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Feit Can Write
There are few things I love more than a good old fashioned whoopin’ – especially when Nebraska is on the giving end. But the challenge is having such an amazing offensive performance in the first game of the season. We spent all spring and summer calibrating our expectations and finding the holes on this team. Then the fall camp “Kool Aid Season” starts, when every second stringer is a future All-American. Now this – a complete and utter annihilation of a team that was bowl eligible last year. Certainly this means that those potential losses (at Fresno? Or Wisconsin? Or maybe Northwestern?) are a little more firmly in the win column.
Or does it?
That is the danger with first games. We draw far too many conclusions off of 60 minutes of football against a team that, frankly, wasn’t very good. Yes, Nebraska looked great, covered the spread, and had several players post career bests. But none of that matters in October when Nebraska plays some big conference games on the road.
Make no mistake, the talent is there. The potential is there too. I believe the desire is as strong as it has been in long time. Now it is time to see if this team can put those pieces together and navigate a schedule chock full of traps and mines. Who knows where this team will be on November 1. But on September 1, all is right with the world. The Huskers are back – and they look good.
So what did we learn?
The offense has some playmakers. The list of guys who had big offensive days is very long and contains multiple running backs and receivers, as well as the quarterback. But what encourages me the most are the glimpses I saw from guys who did not light up the stat sheet: Alonzo Moore looks every bit as talented as Kenny Bell and company. I believe that Cethan Carter will be a breakout player. And I liked what I saw from Ryker Fyfe.
The place kicker battle is fairly even. The battle between Drew Brown and Mauro Bondi appeared very even on Saturday. Both converted all of the PATs, each made a field goal over 40 yards, and looked confident doing it. Brown definitely appears to be the starter, but it certainly looks as if Bondi is capable of making a big kick.
It is also worth noting that Bondi is locked in as the kickoff specialist. His power and placement are a thing of beauty.
Nebraska has made solid strides in improving the game day experience. Fireworks! Smoke! Wi-Fi! Speakers that can pump out the volume! The changes and enhancements to the game day experience were notable and extensive. Chris Pankonin (aka the guy who gets Pinnacle Bank Arena rocking for Nebrasketball) had a stellar debut, proving that there are other songs than “Start Me Up” and “Black Betty“.
Clearly, there were some first game hiccups (the smoke during the Tunnel Walk was a bit of a bust and I was underwhelmed with what I found in the Huskers game day app). Additionally, as I’ve stated before, I think there is more Nebraska can do to improve the game day experience, but the stage is set to help make a great environment even better.
So what don’t we know?
When will Randy Gregory be back to full strength? I thought it was strange when I saw Randy Gregory pounding the top of his helmet during the first series, as that is typically the universal “hey, I need to come out” signal. Then I became very frightened when he did not return, as I feared the “Star Senior” jinx had claimed its first underclassman.
Obviously, Gregory will not (and should not) play against McNeese State, and he is currently scheduled to return against Fresno State, but unless depth becomes an issue, I’d be cautious in rushing him back out there.
Where were Imani Cross’s carries? Cross had three carries in the game. Granted, he took one 25 yards and scored on another, but he was very limited in his touches. I understand the idea of seeing what Terrell Newby can do with an expanded workload (although I’d question why that didn’t happen last year when Newby spent a lot of time twiddling his thumbs). I also understand the idea of keeping Cross fresh for conference play, but I’d still like to see the big fella get a chance to work on his all-around game instead of being just a short yardage/goal line guy.
How would this game have played out if FAU was still coached by Carl Pelini? Oh what could have been in Pelini Bowl I. Would Carl’s Owls have put up more of a fight? Would Bo have called the dogs off sooner and tried to keep the final score under 50? Would Johnny Stanton have taken a knee on the final drive instead of doing handoffs (and a pass on the final play) that gained another 42 yards? What crazy defensive schemes would the brothers Pelini throw at each other?
My guess is I’m glad Bo didn’t have to face his brother, but it would have been fun to see the brothers trading blows and yelling at each other across the field.
Four Downs and Four Losses
In my opinion, there are four key areas where Nebraska has fallen down in the last few years. Their inability to be successful (or, at times, competent) in these areas often factor prominently in the four losses that Pelini teams have every year. I believe that to avoid another four loss season, Nebraska needs to win at least two of these four downs every game.
- Turnover Margin: No turnovers by the offense is a very good (and exceedingly rare) thing, although a couple of Tommy Armstrong passes had “pick me!” written all over them. Defensively, Nebraska had a couple of interception chances, but could not convert. Given the issues NU has had with turnovers in their losses, breaking even counts as a WIN.
