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South Alabama vs. Nebraska, 9.12.15

Nebraska running back Terrell Newby (34) rushes past South Alabama cornerback Jeremy Reaves in the second half Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, at Memorial Stadium. Newby has the Huskers' longest play from scrimmage this season, a 32-yard run that is one of 51 Nebraska plays of 10 yards or more.

The middle ground is not always a particularly popular place to reside right after a football game. Extreme opinions, good and bad, are known to surface. But those opinions don't belong to the man in Nebraska's captain's chair.

Just as Mike Riley didn't see the Husker run game as some irreparable problem a week ago, he didn't go overboard in stating where it was after a successful romp Saturday night against undersized South Alabama.

The Huskers rushed for 258 yards, including a career-high 198 by Terrell Newby, and averaged 7.0 yards per tote.

But, perspective: "Now, it's going to be important to maintain and make sure that we can continue to do that," Riley said. "Obviously,  competition will grow and BYU, remember, has a pretty good front too, so it can be somewhat relative as we speak."

That latter comment is worth highlighting. While there was some concern around here, not without reason, that NU's offensive numbers were so heavily skewed to the pass against BYU (319 passing yards to 116 rushing), it's also only fair to look at what the Cougar defense took away from a ranked Boise State team in BYU's 35-24 win last Saturday night.

The Broncos also had to go pass-heavy against BYU, throwing for 297 yards and running for just 64, averaging just 2.1 yards per carry. And that was with Cougars' top nose tackle, Travis Tuiloma, not playing. (He played the first half against NU before being injured.)

So just as Nebraska's performance against South Alabama doesn't mean the rushing game is all worked out, the Week 1 issues deserve full context.

Much more will be learned this week. While Saturday's effort was encouraging, left guard Dylan Utter knows the O-line can keep getting better.

"We did it like Nebraska linemen definitely should, but there are still some things we could have done better," Utter said. "They brought a couple blitzes that we could have cleaned up and got a lot more yards."

Miami's defense gave up 341 rushing yards to the Huskers a year ago, but only one starter from that NU O-line (Alex Lewis) is on this one, and Ameer Abdullah was out-of-this-world that night. So, it's a new challenge for a new group.

Before we get there, some "yays" and "nays" from Saturday:

Yay

The Huskers are one of 19 teams that have not had a play of 40 yards or more this season. NU's longest play is a 32-yard run by Newby. But. … no team has had more plays of 10 yards or more. The Huskers had 26 in Week 1 and 25 Saturday. So that's 51 of 163 Nebraska offensive snaps (31.2 percent) that have covered the length of the chains.

According to cfbstats.com, Baylor is second with 48 plays of 10 yards or more. USC has 47. Granted, they have been bigger-play offenses. Baylor has produced 10 plays of 40 yards or more. USC has had seven.

Nay

On the other hand, the Husker defense has given up 30 plays of 10 yards or more the first two weeks, which ties for 87th. South Alabama had 11 plays of at least 10 yards. All in the air.

Of South Alabama's 332 yards, 161 came on four passing plays, all of which covered at least 33 yards. The Jaguars also had a 56-yard touchdown called back because of a personal foul. Husker cornerbacks Daniel Davie, Joshua Kalu, Jonathan Rose and Chris Jones have a big task ahead with Miami's skill guys.

Yay

The Huskers played pretty clean. Tackled well. Had five fewer penalties than last week's 12. NU was flagged just twice in the first half, and one of those was a personal-foul hit by Byerson Cockrell — correct call, but also because of the kind of aggressiveness you don't mind at safety. And the lone turnover was a late pick thrown by backup QB Ryker Fyfe. Tommy Armstrong has thrown five touchdowns to one interception in 71 attempts.

Nay

That NU hasn't been able to put linebackers Michael Rose-Ivey, Josh Banderas and Dedrick Young on the field at the same time. The hope is it will happen at Miami, but will they be 100 percent? "It's right on thin ice," Riley said of the linebacker depth.

Yay

Keith Williams has really done a nice job with the receivers. Alonzo Moore has bought into his new coach and looks great on the fly sweep. Brandon Reilly is making the plays in games that his offseason work suggested he would. And Lane Hovey had five catches for 68 yards Saturday. At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, he's not only a big target, but has speed. Jordan Westerkamp showing up is a given, and freshman Stanley Morgan already has five catches. Considering all the injuries in August that hit this group, that operation might be finding its step in early September.

Nay

The Huskers have not had an opportunity, or created it, to break something in the punt-return game. So far opponents have punted 10 times. NU has one return, a 5-yarder by Morgan against BYU. Some of that has been because of smart punting, i.e., the rugby punter from Week 1. Some is because of bad punting. South Alabama's punter hit a few so badly they were hard to get to. So it's not as much criticism as disappointment that after De'Mornay Pierson-El made the return game must-see TV last year, we haven't seen what NU can do with it in 2015.

Quote for the road

"I kind of just gave him a challenge before the game. I just told him just to set the challenges the coaches give you, make sure you run hard, be that guy that wants the ball in tough situations. He said, 'I got you, I understand.'"

— Husker quarterback Tommy Armstrong about Newby

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

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