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So….that didn’t exactly go as planned, did it?
The good news, if you want to see it, is in the big picture this loss doesn’t really hurt Nebraska.
Nebraska wasn’t ranked, so the loss just puts them lower in the “Others receiving votes” wasteland. Only the most rabidly passionate fans believed Nebraska would make it to the College Football Playoff, so I think we all can accept that is not going to happen this year. The big prize for the year – a West Division title, and a shot at that elusive conference championship – is still in play.
I know it is jarring to consider Nebraska in these terms, but this is where the team is. No amount of complaining, denial, or anger is going to change that. And with that uplifting lede, let’s dive in….
So what did we learn?
Nebraska’s offense must do a better job of helping the defense. As you know, Oregon scored six first half touchdowns. While you may choose to blame Bob Diaco’s defense for that, I’m here to tell you that Danny Langsdorf’s offense didn’t exactly help the situation. Take a look at what the offense did in their drives following Oregon scores:
|1st half drives following Oregon Touchdowns|
|Plays||Yards||Result||Time of Poss|
I’m not suggesting that Nebraska must answer every single score with a score of their own. But I wonder if Langsdorf shares that opinion. It certainly appears as if his reaction to the other team scoring is to try to score, and quick. Heck, even the lone touchdown drive covered 75 yards in just four plays.
I can understand feeling like the offense needs to score every time out, but I also see value in a slower, grind it out drive that gives the defense a chance to catch their breath and make adjustments, slow momentum, and establish a field position edge. It may not be as exciting as a quick strike answer, but in the long run it may be more effective.
There was improvement in the defense. Aside from the obvious improvement from the first half (42 points) to the second half (0 points), there were some signs of growth from the Arkansas State opener. In one of Oregon’s first quarter drives, they ran the bubble screen that Arkansas State used to gain a billion yards. That play was stuffed for no gain, and Oregon mostly stayed away from it. I saw some good examples of the defense “rallying” to the ball. On one play, I counted seven defenders surrounding a ball carrier on the sideline.
Obviously, there is still much improvement needed – finding a way to pressure the quarterback would be a great place to start – but there were some positives to take away.
Mike Riley’s teams do not quit. Raise your hand if at halftime you thought Oregon was going to hang 70 on Nebraska, and beat them by 50. But the Huskers came out after half and did their best to save face.
And while I suspect my counterparts in Oregon are railing on the Ducks for taking their foot off the gas too soon / playing too conservatively in the second half, I think the second half result was more about the Huskers continuing to fight hard than Oregon coasting in.
I’m in no way suggesting that we as fans should be pleased with “only” losing by seven points. Nor am I trying to carve a moral victory trophy out of the giant turd the Huskers dropped in the first half. As poorly as NU played in the first half, they probably deserved an Ohio State style ass kicking. That they refused to let it happen tells me a lot.
So what don’t we know?
How will Diaco’s defense look against a non-spread team? We’re still way to early in the season for sweeping generalizations, but the early results suggest that pass-happy spread teams are bad for the Blackshirts.
This is another spot where the second half shutout can be encouraging to Nebraska fans. Very few of the teams remaining on Nebraska’s schedule will throw it as much as Arkansas State and Oregon did – especially in the West division.
Where was the screen game? In basketball, when a shooter is off, they often are able to get back on track with some easy shots like layups or free throws. When Tanner Lee was struggling with accuracy, and Oregon’s pressure was getting more aggressive, it seemed like some short passes to the running backs might be a good way to get him going. Instead, only one ball was caught by a back – a four yard gain by Mikale Wilbon.
Will there be a hangover? This week’s game against Northern Illinois has the potential to be really good – or really bad. Between any lingering effects from a frustrating loss, the sluggish nature of 11 am kickoffs, and a team looking ahead to the conference season, Northern Illinois could put a scare into the Huskers – especially if the defense continues to struggle.
Or, the Huskers, coming off a strong and focused week of practice, jump out early and put the game away early in the 3rd quarter; allowing the reserves to get some snaps. I know which one I pick.
5 Players I Loved
- Tre Bryant. A fourth quarter knee injury kept him from fully living up to the “All Day Tre” moniker, but 107 yards on 20 carries provided some much needed offensive balance in a game where NU threw 41 times.
- Luke Gifford. Gifford is one of those players who just has a knack for the ball, and seems to always be around the action. There were not a lot of bright spots in the defense’s performance, but Gifford was one of them.
- Stanley Morgan, Jr. On Nebraska’s first drive of the second half, Tanner Lee proved that Stanley is his favorite target, as four straight throws went towards #8. The last two accounted for a huge 4th down conversion and a statement touchdown. Morgan added another touchdown catch on the next NU drive, and finished with team highs in catches (7) and yards (103), becoming the first Husker to open a season with 100 yard receiving games.
- De’Mornay Pierson-El. DPE was just behind Morgan for receptions (4) and yards (67), including a highlight reel grab over the top of an Oregon defender. His catch on the first drive lit the spark for a big second half.
- Nebraska fans. Did you see all of the red? For a fan base well known for showing up on the road, that was an impressive performance. It was fitting that Saturday’s game was the anniversary of the legendary Nebraska takeover of Notre Dame’s stadium. Kudos to all who made the trip.
Honorable Mention: Eric Lee, Jerald Foster, Caleb Lightbourn, Aaron Williams, Matt Farniok, Matt Farniok’s hair, JD Spielman, Luke McNitt, Oregon’s duck stomping cancer logo
5 Areas for Improvement
- Pass rush. Want to know how Justin Herbert managed to be 21-25 for 313 yards and 3 TDs – in the first half! – on Saturday? The stat sheet has the answer: zero sacks, zero QB hurries, and clear passing lanes. That puts the defensive backs in a situation where they need near perfect coverage, which for a young and inexperienced group, does not end well. How little was Herbert pressured? If Autzen Stadium had a grass field, Herbert’s uniform would have ended up as brightly white as it started.
- De’Mornay Pierson-El. If I could describe Nebraska’s day in one word, it would be inconsistent. And nobody personified that inconsistency more than Pierson-El. His first touch was a punt that he fair caught at the five. 95 yards later, he made that crazy, over-the-top catch. In the second quarter, he had a false start penalty that turned a drive-extending 4th and 1 into a punt. Speaking of punts, you could see DPE immediately regretting his decision to fair catch a 4th quarter punt, with NU in big need of a spark.
- Stanley Morgan, Jr. On Nebraska’s first offensive play, Lee found Morgan 20 yards down field and put the wall in a great position for the catch. Instead, the ball bounced off Morgan’s hands, his face mask, and into the arms of a Duck defender. Above, we talked about Stan’s big day – 7 catches for 103 and 2 TDs. But his first half was a very forgettable one catch for five yards.
- Tanner Lee. Let’s be fair: prior to Saturday, Lee’s last road start was November 21, 2015, at SMU, in front of what had to be a raucous crowd of 14,954. So I think we can understand somewhat if nerves played a role in a day with four interceptions and a completion percentage under 50%. While interceptions 1 and 4 were not Lee’s fault, no one will argue that Lee struggled throughout most of the game.
- Destro helmets. By now, the shock factor from anything Oregon wears should be long gone. But whenever they wear a shiny chrome helmet, as they did on Saturday, I cannot help but think of Destro from the G.I. Joe cartoons of my childhood. And in finding that Destro image, I realized that almost every Oregon uniform is a homage to a one of the many great G.I. Joe characters.