Northwestern vs. Nebraska, 10.24.15

Nebraska wide receiver Taariq Allen (7) beats Northwestern cornerback Keith Watkins II (3) but drops a fourth quarter pass at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015.

The Huskers completed just 50 percent of their 48 passes a week ago. But before all the fingers get pointed at the quarterback, consider that there were eight drops by receivers.

That's how many coaches counted.

"A couple of times we were running before the catch," said Husker head coach Mike Riley. "Those, particularly, when you’re throwing the short runs … it’s a run-pass key and you’re giving the guy that has some room the ball as quick as you can. Now, all of a sudden, that’s incomplete."

Those deflate a team. They also put a team behind schedule in moving the chains.

"You can feel it in the whole stadium when that happens, so we've just got to be much more consistent," Riley said. "That’d make a big difference in what the percentage looks like for Tommy (Armstrong) and gives us some continuity on the drive."

This week, it's Ryker Fyfe who needs a little help from his friends.

From the "LIFE IN THE RED" blog on HuskerExtra.com:

* NOT-SO-SPECIAL TEAMS: Nebraska had six penalties last Saturday. That's nothing to get too worked up about.

But the fact that three of those came on special teams? Riley didn't like that all.

An offsides on a kickoff, a personal foul at the end of a play, an "unnecessary" illegal block.

“I have no excuse for those penalties nor any real reason for them," Riley said. "I don’t think they need to happen at all."

Drew Brown made his two field goals and Sam Foltz boomed his punts an average of 50.3 yards a punt, but the junior Foltz said he got "too cute" trying to pin teams right at the goal line. The result was three touchbacks.

"In those situations, anything inside the 20 is what you're aiming for. I tried getting too cute going inside the 5 on two of them. … Even on the big punts, I outkicked my coverage. I didn't have very good direction on my punts. I definitely didn't execute the way I should have."

Foltz is his toughest critic, but Riley will no doubt like hearing his punter have such a high standard.

"Generally our specialists are good," Riley said. "And those parts that go with them, I think there’s been some bright spots."

For example, the coverage units, up until last Saturday, have done some good things, Riley thinks.

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"Our overall grade in those (coverage) areas … we took a little downturn in our grade overall, but those have not been bad, so it’s something that we want to bring back up immediately."

Most damning, the Huskers rank last nationally in kick returns, averaging just 14.5 yards a return. They really haven't broken one big one all year. The longest return of the season is 27 yards by Stanley Morgan against Miami.

Riley said the kick-return team needs to block better in space.

"We’re not getting the thing started," he said. "We think we've coached that hard, and yet there is nothing to show for it, obviously. We just have to continue to look at the best scheme for the week. … I'm actually excited to see Jordan Stevenson get a little room."

* DUNKING FOOTBALLS: Soggy conditions may be part of the experience Saturday when the Huskers take the field at Purdue.

To prepare for it, the Huskers did their best at Tuesday's practice to get ready for a slick and heavier football. Footballs were dunked in buckets of water before finding the hands of quarterbacks.

“We are trying to get a little bit of a taste of that wet ball,” said offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf. “We were dunking those balls in cold water just to get used to the feel and handling the ball, throwing it and taking a snap. So we make sure we got some work. We have not really had any rain, so we wanted to make sure we were ready for that.”

It's worth noting also that Ross-Ade Stadium is one of the few places that still has a grass field.

From our weekly online live chat with you, the readers:

From Todd N: There are so many aspects of this team that are troubling. Clearly a lack of consistency on offense and maybe depth issues in the LBs and DBs on defense are a couple of things that jump out. But what are a few things you can point to and say, hey, if Nebraska can somehow apply a few Band-Aids then a little momentum can be gained to close the season?

Christopherson: Real good question Todd. Because that's the thing now, right? You want to see reasons these last four or five games that say next year is going to be a big jump. When looking for hope, I tend to look at individuals. You want to see Dedrick Young keep growing, Marcus Newby keep growing. They've been been bright spots. I think you want to see Freedom Akinmoladun get back and put pressure on that QB. Generally, you want to see mental toughness. You want to see this team find a way in a close game. Some guy makes that big play late that shows this doesn't have to keep going this way. It's not just one big thing — locker-room discontent or anything like that. It's a bunch of things mixed together that are stopping this team right now.

From Hopeful Husker fan: Hey BC, I read an article on LJS, as well as ESPN today, about the danger of the Husker fan base becoming apathetic and accepting mediocrity as a norm. Do you legitimately see this ever happening, and what would it take to get to that point?

Christopherson: I think Husker football is such an ingrained Saturday ritual that people aren't just going to turn their back on it. But I do think if you don't start winning more, fewer people are going to be willing to plan their whole day around going to a game. People have activities with their kids and house projects and a lot of things to grab their attention. If the team is playing .500-level ball, that isn't exactly going to have those people dropping what they're doing to pay $56 a ticket to go see it. So I think in respect of keeping that stadium filled, it's very important this gets fixed soon. But do I think most of the state is doing something other than watching Nebraska football from 11-3 today? Not really.

Final word from Riley on Purdue:

“This is a team coming off a bye. They’ve had a lot of close games. Obviously, for us, every game is a big, big game. Defensively, they play a 4-3, but they get into a three-man front, so what we call an 'Okie' look with their four down people. They’ve got No. 54 (Jake Replogle), leads their team in tackles for loss. He’s an interior defensive lineman. No. 11 (Antoine) Miles is their sack leader. And then No. 36 (Danny Ezechukwu), a linebacker, is their leading tackler.

"They’re one back, three wide receivers, four wides … their backs are versatile. They’re, obviously, their leading rushers. They play two backs and they’re also in their top four as receivers. They’re catching the ball out of the backfield, they’re versatile players that we’re going to have to account for. That’s it. We’re just looking for a good week of preparation against Purdue.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7439 or bchristopherson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.


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