RUNNING GAME (C)
Nebraska escapes a lower grade only because Tommy Armstrong had a couple of long runs, including a career-long 42-yard burst when Imani Cross perfectly sold the fake on a zone-read play. Between the tackles, though, Nebraska surprisingly struggled mightily. Offensive linemen took blame for mental errors, while coaches also credited McNeese State. “They blitzed the tar out of us,” running backs coach Ron Brown said. “They didn’t make it easy.” McNeese State had nine tackles for loss.
PASSING GAME (C)
Another grade that could arguably be lower, but consider that Armstrong started the game 4-for-4 on third-down throws for 78 yards and a touchdown. He looked masterful ... early. And while Ameer Abdullah couldn’t get going in the run game, he caught three passes for 96 yards, including the game (season?) saver. NU's first turnover of the season sure was a doozy, no? What’s more, Armstrong had two other near-INTs, including one that could’ve gone for another six points. Nebraska’s strong depth at wide receiver sure is getting tested early, with injuries to Jamal Turner and Kenny Bell on Saturday.
AGAINST THE RUN (C)
Daniel Sams rushed for 807 yards for Kansas State last season, and the Cowboys' backup quarterback caused Nebraska fits Saturday. The Huskers’ tackling wasn’t up to par either — not much of Nebraska’s game was — and the defensive line, lauded so much throughout the preseason, failed to dominate an FCS opponent. “You’ve got to get off blocks and make plays sometimes,” NU defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. “We didn’t do a very good job of that.”
AGAINST THE PASS (C)
Nebraska would’ve been in much worse shape had McNeese State’s quarterbacks been able to hit open receivers, particularly the running backs and tight ends. The Cowboys failed to connect on two such instances on their first two drives of the second half. Both plays would’ve converted third downs. Part of the problem: Nebraska’s linebackers were either confused or weren’t adjusting, but safety Nate Gerry saved the day with his pass deflection near the goal line late. A running back was open in the end zone.
SPECIAL TEAMS (A)
Game ball goes to Sam Foltz, who got some serious hang time on his punts while also hitting some bombs that pinned McNeese State deep. Props to freshman Joshua Kalu for his sound tackle on punt returner Nate Holmes that stuck the Cowboys at their 10-yard line in a tie game with 2:40 to play. Jonathan Rose also had an impressive tackle on kickoff return. De’Mornay Pierson-El sure looks the part on punt returns. Now, only if his own teammates wouldn’t run into him.
PLAY CALLING (D)
The text of the game came in the second half from my sister: “When you have a moment I would like to discuss Beck’s play calling!” She, and thousands of others, I’m assuming. Even Bo Pelini admitted Nebraska was outcoached. “Our game plan wasn't good enough on our offensive side,” Pelini said. “And what we did do in some plays we didn’t execute.” Critics will say Tim Beck didn’t run enough, although Nebraska ran 18 times on 26 first-and-10 plays ... just with little success. Some credit is deserved for the screen pass to Abdullah, though. “We felt they were going to be dropping deep, so look for Ameer in the intermediate zone,” Brown said. “Very similar to what we did against Northwestern (last year).”
GAME MANAGEMENT (D)
Offensive tackle Alex Lewis said Nebraska had mistakes and penalties throughout practice last week, and that it carried over to Saturday’s game. Sure did. Now, will practices next week be sharper? Nebraska’s timeout on the first drive, because the play clock was approaching zero, was costly when the Huskers forced a three-and-out in the final minute, but couldn’t stop the clock to force a punt before half.
Lewis summed up this game nicely. “You look at this ‘W’ and it hurts,” he said. Sure, it would’ve hurt a lot more had it not been for Abdullah’s late magic, but Nebraska, despite saying all week how it couldn’t take McNeese State lightly, appeared to do just that. While that’s concerning, realize that Nebraska isn’t as bad as it played Saturday, nor as good as it showed last week. The truth is somewhere in between. Now the job is to find some consistency and improve from there.