RUNNING GAME (A)
Devine Ozigbo ran with authority in getting to the edge and turning upfield and bulling his way into the end zone, with help of a pancake block by Alonzo Moore and key blocks from Andy Janovich and Nick Gates. Speaking of Janovich, did you notice him bulling over defenders for 3, 6, 8 and 10 yards late in the game? Yes? OK, somebody did, because offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf certainly didn’t. Nebraska averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
PASSING GAME (F)
Coaches don’t want to blame the weather for performances like the one Tommy Armstrong had Saturday — 10-of-31, 105 yards — yet it seemed blatantly obviously that long, deep passes — with or against a 30-mph wind — weren’t the way to go. Receivers dropped passes. Armstrong overthrew them. He underthrew them. And his footwork was a mess. Oh, about the miserable weather? It’s only Oct. 3.
AGAINST THE RUN (B)
Linebacker Dedrick Young was out of position on the long run by Josh Ferguson in the first quarter but otherwise did a nice job getting off blocks. So, too, did Chris Weber, who piled up a team-best 17 tackles and doesn’t look like much of a drop-off — OK, no drop-off — from injured Josh Banderas. Maliek Collins and Kevin Maurice were forceful up front. Nebraska was also prepared for the Crouch package, when it stuffed backup quarterback Chayce Crouch for a loss on fourth down.
AGAINST THE PASS (C)
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First of all, Nebraska had an improved pass rush, with two sacks of Wes Lunt against an Illinois offensive line that had allowed only two sacks of Lunt all season. Maurice at tackle and Collins all over the line made a difference. Pass defense, overall, was much improved, yet two key busts spelled doom. Two defenders went on the underneath route, leaving Marchie Murdock extremely open on his touchdown, and then, of course, the 50-yard reception on the final drive was yet another gut-puncher.
SPECIAL TEAMS (B)
Not a particularly great weather day for kicking, yet Nebraska mastered most of it. Drew Brown connected on two field goals, and Chris Jones caught the ball at the 1-yard line on a perfect coffin-corner punt by Sam Foltz. A 28-yard punt return by V’Angelo Bentley meant Illinois started a first-quarter drive in Nebraska territory.
PLAY CALLING (F)
This game seemed so reminiscent of the 2004 loss at Iowa State, in Bill Callahan’s first season, when he was hell-bent on having Joe Dailey throw the football when the running game was obviously working better. Langsdorf said he felt the passing plays were there. Converting the passes in Saturday’s conditions was another matter. That was evident early, and the fact Langsdorf didn’t focus on the run earlier and more often, especially given its success, is mind-boggling.
GAME MANAGEMENT/PENALTIES (F)
Gee, where do we start? Coaches say Armstrong wasn’t supposed to throw the ball on the third-and-6 play that would’ve kept the final minute ticking off the clock. Whether that’s throwing Armstrong under the bus can be debated — fans always want the truth to what happened, right? My problem is that Langsdorf put the ball in Armstrong’s hands, period. Hand it off to Janovich, who was gaining yards in chunks. Not kicking a field goal can also be debated, giving the distance and going into the wind. But throwing the football, a pass option or no, is simply dumb. Also, in hindsight, maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to have De’Mornay Pierson-El’s first touch back from injury be on a punt return. Give him a play from scrimmage, first.
Nebraska lost to Illinois, of all teams, which should be automatic elimination from Big Ten West consideration for the sheer embarrassment, if no other reason. It’s largely because of a horrendous offensive game plan and inexplicable, unacceptable and downright ludicrous clock management — not the first time this staff has mismanaged the clock, either. The overall “F” for this game goes directly to the coaching staff. Suddenly, making a bowl game seems iffy, at best.