I think this tweet sums up my thoughts about Nebraska’s 35-11 victory over Northern Illinois:
BREAKING: Winning is fun!— Husker Mike (@Husker_Mike) September 17, 2023
It was fun. It was yet another dominating defensive performance, and while the offense was pedestrian at best, sophomore Heinrich Haarberg did what Jeff Sims didn’t do the first two weeks: not make an unforced error. (Yes, Haarberg did have a fumble inside his own five yard line, but that one goes on a collapse by the offensive line.) Once Nebraska got up by two scores, it seemed the game was under control with the way the Blackshirts are performing.
Northern Illinois probably isn’t a very good team...but they did upset Boston College to open the season. (Then lost to 1-AA Southern Indiana last week.) But it’s Nebraska’s best home victory since the 56-7 blowout of Northwestern in 2021. So it’s something to celebrate, because winning is fun and Nebraska hasn’t had a lot of fun in football in recent years. So it’s onto the report card, and as always, your feedback is welcome in the comments.
QB: As stated above, Heinrich Haarberg didn’t make the silly mistakes that Jeff Sims made the first two weeks. I still believe that Sims earned the starting spot in practice because he can do things that Haarberg and Chubba Purdy cannot, so when Sims ankle is ready, Sims should get another shot to start. That being said, if Sims continues to be a turnover machine, Nebraska has options at quarterback that must be explored. Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin combine great defense with not-screwing-up-offense to produce bowl-eligible teams. Haarberg gave Nebraska the net production that Spencer Petras gave Iowa last season, and that got Iowa to a bowl game. A bowl game would be step forward.
If Haarberg continues to play, the number of runs has to be cut in half or more. It’s not sustainable for the quarterback to be the leading ball carrier; it was what went wrong with Adrian Martinez at Nebraska. (For what it’s worth, Jeff Sims has also been asked to take too much of the rushing load in the first two games.) Haarberg threw the ball OK, though he did lock into a sidearm motion as the game went on. Not that it’s a bad thing inherently; a guy named Patrick Mahomes does it a lot. Bottom line is that Haarberg didn’t look like a quarterback who hadn’t started a real game in three years, let alone the first time in front of 90,000 fans. Grade: B
I-Back: They need more touches. Gabe Ervin and Anthony Grant combined to rush 21 times for 113 yards; that’s a 5.0 yards/carry average. Grant was seemingly more effective in his limited carries, but both need to touch the ball more. Grade: B
WR: Nebraska has to find a way to get their freshmen receivers more involved in the offense, because there just aren’t enough weapons in the passing game outside of the tight ends. Tommi Hill did have his man beat at the start of the third quarter; that might have broken the game open there if that pass gets completed. And there’s no denying that Haarberg and tight end Thomas Fidone have a connection. Anybody else catch Fidone’s “shhh...back to bed” gesture after his touchdown? Pretty sure that was aimed at an Omaha radio host who’s notorious for obnoxiously bad hot takes. Grade: C
OL: The offensive line continues it’s struggle. We did see Teddy Prochazka get back on the field this week; hopefully, he can help out in future weeks. Grade: D-
DL: Huskies in the wild know not to mess around with polar bears, and the Huskies from DeKalb learned that the hard way as Nash Hutmacher was dominant. There was no running room for Northern Illinois at all as Nebraska put up it’s best rush defense performance in years. Grade: A
LB: With this swarming defense, sometimes the linebackers don’t get enough credit for their work. Good contributions across the group this week, especially Luke Reimer who had a couple of quarterback hurries. Grade: A
Secondary: Pretty much suffocating pass defense, highlighted by Javin Wright’s interception. Quinton Newsome had two pass breakups; one should have been an interception. Grade: A
Special Teams: Getting nit-picky here after so many years of bad special teams. One of Tristan Alvano’s kickoffs went out of bounds while Brian Buscini popped one up. And frankly, I’d prefer that NU just fair caught any kickoff return and take the ball at the 25 yard line. Buscini did have a great game punting, dropping one bomb inside the two yard line. A sold grade of a B.
Overall: B- The Huskers’ offense dominated Northern Illinois in the fourth quarter, but needed more in the first half. If Trev Alberts isn’t thinking of ways to ensure that Matt Rhule can lock up Tony White after this season, he’d better get started. PAY THAT MAN.
How would you grade the Huskers for their 35-11 victory over Northern Illinois?
A - Amazing Blackshirts
B - Great defense...offense still needs work
C - Defense good, offense not so much
D - Didn’t dominate on offense until the end of the game.
F - I failed to watch...or I’m a friggin Iowa fan.