Another season opener in the books, and as always, the postgame analysis temptation is to try to draw conclusions based upon 60 minutes of football played against a team from the sans bowl division. Heck, given the final margin and quality of the opponent, you’d be hard pressed to say there were 45 minutes where anything conclusive should be found.
So what did we learn?
The mystical, magical Tim Beck Offense sure looked familiar. A fullback dive on the first play (which I believe was required by Big Ten bylaw). More option football in one quarter than we saw in the seven seasons since Frank Solich left town. Passing routes down the middle of the field. Did anybody else wonder if some of the early play calls were coming from Beck or if they were coming from the Athletic Director’s suite?
Taylor Martinez is a pretty good player when he’s healthy. You’ll note that I did not say “Heisman candidate” or even “exceptional player”. There were some first game jitters, some mental errors, and several throws with sloppy technique. But he looked as fast as ever, especially in the open field. I don’t recall any throws that were waaayyy off target. Finally, he was smart with the football – when his receivers were covered and he had room to run, he tucked it and picked up yards. Most importantly – he did not play the whole game, and left healthy.
Brent Maher can turn a question mark into an exclamation point. I’ll be honest – I figured that when Alex Henery graduated, I’d watched my last 50 yard FG for a few years. In trying to reset my expectations, I told myself to be thrilled with a 50% FG rate over 40 yards. So when Brent Maher lined up from 50 for his first attempt, it was likely the most anticipated field goal since Mr. Henery hit from 57 against Colorado in 2009. Much like his predecessor, Maher passed the test with flying colors (and a fair amount of surprise). Throw in three more FGs, some booming punts, and a few touchbacks on kickoffs, and the question must be asked: why didn’t this guy play last year? Oh yeah…
There is plenty to work on for next week. Could you tell it was the first game of the season? Lots of fumbles, sloppy execution on the option, stalled drives, missed tackles, busted coverage, and bunch of other things to give Bo a full week of practice and make the casual fan rethink those hotel reservations in Indy. Don’t worry – it’s early. If we’re seeing some of these things in the Ohio State game, then we’ll talk.
What don’t we know?
What offensive wrinkles will we see next week? I’m guessing the passing game will expand, both in terms of receivers and routes. Probably a little less reliance on Martinez to be the entire offense, and more work for Burkhead and the freshmen. And let’s predict another touch for the fullback. Just because.
Who is the #2 RB? All three of the touted freshman RBs (Braylon Heard, Ameer Abdullah, and Aaron Green) played and combined for 20 yards on 9 carries. While Rex Burkhead’s job is safe, Husker fans (and the coaching staff) would love to have one or two of the new guys separate themselves to become reliable backups. Of course, part of the challenge of working with three true freshmen is the only thing you can consistently expect is inconsistency.
Is the sloppy play a result of this being game #1 or something more? There were a lot of ugly moments. I think a lot of the blame can be pointed at this being the first game with a new offense, as well as having a lot of young players seeing their first experience. Given there were only three penalties, I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Bo’s squad improving next week and the weeks after.
5 Players I Loved
- Brent Maher. Replacing the legendary Alex Henery, nobody on the roster has bigger shoes to fill than Brent Maher. Everybody knew that we could not expect Maher to maintain Alex’s high standard of excellence. So the collective eyebrows of a fan base were raised when Maher’s first attempt was from 50 yards – which he drilled through with a good 10 yards to spare. A 48 yarder, 2 other FGs, and 4 PATs, all with ease. Oh yeah, throw in four punts for a 52 yard average, and a couple of touchbacks on kickoffs, and Maher easily earns the top spot on this list.
- Cameron Meredith. Sacks, tackles for loss, an interception, a return of a blocked FG – all with a sweet ponytail/stache combo. If you didn’t know better, you’d swear Meredith was the star NU defensive lineman favored for every trophy, award, and honor a defensive player can earn. No, Crick is still the headliner on D-Line, but if Meredith can play at a high level, it opens up more opportunities for everyone else.
- Daimion Stafford. Sure, he probably had the hit of the game early in the 3rd Quarter. But he’s on this list for the way he played – fast, aggressive, and with a purpose. But yeah, that was a pretty sweet hit.
- Quincy Enunwa. Four catches for 58 yards isn’t much to write home about, and if that was the line put up by Brandon Kinnie, Kyler Reed, or Ben Cotton, it wouldn’t be good enough for the top 5. But on a team with little WR experience, making tough catches counts for a lot.
- Trevor Roach. One of the many first game traditions is learning the numbers of the new starters and contributors. The first player to send me scrambling for the roster was #43, Trevor Roach. For a team that needs depth at LB, Roach looked like a player who could step in and start.
5 Areas for Improvement
- Sean Fisher. From everything I have heard and read about the injury Fisher suffered, it is simply amazing that he can walk without a limp, let alone be a starting linebacker for a top 15 team. But his first game in over a year left a little to be desired. Poor angles to the ball, sloppy tackling, let’s just say there are things he can work on this week.
- Brandon Kinnie. BK has positioned himself as the leader of the receiving corps, and I’m sure he wants to be the go-to guy for Martinez and Tim Beck. I don’t care about his low yardage (7) as much as I care about his lack of catches – specifically those that he dropped or should have caught. The play that comes to mind is in the 3rd Quarter: Martinez threw it to Kinnie on a post route. The DB had good coverage, and knocked the ball away. From my couch, it sure looked like BK could have been more aggressive on that play. He might not make the catch, but go after the ball.
- BTN. Today was our first Big Ten game, and due to the opponent, our first game on the Big Ten Network. While there were several good things in their coverage (Kevin Kugler on the call? Yes, please), there were some definite hiccups. I can forgive missing one play because you’re late coming back from commercial, but there were a number of plays that were missed. The BTN was (rightly) touted as one of the big advantages of moving to the B1G, but I expected more from their coverage. (Note: I’m not going to knock on the rookie debut of sideline reporter Ahman Green, but yes, there is room for improvement there too).
- Brion Carnes. Not that anybody will remember come April, but Carnes’s timid performance in relief of Taylor Martinez is a textbook example of why you should not place too much stock in somebody’s statistical domination of the NU Spring Game. Just as nobody gets their jersey retired for the Spring Game, nobody should be attacked for a sloppy 4th Quarter with your team up by 33. That said, the bar is pretty high for a Nebraska QB running the option from the #15 jersey, and Carnes put some tarnish on that proud legacy.
- Me. Your humble blogger watched today’s game from his couch. Why is that noteworthy? It broke a 10 year, 68 game streak of not missing a home Nebraska game. I haven’t missed a Nebraska home opener since 1993. The last game I missed (9/20/2001 vs. Rice) was due to a) an unavoidable business trip, and b) a game delayed by 9/11. The reason today? Lower back surgery on Monday, and advice from my doctor, mother, and wife that sitting on a wooden plank for four hours might not be a wise move. Next week, I’ll be back in Section 32 and a new streak will start. I promise.