers have a defense that can win any of November’s games, as long as the offense doesn’t blow it.
With that, it’s onto this week’s report card. As always, your feedback is welcome in the comments.
QB: Another somewhat pedestrian performance from Heinrich Haarberg. Huge play hitting freshman Jaylen Lloyd for the long touchdown, and got the ball in position for Jayden Doss to try to make a catch early on. But two second half fumbles continues a sad pattern. While Haarberg was being checked for injury, Jeff Sims came on in relief, only to fumble as well. I dare say that if Haarberg has to leave the game again, I want to see Chubba Purdy in that situation. Grade: C-
I-Back: Emmitt Johnson averaged 5.8 yards per carry Saturday. I think that it’s long past-time to feed the I-backs more and run the quarterback less. You don’t need the QB taking as many shots, and the quarterback position has had consistent turnover issues. The biggest issue with the rushing game is that defenses are sitting there with ten defenders in the box; it’s just too congested, and the only way that clears out is for Nebraska’s passing game to start contributing more. Grade: B+
(After the game, Matt Rhule referred to the running backs as “I-Backs” in a nod to this classic traditional position name at Nebraska. I’ve never stopped using “I-Back” on these report cards, and won’t be changing it. In fact, I’m hoping that Rhule’s staff will revert back and make this official on the depth charts and official rosters.)
WR: Solid performance with a limited ask, due to the conditions. Jaidyn Doss had a chance to make a huge catch on Nebraska’s opening drive, but didn’t convert. But Jailyn Lloyd showed his potential on his long pass play. But the image that will stick in my mind is Nate Boerkircher failing to finish his block, allowing Lloyd’s jet sweep to be stopped for no gain with lots of green ahead of him. Nebraska had control of this game, and considering the conditions, Nebraska didn’t need to throw the ball to win this week. But at some point, Nebraska needs to force defenses out of the box and respect the freshmen receivers, who are certainly talented enough to make things happen. Grade: B
OL: Aside from an early penalty, I thought the offensive line did OK with three new starters. The clogged rushing game isn’t the fault of the offensive line; it’s third level guys making those plays crashing the line. Grade: C
DL: Not a big stat day, but strong consistent play. Jimari Butler had a couple of big plays and Ty Robinson had a couple of quarterback hurries. With a mobile quarterback like Hudson Card, I wasn’t expecting big numbers. What I found surprising was Purdue’s choice to feed the ball to converted receiver Tyrone Tracy instead of Devin Mockobee, the former walk-on that made Nebraska bleed last year in West Lafayette. Mockobee averaged six yards a carry this year against Nebraska; Tracy was less than half of that. Grade: A
LB: Solid performance all around in this game as well. Luke Reimer had some of the bigger plays of though John Bullock did lead the linebackers with seven tackles. Grade: A
Secondary: What a game from this group. Quinton Newsome might get some player of the week consideration for his fumble recoveries and blocked kick return. Tommi Hill had two interceptions, and Isaac Gifford did his usual great job, leading with ten tackles. Not perfect, because there was a little bit of coverage issues...but let’s go with a solid A+ for a grade.
Special Teams: Tristan Alvano drilled a 55 yard field goal, and Brian Buschini averaged over 45 yards per punt. Oh a blocked kick as well, so you’d think this was a solid “A” performance, right? Well, Garrett Snodgrass fumbled the opening kickoff, but normally an upback blocker isn’t the returner. But the big issue was punt returns ... or the lack thereof. Alex Bullock is supposed to be the “punt safe” return guy, but he fumbled one and let another roll away from him. And a couple of those “fair catch” punts probably could have been returned. It’s clear he’s not the answer as the punt returner, so hopefully there are some open auditions this week to find someone who can return a punt. Grade: B
Overall: B- The defense had control of this game, and even when Nebraska’s offense got turnover happy, I wasn’t terribly concerned. Fortunately, Nebraska just went heavy I-back to salt the game away. Maybe that’s the lesson learned down the stretch. In future weeks, Nebraska will need to loosen up the box with the passing game, but a heavier dose of I-back runs and a little less Haarberg designated runs needs to be in order. Would love to see a back lead NU next week in rushing carries.
How would you grade the Huskers 31-14 victory over Purdue?
This poll is closed
A - A THREE GAME WINNING STREAK!!!
B - Championship defense, but the offense needs to hold onto the ball.
C - Can’t go far just merely trying to out-Iowa the rest of the Big Ten.
D - Don’t like all of these turnovers