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Oregon vs. Nebraska features

Nebraska football player Nick Gates walks to the bus from the Cornhusker Marriott before the Huskers' game against Oregon on Sept. 17.

Nebraska offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh didn't need much prodding.

Asked to assess left tackle Nick Gates' performance through three games, Cavanaugh didn't hold back.

"Nails. He's tough. Finishing blocks," the coach said following Wednesday's practice. "I think he's leading the team in pancakes and knockdowns. He's setting a great example. He's setting the bar high."

The 6-foot-5, 290-pound Gates, of Las Vegas, started 10 games last season at right tackle -- earning Big Ten all-freshman team honors from ESPN and BTN -- before switching to the left side this season.

He was named Profootball.com's top run-blocking offensive lineman in the country after Nebraska's season-opening win against Fresno State. He apparently has played well in the ensuing two games as well.

There's no question Gates has raised his game since last season.

"He can still do some better things, too," Cavanaugh said. "I think if he plays with better leverage, he'll be rolling a lot of people, you know what I mean?"

Think about how impressive Gates could become by his senior season.

"He's still a youngster," Cavanaugh said. "It's going to be fun the next couple of years with him, and the group that grows around him, too."

Moving people: Nebraska rushed for 228 yards in last week's 35-32 win against Oregon, averaging 4.9 per carry. The Huskers finished with 428 yards overall.

"I thought we kind of started a little bit slow and then we geared it up as the game went on," Cavanaugh said. "I saw some stat ... we averaged like 2.4 yards (per carry) in the first quarter, then 4.2 in the second, 5.6 in the third and 5.8 in the fourth, so obviously you got to like that.

"We have to continue to be a physical group, and move people."

Building chemistry: Cavanaugh stuck with his starters -- Gates, Sam Hahn, Dylan Utter, Tanner Farmer and David Knevel -- for all 82 plays last week.

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Hahn, Farmer and Knevel are in their first season as starters.

"Building that chemistry and cohesion and communication," Cavanaugh said. "To me, O-line is believing what you see. You have to trust your technique and communicate. I think it's getting better. I just see little things that tell me they're starting to come around.

"Sometimes on pass-pro we have different calls, and you'll see a guy react to certain things. It's kind of fun."

Respect for NDSU: Hahn, the senior from DeWitt, began his college career at North Dakota State before transferring in 2013. He was naturally interested in NDSU's 23-21 upset of then-No. 13 Iowa last week.

"I mean, I wasn't surprised," Hahn told a group of reporters Wednesday.

Hahn said he talked to his former roommate, Bison standout right tackle Landon Lechler, before the game in Iowa City.

"I said, 'You guys can move the ball on them. Just run power. You'll be fine,'" Hahn said. "That's what they ended up doing, pretty much."

NDSU rushed for 239 yards and averaged 4.9 yards per carry while outgaining the Hawkeyes 363-231 in total yardage.

"North Dakota (State) is just that good, pretty much, because Iowa is no slouch, obviously," Hahn said.

Hahn, by the way, has some advice for any FBS team thinking about scheduling FCS power North Dakota State.

"I advise any team -- never schedule them," Hahn said.

Injury report: Nebraska senior receiver Brandon Reilly, a premier downfield threat, practiced Wednesday for the second straight day after missing the Oregon game with a hamstring injury. However, fellow senior receiver Alonzo Moore, the team's leader in receptions (9) and yards (238) this season, sat out with a shoulder issue.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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