RUNNING GAME (B)
Ameer Abdullah wasn’t 100 percent, yet battled through a sore ankle and became the Big Ten’s leading rusher this season in the process (surpassing Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon). Abdullah rushed 24 times, only once carrying more than twice in a row. “We needed to get Ameer the ball according to how healthy he was,” running backs coach Ron Brown said. “He came out on his own a couple of times, but he was pretty much a warrior when he battled through.” A big block by Imani Cross – and you could tell he enjoyed it – to get Tommy Armstrong into the end zone on the game’s opening drive.
PASSING GAME (C)
Four interceptions – three by Armstrong, one by Ron Kellogg – marked another tough day for the passing game. Of course, Kellogg’s heave at the end atoned for much of that. Give credit to Nebraska’s backup receivers for stepping up in the wake of injuries to Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner. The offensive line is also a patchwork, of sorts, with another guard, Jake Cotton, going down. Oh, and if you’re surprised Jordan Westerkamp caught that ball, well, you’re the only one.
AGAINST THE RUN (C)
Nebraska had the defensive stand of the year, holding Northwestern to a field goal after the Wildcats had second-and-goal at the Nebraska 1-yard line. “They got down to the 1, and the right calls were made,” true freshman linebacker Josh Banderas said. “Coach JP (John Papuchis) said we needed three stops and a field goal to stay in the game, and we did it.” Is it a turning point for this defense, which had halted 11 straight Northwestern series after a sluggish start? We’ll see. Poor tackling was too evident in the first half, as was the inability to stop basic run plays.
AGAINST THE PASS (A)
Nebraska showed more pressure and blitzing than it had all year, and it paid off, big-time. The Huskers had four sacks, held the Wildcats’ passing quarterback, Trevor Siemian, to 4-of-13 passing, and tied the game on Avery Moss’ 25-yard interception return for a touchdown. All-in-all, a pretty sound day.
SPECIAL TEAMS (B)
You think you appreciated Westerkamp’s hands on the Hail Mary touchdown pass? How about on those punt returns? Remember, it was the Northwestern game last year when Nebraska couldn’t field a punt, which doesn’t seem to be a problem these days with the sure-handed Westerkamp, who had a busy day fielding punts. Pat Smith’s missed 48-yard field goal ended a streak of 16 straight makes, dating to his time at Western Illinois.
PLAY CALLING (B)
Yes, it seemed like Tim Beck got a little pass-happy at times, and, yes, the quarterback management seemed a bit perplexing. But let’s also remember that a coordinator with more than half his starting offense sidelined with injury, and other starters playing hurt, faced some difficult challenges. For that, there’s a benefit of the doubt today.
GAME MANAGEMENT (C)
It made sense to play Kellogg, the better passing quarterback, on the final drive. And Kellogg was able to redeem himself for an earlier interception. But I couldn’t understand the need to insert Kellogg in the second quarter to throw three straight passes – one intercepted to set up a touchdown – when Armstrong and Abdullah running the ball seemed like the right combination. (Of note: Neither team had a third-down conversion in the second half.)
Quincy Enunwa was never so happy to drop a pass in his life. “I’m kind of glad I missed it,” the senior receiver said after not being able to corral Kellogg’s pass over the middle – the play before the winning touchdown. Had Enunwa caught it? Maybe Nebraska kicks a field goal and we’re still playing overtime. Or maybe Nebraska loses, which is my guess. It’s a moot point. Nebraska won on a day the defense stiffened, a beat-up offense showed resolve, and a sure-handed freshman made the catch of his life.