- Penalties: Things got off to a bad start, with five penalties in the first quarter. But in the second half, NU did not commit a penalty. I find it interesting that two of the six penalties were committed by team captains (Mitchell and Bell) with another on Jake Cotton that was declined. Given that most of the flags either took away big plays or extended FAU drives, this is a LOSS
- Punt Returns: Compared to 2012 and 2013, there was progress here. Kenny Bell had all of five yards on two returns, and a fumble. But I was encouraged by Bell choosing not to catch a punt at his own 10 yard line, running backwards towards the end zone. Sadly, that happened too often in years past. It also appeared that NU was willing to put some pressure on the punter, which is a welcome development. Pierson-El had a couple of chances (gaining 14 yards!), and looks like he could be a threat. WIN.
- Game Management: Before halftime, NU was driving and was at the 38 yard line with a handful of seconds left. It would have been a perfect time to let one of your kickers – who are auditioning for the job – attempt a 55 yard field goal in a game situation. Given the score at the time, I’ll give NU a pass, even though the two minute drill was unsuccessful. WIN.
5 Players I Loved
- Offensive Line. 784 yards of total offense. 498 yards rushing. Zero sacks allowed. Any questions? A dominating performance by a unit playing their first game together.
- Ameer Abdullah. A man playing against boys. Ameer looked to be in mid-season form against the Owls. A career high 232 yards (a number that would have been much higher without some penalties), but he got a few too many touches for my tastes. It would not hurt my feelings to see him only get 8 – 12 carries against McNeese State.
- Jordan Westerkamp. Obviously, the memorable moment from Westerkamp’s day was the once in a lifetime behind the back catch. But for me, his best play was on a 3rd & 7 in the first quarter. Westerkamp caught the ball right at the south sideline. The majority of receivers are happy with getting the first down, and allow their momentum to carry them out of bounds. Instead, Westerkamp put on the brakes and tried to gain more yards. He only got one or two yards before he was tackled, but I love the effort and desire. He looks poised to make a big leap this season.
- Kenny Bell. If Nebraska is going to run with Ameer, defenses are going to cheat up towards the line. This creates opportunities for NU’s receivers to go long, like Bell did on Saturday. Four catches for 116 yards – numbers that would have been better with had Armstrong hit him when he was wide open going towards the north end zone.
- Trevor Roach. I hope you got to see the defensive series Trevor Roach put together in the 4th Quarter. First down: He drops into coverage and nearly intercepts an Owl pass. Second down: He sniffs out a running play and makes a tackle after a very short gain. Third down: Roach comes up the middle on a delayed blitz and nearly gets a sack – delivering a crushing hit on the FAQ quarterback. Granted, this all happened in mop-up duty, but don’t be surprised if Roach earns more playing time.
Honorable Mention: Zaire Anderson, Terrell Newby, Ryker Fyfe, Daniel Davie, Greg McMullen, Option football
5 Areas for Improvement
- Punting. I’ll say this right out of the gate: When you win 55-7 with almost 800 yards of offense, you have to be rather nit-picky to find five things to improve upon. With that disclaimer, I’d like to see Sam Foltz average more than 35.5 yards per kick – even if he is working with a new long snapper.
- Tommy Armstrong. His numbers (271 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT) look good, but there were still some bad throws. Armstrong sailed back to back throws to Alonzo Moore that would have led to big plays. I liked that he threw the ball away when he felt nothing was there, but on a couple of those attempts he could have checked it down to the running back.
- Turnovers. Nebraska needs to capitalize on turnover opportunities. Turnovers don’t matter too much when you’re putting up 50+ points, but I’d love to see the defense get into a mode where they are looking to get the ball.
- Kickoff coverage. As I mentioned above, Mauro Bondi had a great day kicking off. Ten kickoffs and seven touchbacks – including a couple that were perfectly placed in the corner of the end zone. That is outstanding. But on the three kickoffs that were returned, FAU’s Lucky Whitehead picked up 105 yards, with a long of 44 yards. Their success was not due to missed tackles, rather large lanes in the middle of the coverage unit.
- Fireworks Trigger Man. So apparently Nebraska is going to shoot off fireworks after every touchdown. I can do without it, but whatever makes the kids happy. The problem is whomever is firing those things off has a bit of an itchy trigger finger. At one point, a Husker was down at the one yard line, but fireworks were going off. Seriously, wait for the ref to raise his arms, then go nuts with your mortars.
[COLOR=#FF0000][I]Dave Feit is a freelance writer living in Lincoln. Additional thoughts on the Huskers (and everything else) can be found on his blog ([URL=”http://www.feitcanwrite.com”%5Dwww.feitcanwrite.com%5B/URL%5D). Follow him on [URL=”http://www.twitter.com/feitcanwrite”%5D%5BU%5DTwitter%5B/U%5D%5B/URL%5D or on [URL=”http://www.facebook.com/feitcanwrite”%5D%5BU%5DFacebook%5B/U%5D%5B/URL%5D.