Two wins in a row. It seems crazy to think that it has been over a year since Nebraska had experienced that. It was, though. No more. The Huskers raced out to a quick 21-0 lead on Rutgers on Saturday afternoon and, albeit for a brief moment in the late 2nd quarter and early 3rd quarter, never looked back in route to a 31-14 win. The win improved the Huskers to 5-6 and 3-4 in the Big Ten. The Big Red now enjoys their only bye weekend of the season (a much needed one), a weekend off that they’ll use to get healthy and prepare for the currently undefeated Hawkeyes of Iowa on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
So that’s the quick overview. Let’s get into the details and then talk about bowl scenarios.
Nebraska ran the ball early and effectively on the opening drive. There was more of the Imani Cross we saw from the Michigan State game. It helped the Huskers really establish themselves in this one. Cross finished with 90 yards on the day and delivered his second consecutive solid day carrying the ball.
Tommy Armstrong began 8-8 and looked to be really on his game. Then he overthrew a receiver, and it got picked and returned to the 6 yard line. Two more interceptions followed. For a while there in the early goings of the 3rd quarter it felt like Nebraska was inviting Rutgers to be a part of this game.
Rutgers, though, is a bad football team right now. Their coach is embattled. Their players are discouraged. Their best player is not 100%. It showed on Saturday. Even when the Huskers made a mistake or left the door open for the Scarlet Knights, they did virtually nothing with those opportunities.
For the Huskers to take that next step, and to be a consistent football team that doesn’t ride the roller coaster (many times within the games), Armstrong has to limit the big mistakes and become a more efficient quarterback. I still believe he can do it. He needs to play his best game of the year against the Hawkeyes. He’s a tremendous competitor, and I think he will.
Big kudos to the defensive line on Saturday. Six sacks and eleven tackles for loss is a good day at the office. It’s an even better day for a defensive front that has struggled to generate a pass rush this year. It was nice to see not only Maliek Collins, but guys like Ross Dzuris and Greg McMullin getting after it off the edge. It’s amazing how much better a pass defense looks when you’re getting pressure, isn’t it?
Speaking of the secondary, Chris Jones & Josh Kalu are going to be good ones. Yes, they’ve taken their licks this year. However, these two are not short on confidence, and keep coming back and competing. I think their future is very bright. Nate Gerry is also playing at a higher level over the last few weeks.
At 5-6, even if the Huskers don’t beat Iowa and get to bowl eligibility, a bowl game is still likely. A number of 5-7 teams are sure to get bowl waivers this year, and Nebraska is sure to be one of them. However, a 5-7 record probably sends the Big Red to Ft. Worth and the Armed Forces bowl vs. a Mountain West opponent. If the Huskers can get to 6-6 with a 2nd win over a top 10 opponent in their final three games, I think it’s much harder to figure out. Most likely you are looking at the Pinstripe Bowl in NYC, the Foster Farms Bowl in San Francisco, or perhaps maybe even the Music City Bowl in Nashville, TN (although less likely.)
Regardless of bowl selections/assignments, the big key for Nebraska is the opportunity at Memorial Stadium next Friday. It’s a chance to knock off a top 10 team and perhaps ruin their perfect season. It’s a chance to legitimately change the narrative of the season to undeniable momentum. It would be a VERY valuable win, and a turn of events on the recruiting trail for Mike Riley’s bunch.