Too close for comfort? Yeah, that cliché applies to Saturday’s win over McNeese State at Memorial Stadium. I’ve thought a lot about this game since walking out of the stadium late Saturday afternoon. I’ve watched the game a 2nd time in my living room (disclaimer: I’m no football coach.) This game was curious in more than one way.
Let’s start with the stuff that Nebraska needs to fix or clean up after the 31-24 victory. There is plenty that Nebraska put on film that will be coached up moving forward. What I saw offensively was a group that enjoyed success in the 1st half. Remember, Nebraska had over 300 yards of total offense in the first half. They didn’t finish a drive (the pick 6 thrown by Tommy Armstrong to Aaron Sam) and they turned it over on downs on their opening drive. However, they still moved the ball pretty effectively in the first half. Good enough for 15 first downs. This was not the case in the 2nd half. The inability to move the ball in the I-back run game is tough to explain. Yes, McNeese had loaded the box and yes, almost every “hat” was keyed on Ameer Abdullah on every snap, but I really thought Nebraska would be able to power it at them anyway. What did work was the quarterback run game. Tommy ran decisive and looked quick. In fact, he needed to keep it a few more times than he did in Zone-Read, they left some yards on the field in this respect.
Tommy throws a very impressive deep ball. Without Kenny Bell, and to some degree Jamal Turner, it really changed what Tommy’s options were in the passing game. However, he will have to develop in the intermediate and underneath routes for Nebraska to progress as an offense. If he can’t effectively and consistently make these throws, then opposing defenses will continue to load the box with 8 or even 9 on first and second downs. If Nebraska wants balance on offense, they’ll need to get better in this respect.
Defensively, I thought Nebraska was okay for most of the day. They gave up an early touchdown on a short field and remember 7 of the points were courtesy of a McNeese State defensive touchdown. There were times though that it appeared Nebraska’s front 7 took bad angles in pursuit of Cowboy skill players, specifically back-up quarterback Daniel Sams. After watching the game a 2nd time… I think these issues were not as much physical as they might have been mental. Ball fakes, motion and misdirection can really stress a defense. It’s important for Nebraska’s defenders (specifically on the edge) to understand their keys and not allow the opposition to get to the corner. I think that will definitely improve moving forward.
It was perhaps one of Nebraska’s more complete games in Special Teams. Sam Foltz was special, booming punt after punt and doing it a few times with some pressure on him. Demornay Pierson El has a change to be a dynamic returner. I liked Nebraska’s willingness to put Abdullah deep on the kick return late. No need to put him back there every time…but when the situation calls for it, you bet. Drew Brown once again looked solid knocking a field goal through the uprights and Mauro Bondi is a weapon as the kickoff guy.
Finally, the play that won the game for Nebraska by Ameer Abdullah was as good as I can remember. It’s a highlight that will be shown for years and years and years. Let’s hope that Ameer continues with a campaign that will give him more and more run for national awards. If we ever doubted that he deserves all the credit he gets… shame on us. Fear Ameer!
This game could very well be the best thing that could happen for the 2014 Huskers. Bo Pelini should have no issues getting his teams attention this week as they prepare for a road test against struggling Fresno State.