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Mohamed Barry was on his way to another big game. The Nebraska inside linebacker already had three tackles midway through the second quarter. But Troy was up 10-0 and looking for more after hitting a big run to get into Husker territory.
Then Barry got to the pile late at the end of a Troy run. His helmet hit the helmet of Troy quarterback Sawyer Smith.
Targeting. Game over.
"He was on the other side of the field and I didn't see it, so I'm sure it will be reviewed and looked at," Nebraska coach Scott Frost said. "I know Mo — he plays his tail off and he's not malicious, so it if happened I know it wasn't intentional. That's all I can say about it."
It was one of a litany of mistakes Nebraska made Saturday. And one that gave Will Honas his first extended taste of major college football.
The transfer from Butler Community College in Kansas was one of the prizes of Nebraska’s recruiting haul as the top-rated juco linebacker in the country.
He had a reputation as a big hitter and a physical player. But the 6-foot-1, 235-pounder played limited snaps against Colorado, when Nebraska’s top four tacklers were its four starting linebackers.
Honas took his turn Saturday, leading NU with eight total stops and a tackle for loss despite playing just 2½ quarters.
It didn’t surprise one of the defense’s leaders.
“Exactly how I expect Will to do. He comes in and he lays a hat every time, whether it’s a scrimmage or a practice, that dude comes with reckless abandon and lays the wood,” senior linebacker Luke Gifford said. “And that’s what we expect from him.”
Barry will likely be back in the starting lineup next week. Because the targeting penalty was called in the first half, the junior won’t be suspended for any part of the Michigan game.
But if nothing else, Honas showed he can be a viable option in NU’s defensive rotation.
Martinez "not an option:" Frost said there was no chance he was going to use No. 1 quarterback Adrian Martinez on Saturday.
“No, Adrian wasn’t ready to go today. He actually looked really good in warmups, but we were just worried about it," Frost said of the decision.
Martinez suffered a knee injury late in Nebraska's loss to Colorado. He didn't fully participate in practice through the week, then went through warmups Saturday morning in full pads with a brace on his right knee. While it appeared he was moving well, it was likely decided before the game that Martinez wouldn't play.
"I prepared all week like I was going to be the starter," backup Andrew Bunch said, adding that Frost told him late in the week he would likely be the option.
Martinez's full health, Frost said, was more important than trying to rush him back into a game.
"Look, he’s going to be here a long time,” Frost said of Martinez. “And our decision will be made based on his long-term health more than anything. That wasn’t an option."
New running backs pack punch: Nebraska's newcomers at running back, true freshman Maurice Washington and junior transfer Greg Bell, provided most of the horsepower in Nebraska's running game.
The duo combined for 28 carries and 156 yards. Three other Husker ball carriers combined for 20 carries and 31 yards.
Running behind an offensive line that struggled through large parts of Saturday's game, Washington averaged 6.6 yards per carry while rushing for a game-high 92 yards. He more than once bounced away from traffic in the middle and used his speed to scoot to open field. Washington also had three catches for 14 yards.
Bell, one game after toting the rock 13 times for 104 yards, finished with 64 yards while averaging 4.6 yards per carry and added a 6-yard reception.
Pickering gets on the board: After starting the season 0-for-2, freshman kicker Barret Pickering made his final two field goal tries Saturday.
Both came in the third quarter, from 23 and 32 yards out, after he missed from 43 yards against Colorado and from 33 in the second quarter against Troy.
"It felt good, but at the end of the day, I didn’t perform like I should have to help the team out," Pickering said.
Pickering added that his confidence wasn't shaken after missing the first two field goals of his college career.
"Honestly, it’s just two miss hits to start off the season," he said. "I just can’t let it get to me and get the next ones rolling."
Trojans flip field position, win special teams battle: You could make a strong argument for Troy punter Tyler Sumpter as Saturday's MVP.
Sumpter boomed five punts for an average of 53.8 yards, including a 79-yard bomb with the wind at his back in the first half that sailed over Tyjon Lindsey's head and rolled into the end zone.
Not one of Sumpter's punts was returned, and three came with Troy punting out of its own territory.
"Field position, other than them muffing a punt, was decidedly in their favor, and we have to fix that," Frost said after the game. "We've got to be able to make some plays on special teams, and those types of things, in a tight game, those are the key things in a tight game."
It was just part of a day that saw Nebraska lose the special teams battle for the second week in a row. There was, of course, the 58-yard punt return for a touchdown from Troy's Cedarius Rookard in the first half, a delay of game just before Pickering's missed field goal in the second quarter and a procedure penalty on a punt.
Frost took the blame for the delay of game call, saying he was frustrated with how Nebraska's offensive drive had ended and that he wasn't looking at the play clock.
Cam Taylor's recovery of a muffed Troy punt in the third quarter was one of the few highlights for a unit that has quickly become beleaguered.
While the effort on special teams in practice has been good, Frost said, there is still another step to be taken.
Quick hits: Lamar Jackson's first-quarter interception was the first by a Husker cornerback in 21 games. ... Stanley Morgan has caught at least one pass in 28 straight games, tying for the fourth-longest streak in school history. ... Sumpter booted a 79-yard punt in the first quarter, the longest by a Husker opponent in 20 years.
A Ravenna native, Chris covers the University of Nebraska men's basketball team and assists with football coverage. He spent nearly 10 years covering sports at the Kearney Hub and nearly four years at the Springfield News-Leader in Springfield, Mo.
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