Nebraska needs to win just one more game to get a share of the Big 10 Championship, and needs to win out, or have Michigan lose a game, and win 1 out of 2 games to play for the Big 10 Championship. The Huskers came from down double digits to pull out the win against Penn State on Saturday. Here is how the Husker Corner staff graded the Nebraska and Penn State game.
JIMMIE ALLEN GRADES THE GAME
Redshirt junior Taylor Martinez finished the day with 12 of 20, for 171 yards and 1 touchdown. He also rushed 15 times for 104 yards. Martinez Only accounted for just one touchdown in Nebraska’s 32-23 win over Penn State, and struggled in the first half against Penn State’s defense.
Running Back: A+
I would like to welcome freshman Imani Cross to the offense. The coaching staff put the ball in the freshman’s hands when they needed points and he delivered. Cross finished the day with 8 carries for 22 yards, and two touchdowns. Oh not to mention sophomore Ameer Abdullah rushed for over 100 yards for the fourth straight game. Abdullah finished the day with 31 carries for 118 yards, and 4 catches for 29 yards. The continuous question in this group is the limited carries for sophomore Braylon Heard who is still averaging 8 yards a carry this season. He had 3 straight carries for 25 yards, and then was pulled off the field and was never seen again. Any time Heard touches the field he seems to be the most explosive player on the field.
Wide Receiver: A
Taylor Martinez has finally realized that he has two superstars lined up at wide receiver. Kenny Bell, Nebraska’s leading receiver finished the day with 2 catches for 31 yards. Sophomore, Jamal Turner hauled in 2 catches for 35 yards, and for the second week in a row he caught a game changing pass, and a touchdown. Jamal Turner is finally making his stamp on this team, and the coaching staff is letting him do what he does best. Not running end around sweeps, but getting out in space and beating a corner down the field.
Tight End: A+
Offensive Coordinator Tim Beck finally remembered he has an All-American senior at tight end. Kyler Reed led Nebraska in receiving yards, with 2 catches for 60 yards. Reed was also targeted 3 times in the redzone, two times Taylor Martinez just missed him, the third Penn State could have easily been flagged for pass interference. If Nebraska makes a BCS game, Reed needs to be the go-to guy in big play situations.
Offensive Line: A+
Some people maybe shocked by this grade, but the reason I graded them so high was because when it counted the Nebraska offensive line wore down the Penn State defense. Nebraska ran toss right 16 times in the second half, and it went for a minimum of 4 yards every time. If Nebraska would stop trying to be so cute, and just ran power football they could win their last 3 games by 20 points or more.
Defensive Line: C
Senior defensive end Eric Martin is becoming a superstar right in front of our eyes. In every game this season Martin has a tackle for loss, or a sack. Last season Nebraska finished dead last in the country in tackles for loss, and Eric Martin is the main reason that is not going to happen 2 years in a row. Nebraska will lose three seniors on the defensive line at the end of this season with defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler and defensive end Cameron Meredith all graduating, and possibly going to the NFL, and I actually think this defensive line gets more explosive, and more athletic down the road. The defensive line did finish the day with 2 sacks on Saturday, Martin and Steinkuhler accounted for those. Also Martin was the defensive end in the back field that caused senior quarterback Matt McGloin to throw the ball away, and cause the safety that put the game away for Nebraska.
Senior linebacker Will Compton accounted for the third sack on Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin, but he is not the one I was the most impress with in Nebraska’s linebacking core. Redshirt David Santos appears to have figured out Bo Pelini’s defense and appears to be the most complete linebacker on the team. He can run with wide receivers, he can pressure the quarterback, and hits like a truck. Will Compton has been the glue that holds this defense together, but the linebacker position will be in good hands when Compton graduates this year.
Ciante Evans maybe the most underrated player in the country. He runs step for step with anyone he covers, and is easily one of the best open field tackler in the country. He finished the game against Penn State with 10 tackles and wasn’t even thrown near in the second half. With first year Secondary Coach Terry Joseph in his position, the thing that is clear is this secondary is much better tacklers then they were a year ago. Case and point Andrew Green, this coaching staff is allowing the junior to play out on an island, and blitz. 3 times on Saturday, Nebraska blitzed Green from his corner position and Green had two tackles for loss. With Evans and Green at the Corner, and the young talent Nebraska has at safety after this season, I think the secondary becomes exciting to watch next season.
Special Teams: A
I really think that this coaching staff needs to send senior kick Brett Maher to a shrink and have him evaluated. He has been the most bipolar player in the country. He will either have a 15 yard punt or drill one for 80 yards. He will either miss a 32-yard field goal, or make a 50+ yarder. Maher finished the day 3 for 3, and had two punts go over 40 yards on Saturday. It would have been nice to see where he could have been if he could have preformed this well all season.
STEVE SIEDLIK GRADES THE GAME
Taylor completed 60 percent of his passes, including some pretty big plays down field to keep the Big Red alive. I don’t recall ever seeing him break so many tackles. His one snafu came when he ran into the back of his own blocker and fumbled in the red zone. He probably could have stayed in the pocket longer on a few plays, too. I thought he made some good decisions, otherwise.
Running Backs: A
Ameer Abdullah had his fourth-straight 100-yard game on a career-high 31 attempts. Imani Cross came up big contributing in the short-yardage game and late in the game. Braylon Heard even saw his first action in a while. Combined with the QB run game, they kept Penn State on its heels throughout the game.
