Well Husker fans, Nebraska comes off of a feel-good 42-13 victory over Arkansas State and now faces FCS Idaho State. Barring a South Dakota State-like game, this should be a scrimmage for the Cornhuskers before Wisconsin comes to town. The goal of this game will be to get healthy, don’t risk injuries and get the bench some reps. Oh, and Rex Burkhead will be returning to get his sea legs back under him.
Idaho State plans on being aggressive on offense. The Bengals have a little more than a 2:1 pass-to-run ratio so far on the season. Head Coach Mike Kramer has no qualms about airing it out and ignoring the run game. Considering Nebraska has been weak against the run and had a good day against the past last week, I’ll be going over what I saw at Memorial Stadium in person when the Huskers took on the Red Wolves.
First Down: The Student Section.
I haven’t been to a game for a few years, but one of the first things I noticed in the stadium was that the student section has been shuffled around. It is currently next to the band and along that side of South Stadium from top to bottom. A legion of solid red. Students standing and staying the entire game. This is much better than where they were tucked up high behind high-rollers and recruits.
And it made a different in-game. The stadium was louder. Students got into what the adjacent band was playing/doing. And the whole thing is directly across from the opponent’s seating. Some organized chants were even heard. I have a feeling that when the East Stadium boxes are complete the crowd noise at Memorial Stadium will increase. Kudos to the UNL administration for the reorganization, even if I am a little late to that party.
Second Down: Eric Martin and the Blackshirts.
Yes, I just used the B-word.
As I had hoped, we saw a healthy dose of Eric Martin in as an outside linebacker/defensive end versus the Red Wolves. (John Papuchis, if you’re reading, I could use a job on the staff.) Martin brought a constant motor, contagious enthusiasm and penetration into the backfield that Nebraska was sorely missing the first two games. He didn’t get pressure every play, but when he did it was very noticeable.
That coupled with safeties P.J. Smith and Daimion Stafford making big plays early really fired up the defense. They were playing loose and with swagger that didn’t quite translate over the television airwaves. Everyone started making big hits, even if a receiver didn’t make the catch he was paying for trying. I’d love to see the improvement continue.
I noticed that no matter who was in the secondary, the coverage was very good against a potent offense. Teams should have difficulty finding open men against the Blackshirts. The downside of this is that Nebraska still has trouble containing the outside run. The first man is still whiffing quite often. Bo Pelini’s bend-don’t-break style will work. As long as it doesn’t break. Keep plays in front of the defense and giving up yardage isn’t nearly as important as giving up scores. Especially quick scores.
Third Down: Running Backs.
Burkhead is returning to the mix. Ameer Abdullah has been an unexpected workhorse for Nebraska in his absence. Braylon Heard has been a nice change of pace. Even freshmen Imani Cross has recorded his first career TD. So what does Tim Beck do with all of these guys? Get them on the field at the same time.
Remember the diamond formation? Beck broke out the modern-day wishbone a few times this game to pretty good effect. Also, I’d expect to see Burkhead in at quarterback in short-yardage situations. I think this is a Taylor Martinez shortcoming. Martinez takes a few steps to hit top speed, and is by no means a bruiser at the line.
I need to comment on Cross. The guy looks like he is a load to tackle. He had a 44-yard run late in the game where he picked through the line and shoved off a few tacklers to break right through the middle of the defense. He just would not be stopped. I’m not sure what to call it. Going Hulk. Beast mode. The Unstoppable Juggernaut. We’ll be sure to come up with something if he keeps this up.
Lastly, I can’t help but think that the return of Burkhead will hurt Abdullah’s Heisman chances. He had 30 carries against the Red Wolves and looks much improved from last year. Nebraska has a pretty good looking two-headed monster if Abdullah keeps his fumbling to a minimum.
Fourth Down: Through These Gates Walk The Greatest Know-It-Alls In College Football.
Don’t believe everything you read, especially on the Internet, especially on message boards. I heard some outrageous things from the crowd during the game. I think the world’s “greatest fans” need to put things in perspective.
At halftime as about a quarter of the crowd left the game to go drink at tailgating: “Man, Martinez can’t throw. We need a new quarterback.” Martinez was 8-for-8 for 150 yards and two scores at that point. I don’t understand the criticism of Martinez this year.
In the second half: “Our running game would be doing much better if Burkhead didn’t get hurt.” Really? Abdullah rushing 60 times for 367 yards and four touchdowns in three games isn’t good enough?
Walking out of the game from multiple people: “Our defense stinks.” When did giving up two field goals become unacceptable?
Not to mention the armchair doctors spreading rumors about Pelini’s health. Heart attacks, blood pressure disorders, stroke, needing surgery, irregular heartbeats and – my personal favorite - micro fibrosis. Who knew so many Husker faithful watched House? It bothered me that ESPN was pushing the issue so much during the broadcast, too. Like releasing medical information is so commonplace that it’s an outrage that the university wouldn’t say anything.
My point is that there is no use in having instantly accessible information if the information is crazy and incorrect. Keep things in perspective and see the big picture before you go ripping on students and spreading rumors.
Extra Point: Kenny Bell jumping that fence, raising his arms to the crowd and high-fiving a fan was electrifying.