Looking at Nebraska's 38-14 victory over Wyoming, I think it's one of those situations where you ask whether the glass is half-full or half-empty. On one hand, Nebraska won by three scores and beat the spread . . . On the other hand, I frankly don't think I've seen the Husker team I expected this season. In fact, other than the third quarter against Washington, I don't think Nebraska has played to it's potential. And maybe that's the problem: were my preseason predictions and prognostications out of line? At a certain point, you have to accept that Nebraska is what we've been seeing on the field, not what we had hoped we'd see.
Are we at that point? Not yet...but I'm getting closer and closer to accept that my expectations were a little optimistic this season. Nebraska's offense IS better than at the end of last season, but it's not anywhere near better enough. More concerning is that the defense isn't quite to the level we've become accustomed out of Nebraska in recent years.
Take tonight, where Wyoming true freshman quarterback Brett Smith found holes in the Nebraska secondary multiple times tonight. Is Smith talented? Looks like it; he kept his poise all night. But he is a true freshman, and he's played two 1-AA and a MAC team so far in his college career. That being said... he also only completed 17 of 33 passes for 166 yards. So while I shouldn't be pleased...should I be concerned?
Let's look at some positives... namely Rex Burkhead, who had a monster night: 15 carries, 170 yards, two touchdowns. Always steady, tonight, he simply couldn't be contained by the Cowboys. The other freshmen backs looked pretty good as well, combining for 87 yards on 15 carries. Brandon Kinnie broke out of his slump in fine fashion with three clutch catches. Loved the second quarter catch where he made two moves to get the first down.
But plenty of negatives, starting with Taylor Martinez in the first quarter. The last two weeks, I've felt that Martinez has improved his accuracy passing, but tonight, he regressed. Hit a wide-open Kyler Reed at least partially in stride..and it's a touchdown. Instead, Nebraska settles for a field goal. Martinez took a bad sack by stepping up into non-existant pressure. That sack wasn't the fault of the offensive line.
One thing I took out of this week's game is that it seems Nebraska's coaching staff treated this game much like an exhibition game. We saw lots of experimentation and lots of new looks. Sometimes it was to see how Nebraska would respond. Sometimes it was to give our new Big Ten opponents something else to chew on. Like the return of Rex Burkhead taking the snap and Martinez split out wide. Like Eric Martin seeing some significant playing time early on. How about leaving cornerback Josh Mitchell back in Lincoln after he saw significant playing time last wee. Tonight, Corey Cooper was thrown into the fire for his first start. Got burned a couple of times in his first significant playing time of the season.
So in that light, perhaps it's not a surprise that Nebraska still looks a little disjointed. Nebraska's playing a lot of young players, especially in the secondary which is probably leading to some of the issues we've seen. That being said, it's time to get real. Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan State are all on the schedule next month. Up to now, you could excuse these problems. Starting next Saturday night, it's time to stop making excuses and start executing.