There were few passes to go around, but the ones that were caught were for big plays. Blocking was pretty solid. A few dropped passes that could have blown the game open kept them from having a higher score.
Tight Ends: B+
Kyler Reed was clutch, as usual. Ben Cotton was able to contribute with an 18-yard gain, but was seen missing some blocks here and there. Penn State’s coverage kept the tight ends from being open and targeted very much.
Offensive Line: C+
Missed assignments, inability to block on the edge, inability to keep the pocket from collapsing in seconds, a stupid personal foul that helped kill a drive, and leaving their feet when blocking are problems that have plagued this team since UCLA. On the plus side, they did show a good ability to get down field and block the second level. And they are athletic enough to cause enough chaos for Abdullah to find a hole to slip through on most plays. The lack of improvement as the year goes on scares me a bit, though.
Defensive Line: B+
Matt McGloin had all day to throw early on. But the big guys up front increased the pressure as the game went on, causing McGloin to be off kilter. Getting that intentional grounding in the end zone was huge. The line had nice lateral movement and there was usually someone from the line closely pursuing the play down field. A few more sacks would have been nice, but you’ve got to like the hustle they’re showing.
Some poor tackling and bad angles made lumbering Zach Zwinak look like a Heisman finalist; nothing new for the Blackshirts. They had a little trouble in coverage, as well. Nebraska seems to have a pretty good thing going with this rotation of LBs. They definitely redeemed themselves by causing and recovering fumbles in the red zone. Fish has improved a ton as the season has gone on. David Santos is looking like the second coming of Lavonte David.
The Nebraska corners seemed to be having trouble following Penn State’s routes, even if they were routine routes. There was mass confusion on assignments and more than one time was a Nittany Lion left wide open because of two defenders covering the same person. The safeties were having trouble with run support early on. Daimion Stafford came out with a fire lit under him after a shouting match with Bo on the sideline, intercepting a pass and nearly returning it for a TD. The secondary did tighten up as the game went on, which is encouraging.
Special Teams: C
Brett Maher had a horrible time punting in the first half, but then had a huge punt in the second half that led to the safety. He also made all of his field goals, though none were from very far out. Bo showed a ton of trust in Maher by letting him kick the game-clincher instead of going for it on fourth and short. There wasn’t much chance to return Penn State’s kicks. Tim Marlowe inexplicably muffed his one punt return, giving the ball right back to PSU. He shouldn’t be out there if he’s too injured to catch a punt. On the other side, the Nittany Lions didn’t do much in the return game, either.
TYLER WANEK GRADES THE GAME
Taylor Martinez, despite his imperfections, is the leader of the football team. His leadership, his decision making (at times), and skills have improved dramatically since his freshman season. The only reason I don’t give him an “A” is the consistent lack of taking care of the football, especially in the Red Zone. I want badly to give him that “A”, but I can’t with the ball hitting the ground.
Running Backs: A
I can say enough about Ameer Abdullah. We all love Rex Burkhead, but this guy has been a consistent and reliable back all year long. The overall strength in his running ability and his usually fantastic fundamentals of taking care of the ball make me excited for his next 2 years. Also, why have we waited this long to put in Amani Cross? He is our short yardage solution!
Wide Receiver: A
Bell, Enunwa, and Turner finally getting some looks, this wide receiver unit is not only top in the conference, but I’d go as far to say Top 10 in the nation. Not only do they make plays consistently with their hands and speed, but each of them are terrific blockers down field.
Tight Ends: A
I don’t believe Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed have gotten enough credit this season. Not only have they been consistent on running plays to the outside, but give the offense just enough of an element of surprise in the passing game. We wish we would see the ball in Reed’s hands more.
Offensive Line: B
The “Pipeline” can and has been pretty effective this season, especially in plays running sideline to sideline. Also, give the big guys some credit. With as much high tempo as that offensive runs, these guys keep up and keep it moving. Their weakness, especially in Big 10 play, seems to be pass protection. The Line has had good points in that area, but especially against Penn State, it seems like the opposing D-Line was in the backfield for every snap. They improve in the second half, but we could definitely use a full 4 quarters out of them.
Defensive Line: B-
Outside of Eric Martin, and for the amount of experience the defensive line has, it never seems to get much push. They have done some great jobs in containment, but when times in the game call for pressure, they can never seem to get off their blocks. This is especially harmful in the running game, where opposing running backs are being allowed into the second level too often. Like the offensive line, the defense stiffens up in the second half when we need them. It would be nice to have that full 60 minutes.
Will Compton has been nothing short of an animal all season, and Sean Fisher is FINALLY starting to show his true nature and is flying around the field. Still the biggest concern in the linebacker area is missed tackles and blown coverages on underneath routes. Granted, some of those things are the staff not getting play calls in, but being seniors, they should know their assignments. Improvement has been steady all season.
The secondary is easily the most physical department of the defense. They are so close to greatness that it’s almost frustrating. The corners and safeties give the quarterbacks a lot of issues, but penalties and not trusting their mechanics on deep passes hurt them. Still waiting for that one solid performance to give them an “A”.
Special Teams: B-
I cannot hide the fact that the special teams has been the most irritating and inconsistent part of the team. Punt and kickoff coverage has improved a lot in the last month or so, but fielding punts and blocking are still eye sores. Blocking schemes come with time, but muffed punts this late in the season are head scratchers.