Tommy Armstrong searched for something, anything, when asked if he could think of what Ameer Abdullah doesn’t do well.
Aha! There is this one thing. “He can’t sing,” Armstrong said.
Abdullah maybe can’t carry a tune, but he can carry an offense a long way and was his usual genius self Saturday in Nebraska's 42-24 sleepy win against Rutgers that left Bo Pelini wanting more, his senior running back’s dominance aside.
“Well, we got the win. I’m happy about that. That’s about all I’m happy about,” Pelini said. “I thought we were sloppy, inconsistent and we didn’t play at the standard we needed to. I’ll take the win. Anytime you can win a football game ... it’s never easy to win. But I have higher standards than what I watched out there today.”
Both sides of the ball took turns annoying Pelini — whether it was untimely penalties on the O-line, a turnover on a fumbled snap, or giving up 17 points in the second half against a Scarlet Knight team using backup quarterback Chris Laviano, who replaced the injured Gary Nova.
Pelini listed reasons for his displeasure with the defense after the game.
“Sloppy. Bad communication. Missed assignments. Dropping coverage when the quarterback scrambles. Things that will get you beaten down the line. … We need to have some discipline on the defensive side of the ball. We were undisciplined.”
And offensive coordinator Tim Beck expressed his own frustrations.
“We didn’t play as good as we could,” he said. “You’re limited, and you only get 12 guaranteed opportunities to go out there and it’s probably five or six plays that frustrate me. I’m a perfectionist. I think some of our guys are that same way. You just expect perfection … and you work so hard all week, and all year, for these guys to go out there. And it’s concentration. It wasn’t that they beat us (when) you couldn’t snap the ball to your quarterback. I mean, that’s concentration. That’s like tying your shoes. It should be that easy. So that’s the frustration part for me.”
Senior wide receiver Kenny Bell even compared the win to NU's game against Wyoming last year, when Nebraska got a home victory (37-34) that brought more disgust than euphoria.
“Man, when the offense fumbles the ball and gives the opposing team the ball in the red zone, that’s mistakes that we can’t afford,” Bell said. “That’s how you lose football games. … We were ahead by I don’t know how much, but we took the foot off the gas pedal. That’s something we talk about week in, week out. But eventually our words have to become our actions, and that didn’t happen today.”
This is the part where we remind that Nebraska won by 18 points. Nebraska was never in danger. Nebraska is now 7-1, with the first College Football Playoff poll set to come out Tuesday.
“We’ll regroup,” Bell said. “It’s not easy to win football games, so we’re going to enjoy it. But we have work to do and we’re going to get to that work (Sunday) morning.”
The truth is, this was one of those ho-hum games that will disappear from memory by the time Memorial Stadium fills again next Saturday.
And the game had its feel-good moments, with the crowd of 91,088 giving Abdullah a standing ovation in the fourth quarter when it was announced he had broken Nebraska’s single-game all-purpose-yardage record (341 yards, surpassing Roy Helu’s 321 against Missouri in 2010). Another ovation came later when Bell left the field to an announcement that he had set the school record for career receptions (167).
“I’m really thankful for Coach (Tim) Beck and Bo. The mad scientist and the boss man really tried their best to get it (the ball) to me today, and I couldn’t be more appreciative,” said Bell, starting to laugh. “But, of course, Ameer Abdullah has to break a school record the same day I do. I was like, ‘This guy. He’s a stud.'”
Abdullah let it be known early the Huskers, while far from hitting on all cylinders, were not in danger of losing, ripping off a 53-yard touchdown run, then a 48-yard scoring scamper in a span of three minutes early in the second quarter, helping the Huskers to a 21-7 halftime lead.
He finished with 225 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries, then decided to rip the Scarlet Knights' hearts out as a kick returner, bringing one kickoff back 76 yards after initially forgetting where he was on the field and nearly taking a knee on his 1-yard line. “That would have been Not Top 10,” he joked.
Abdullah did not take a knee. He did almost run it back for a touchdown.
By midway through the third quarter, Abdullah had 202 yards, carrying the ball just one time in the final period.
“We've just got to keep our heads down. All that stuff is good,” Abdullah said of the records. “But you can’t get caught up in that, though, right now because that’s not what is important. What is important is tomorrow and making sure we handle this win the right way.”
Whatever negative critiques there might be about Nebraska’s performance, the Huskers finished with a 455-348 edge in yardage, and were able to rack up 292 rushing yards on 41 carries, an average of 7.1 yards per rush. NU also was 8-of-13 on third down.
Whatever the game left to be desired, the Huskers put another "W" in their pocket and control their fate in the Big Ten race with four regular-season games to play.
“We’re good,” Armstrong said. “But we can get better. We’re a dangerous team when we are actually all-in and when we’re giving 100 percent.”