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Feit Can Write
From this point forward, I propose that Jordan Westerkamp is involved in ALL end of half / end of game Hail Mary situations – especially those directed at the south end zone. Agreed?
And before we go any farther, I think it is a good idea to recite the First Game of the Season Pledge:
I understand this was the first game.
I understand the things I saw in this game don’t necessarily indicate how the season will go.
If we lost, I will avoid panic and doomsday scenarios.
If we won, I will try to consume the Kool-Aid responsibly.
I will not call for coaches to be fired or players to be benched.
It was just the first game.
This team will be much different in November than they are today.
It was just the first game.
Feel free to repeat that as necessary. Some of you may need to recite it hourly – or before venturing over to the message boards.
I encourage you to look at this game with a big picture focus. Yes, even if that final pass falls incomplete there are some serious areas of concern for this team, but overreacting to one game is a fool’s errand. Instead, let’s try to take a rational and reasoned look at what we saw and try to keep our sweeping generalizations to a minimum.
So what did we learn?
There is a lot to like in the Riley/Langsdorf offense. One of the big questions coming into the game was what Nebraska’s offense would look like. Would Riley want to throw it all over the yard? Would they still utilize the running skills of Armstrong? What plays, formations, or wrinkles would we see? Here’s what I saw:
- Screens and quick passes. Armstrong got the ball out quickly to his receivers and let them do something with it. Jordan Westerkamp, Alonzo Moore, Mikale Wilbon and others did just that. Some of the screens were by design, some appeared to be reaction to a porous offensive line.
- Fly sweep and fly sweep motion. Nebraska receivers had four carries (for 22 yards) on the fly sweep, which made it one of the better running plays on the day. Furthermore, Nebraska used the threat of that play to help freeze defenders on other plays. Is anybody else excited to see what a healthy De’Mornay Pierson-El will do with that play?
- Shotgun, pistol, and traditional under center formations. Lest you think this offense is nothing but three and four receiver sets, there were plenty of fullback formations, and even some double tight end looks.
- Throws to the tight ends. The results were mixed – David Sutton was lost on a cheap shot after an overthrow, but Trey Foster caught a touchdown. Regardless, it’s refreshing to see tight ends being utilized as something other than undersized tackles.
This staff can adjust and adapt. It is definitely worth noting that the horror show of a second quarter was followed by what apparently was a very productive halftime of adjustments and countermeasures. Armstrong appeared to have more time to throw in the 3rd quarter – and more quick throws and screens were called. The defensive pressure picked up. Nebraska scored 14 points and held BYU scoreless in the third.
Being on the other end of a Hail Mary really sucks. I’ve attended just about every home game since the start of the 1993 season. Until November 2013, I had never seen a successful Hail Mary in person. Now, I’ve seen two in the last 11 home games. You can chalk up those plays to luck, skill, karma, or lottery-esque odds, but it is amazing and memorable to see an entire game be decided by the football equivalent of a half-court shot at the buzzer. The reactions of the fans and players – on both sides – are intense and something you don’t easily forget.
But I’ll be happy if I go another 125+ games without seeing another one – especially one that goes against Nebraska. That is a terrible way to lose a game.
So what don’t we know?
Who/what should I blame for the loss? After a loss like this, it’s natural to want to assign blame to a player, ref, or coach – fairly or otherwise. I saw folks throwing blame at Drew Brown (two missed field goals), the defensive players or coaches for how the Hail Mary was played, Jamal Turner for getting stuffed on 3rd and 3, Danny Langsdorf for calling the jet sweep on 3rd & 3, clock management, and a number of other candidates.
But if I have to point fingers (or thumbs), I’m starting with the offensive line. Nebraska had three 3rd and short plays in the fourth quarter. On the first (3rd & 1), Armstrong was stuffed for no gain on a quarterback sneak. On the second (3rd & 1), Newby lost three yards up the middle. Facing a third try (3rd & 3) needing a first down to run out the clock, can you really blame Langsdorf for not trusting his line and calling a sweep? What confidence did he have that the line would get enough push to pick up those three yards? Dishonorable mention goes to how poorly Nebraska bled the clock in the fourth quarter, but more on that later on.
Was the second quarter an aberration or a sign of things to come? The second quarter was – even by the lowered standards of the last 13+ years – a disaster. How bad was it? Take a look:
- BYU finishes off a 75 yard TD drive.
- Nebraska has an eight play drive featuring more penalty yards (15) than total yards (14).
- BYU has an 11 play, 55 yard drive resulting in a field goal.
- Nebraska turns it over on their second play.
- BYU converts the turnover into an easy touchdown.
- Nebraska loses an 11 yard reception to penalty, Armstrong gets flagged for intentional grounding, and NU punts on 4th on 29.
- BYU goes three and out.
- Nebraska goes into hurry up mode. Armstrong is 2 of 7 passing and gets sacked. Drew Brown misses a 40 yard FG as the half ends.
