RUNNING GAME (A)
Terrell Newby showed more initiative in putting his foot in the ground and going, and he made some nice tackle-breaking runs. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong was effective (50 yards gained on rushing plays), and needs to be. And the offensive line did its part, too, minus starting tackle Nick Gates. “Our protection was pretty solid and we ran the ball well,” offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. “They were really a hard-slanting defense, which gave us some problems at times. We got crossed up and beat a couple different times.”
PASSING GAME (A)
What do you know? Nebraska earned a rare pass-interference call. And that’s not all that went right for the Huskers’ passing game. Coaches wanted to get Alonzo Moore isolated on the corner, and had success, as Armstrong (18-of-26 passing, 261 yards, three touchdowns) hit Moore four times for 84 yards. De’Mornay Pierson-El surely felt some vindication in outleaping Minnesota cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun for his 14-yard touchdown; it was Boddy-Calhoun who stripped Pierson-El of a potential game-winning catch last season.
AGAINST THE RUN (A)
Remember Minnesota running for 271 yards and 281 yards in its last two games against Nebraska? Gopher offensive guard Jon Christenson sure did, and said so with a bulletin-board quote that fired up the Huskers’ defensive line. Maliek Collins, Greg McMullen and Vincent Valentine responded to help render Minnesota’s running game useless. The Gophers ran for 65 yards, a week after amassing 326 against Purdue.
AGAINST THE PASS (D)
This grade should arguably be worse, but we’ll first give credit to the defensive linemen for pressuring quarterback Mitch Leidner. They sacked him twice and laid hard hits on him numerous other times as he released the ball. Problem was, open Minnesota receivers still caught those passes. Minnesota rolled out Leidner repeatedly, and Nebraska had problems adjusting. The Huskers did intercept two passes late, but bottom line: There’s no reason Leidner should be 26-of-40 passing for 301 yards.
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SPECIAL TEAMS (B)
The return of Pierson-El and his 42-yard punt return set up Nebraska with a short field, yet the Huskers didn’t capitalize, because Drew Brown missed a 31-yard field-goal attempt. “I just sprayed the ball right,” Brown said. “I hit it off my toe a little bit, left my hips closed.” But Brown hit two more field goals, including a 41-yarder with 3:06 remaining that he said boosted his confidence because it virtually sealed victory.
PLAY CALLING (B)
Langsdorf, for the most part, called a strong, balanced game. The fake handoff to Brandon Reilly froze the Minnesota linebackers, allowing Newby to dart free on his long touchdown. Keeping the ball in Armstrong’s hands for a running play to gain third down and mixing in Andy Janovich was effective. But for heaven’s sake, when Minnesota pulled within 16 points with 11:52 remaining, Nebraska had no business throwing deep on first down, when it should have been running clock.
GAME MANAGEMENT/PENALTIES (B)
And why did Langsdorf call for the aforementioned deep pass? Too much time remained, he said, and he didn’t want to sit on the lead. “We liked our matchup,” Langsdorf said. “We had Alonzo (Moore) again standing on the corner and they had nine people standing in the box. It was going to be a bad run, so we took a shot at them.” At least Armstrong ran the play clock down to 2 or 3 seconds when Nebraska, on its ensuing drive that resulted in a field goal, actually did run the ball, and clock.
There were too many concerns with the secondary against a poor passing quarterback to assess an overall "A" for this game, but this was Nebraska’s most complete game of the season. The Huskers won in the trenches on both sides, used a balanced offense to score against what had been a stout defense and finally took control of the game when it looked like the opponent might yet again creep back in. It’s a much-needed momentum builder heading into a couple of weeks of winnable games.