There were a lot of things to like in Nebraska's 51-38 victory over Washington. There also were a few things to dislike: namely 38 points and 420 yards given up on defense. But after the Holiday Bowl debacle against those same Washington Huskies, Husker fans should be ecstatic with a win.
On offense, the Huskers finally got the I-backs unleashed...especially in the second half. The first half, it was the passing game that got the Huskers started...starting with the opening snap. Kenny Bell's 50 yard pass reception not only set up the opening score just 34 seconds into the game, but also kept Washington from stacking the box the rest of the day. Like on the final drive the week before, Rex Burkhead found some running room. Not enough to keep drives going, but still more than he had seen earlier in the season.
In the second half, the Huskers pounded the ball at Washington. Martinez only threw four passes as the Huskers rushed the ball 37 times. It wasn't anything fancy either; just pure bread-and-butter plays like pitch plays to the I-backs. Even a couple of fullback traps, the first of which was a 36 yard gain. Rex Burkhead was back in prime form, bouncing off of tacklers, juking and jiving for extra yardage. Burkhead's not a game breaker, but the Huskers need a couple of yards, Rex is the man Nebraska needs in the game. Taylor Martinez carried the ball 17 times, but it didn't seem that way because Martinez is becoming more judicious with his carries. Eric Crouch and Scott Frost might cringe to see a Nebraska quarterback running out of bounds or sliding to avoid a hit, but considering what happened to Nebraska after Martinez got hurt last season, avoiding unnecessary hits is a necessity. It also was nice to see Martinez taking extra care of the ball late in the game. Nebraska only had one fumble on the day, and that was on a punt.
Defensively, it was a mixed performance. An average first half, an outstanding third quarter, and a bad fourth quarter. I liked Josh Mitchell entering the game at cornerback in nickel situations, as Ciante Evans does a better job at nickel than Justin Blatchford. Andrew Green had a couple nice plays at corner, but several more blown coverages. Fortunately, it sounds like Alfonzo Dennard could be back in a couple of weeks. That can only help the Blackshirts to finally have their shutdown corner back on the field. But does that explain giving up 38 points? Not entirely. This defense isn't playing to Nebraska standards yet.
I found some of Nebraska's strategy questionable late in the game, especially after Nebraska's final touchdown where Brett Maher pooched the kickoff, giving the Huskies the ball near midfield. Then with Nebraska facing a fourth down and two and under three minutes left in the game, Nebraska elected to go for the first down rather than kick a field goal. Maher likely would have made the 39 yard field goal and given Nebraska a 16 point lead, which would have required three scores to lose the game. Burkhead came up a yard short, and it wasn't until Austin Cassiday's interception that the thirteen point lead was solid.
Watching the game in the stadium, I didn't get the same feeling about the kick interference penalties that television viewers did. Of course, I didn't have to listen to the insufferable combo of Matt Millen and Sean McDonough either. The second call on the Rex Burkhead return seemed to be noncontroversial to me; Burkhead seemed to be hit simultaneous to catching the punt which should be a penalty. This isn't the old controversial halo rule where you get flagged for being within two yards. The rule is you have to have an "unimpeded opportunity" to catch the ball, and on that play, it seemed pretty clear to me that Burkhead never had that opportunity.
Nebraska is 3-0 and the offense is starting to become consistent. I have faith that Bo Pelini will figure out what ails the defense; they may not be a top ten defense this season, but they'll be better down the stretch. And judging from what I see in the Big Ten conference this season, that might be enough to put Nebraska in position to win the west division this season. And if we see more of what we saw in the third quarter when the Huskers were clicking on both sides of the ball, even more than that. Much more than that.