In looking through my notes from the game, I wrote “feeling like it could be a long year” somewhere prior to that 4th & 29. Certainly, if the season reflects that disastrous second quarter, it will be a long (and likely ugly) year. It was a perfect storm of bad line play, a flustered quarterback, mental mistake penalties, turnovers, and a defense that struggled to make plays.
Will the entire season be like that one quarter? Probably (hopefully) not. But it may have been a warning that when it goes bad for this team, it may get very ugly very fast.
Do we file the penalties and mistakes under “first game jitters” or “something to expect all season”? Nebraska committed 12 penalties for 90 yards. There were illegal procedures, holds, offsides, pass interference, two intentional grounding flags, a delay of game, and some other assorted penalties and no-nos. While Nebraska did a pretty good job of digging out of many of their self-inflicted holes, I don’t think you want to make a habit of needing to pick up 3rd and 15 when your quarterback is running for his life.
I’m very curious to see if the penalties – especially the mental error ones – drop off or if they continue to haunt Nebraska all season long.
5 Players I Loved
- Tommy Armstrong. Take away an ugly second quarter, and Armstrong played a career game on Saturday. Even with those 15 ugly minutes, Armstrong put up impressive numbers (319 passing yards, 3 TDs, and 1 INT) with a porous offensive line. His best two plays – a great block on Westerkamp’s touchdown, and an ankle-snapping ball fake on an option keeper aren’t in the box score. Going forward, Tommy needs to work on taking his sacks instead of desperately chucking the ball for penalties. That said, I like Nebraska’s chances if they can get this level of performance all year long.
- Jordan Westerkamp. It’s obvious that Westerkamp is the best receiver on the field – regardless of if Pierson-El is playing or not. He’s not flashy and he’s not sprinter fast, but he showed on his 14 yard touchdown that he can be a threat in the open field.
- Nate Gerry. Nebraska entered the third quarter down 10 points. After NU went three and out to start the second half, BYU picked up a quick 16 yards on two plays putting them in Nebraska territory. The crowd was dead and I don’t know how many fans felt confident in NU’s ability to win. In steps Nate Gerry with a big interception and a 43 yard return (partially negated by penalty) to flip momentum and trigger a 14 point run.
- Mikale Wilbon. His numbers (14 yards on six carries, two receptions for 28 yards) don’t necessarily back it up, but the redshirt freshman showed why he was scout team MVP and a favorite of the media members at practice. He showed patience, vision, and good burst. I’m not calling for him to start – yet – but I was very impressed with his play.
- Tyson Broekemeier. Technically listed as a quarterback, and having never played a down in his Husker career, I’m guessing Broekemeier had little to no expectation of taking a snap against BYU. Then, punter Sam Foltz takes an unscheduled ride to the locker room on the cart. Now Broekemeier has to replace one of NU’s best players in a four point game. To make things worse, his own coach attempts to ice him by calling a time out before his first punt. All Broekemeier does is boom his first college kick 48 yards to the BYU 12 yard line.
Honorable Mention: Freedom Akinmoladun, Jack Gangwish, Joshua Kalu, Imani Cross, Dedrick Young, Josh Banderas, Alonzo Moore, new P.A. voice Lane Grindle (did you see some of the tongue twister names on the BYU roster?)
5 Areas for Improvement
- Offensive Line. Nebraska rushed for 126 yards on Saturday. Not in a quarter or a half – for the entire game. Frankly, I’m surprised it was that high. Armstrong was sacked three times and had to run for his life on multiple occasions. Adding to the fun, the high and inaccurate snaps that plagued NU last year came back for another season. I’d like to point the finger a specific guy, but aside from right tackle Nick Gates, I saw every other lineman get beat – sometimes badly. If the line play does not improve – and in a big way – it could be a long year.
- Clock Management. In their final two drives, when it was obvious that Nebraska was trying to bleed the clock, the Huskers did a poor job of draining every possible second. There were plays where Armstrong was under center with 15 seconds left on the play clock. You just can’t leave an offensive lineman in his stance for 10-12 seconds without risking penalties. On other plays, the ball was snapped with five or six seconds remaining. Obviously, those wasted seconds came back to haunt NU.
- Drew Brown. When talking about the shortcomings of college kickers, Nebraska fans should always take time to acknowledge the string of talented guys to come through the program in the last 20 years who set the bar so high. That said, going 0-2 from 40 and 41 yards is rough – especially in a five point loss. It’s worth noting that after halftime, Brown came out and lined up his first practice kick from the same spot where he missed 20 minutes earlier. He drilled it right down the middle.
- Pass defense. Even without the 42 yard Hail Mary, BYU still racked up 337 passing yards against the Blackshirts. And it was easy to see why: Nebraska struggled to get a consistent pass rush and in many cases, the defensive backs were playing 7-10 yards off the receiver. That allowed Taysom Hill and Tanner Mangum to play catch with their tall receivers for most of the game.
- Defensive timeouts. You thought they were gone. I thought they were gone. But Nebraska called not one, not two, but three defensive timeouts on Saturday. Somewhere, a man in a Penguin polo shirt cracked a smile.