Saturday, September 15, 2012

Blackshirts Bounce Back Against Arkansas State While Pelini Falls Ill

I noticed something wasn't quite right with Nebraska during the Tunnel Walk.  Bo Pelini and the Huskers looked extremely sullen; just not themselves as they took the field before the game.
My first thought was the Oklahoma State game in 2007; I saw a similar reaction from the Huskers that day, and it carried over onto the field. That didn't really happen today, though we saw a few issues on defense early on as the Huskers struggled to defend Gus Malzahn's wide-open spread offense between the 20's.

The weird thing was I noticed someone wearing one of the coaches shirts walking behind the north end zone towards the Nebraska locker room in the second quarter, and immediately thought to Pelini.  A quick check of my binoculars indicated it wasn't Pelini, but subconsciously, I obviously was wondering about him.  But then word about Pelini leaving in an ambulance started passing through the stands, and I started to connect the dots, whether they are related or not. A lot of questions have been raised about Pelini this week; many fair, though some not-so-fair. He's had a player quit on him, and even some internet nit-wits suggesting he's about to be fired. Pelini's blood pressure probably usually hits nuclear levels during most games, but today, it all was enough to send Pelini off the field in and into an ambulance.

In that second half, the Blackshirts played Blackshirt stifiling defense.  Did Arkansas State put some yards up in the first half?  Yes, but the Red Wolves offense was kept out of the end zone all day.  And let's put it in perspective; Arkansas State had rolled up over 1200 yards against Oregon and Memphis; holding them under 300 is probably a good performance.

Nebraska's defense still has problems shutting down quick screens running wide, but they showed improvement in tackling.  OK, it's Arkansas State and not UCLA or Ohio State.  That rumored 3-4 defense?  Nothing more than unleashing Eric Martin and moving him around and behind the line of scrimmage.  And Martin unleashed was not what Arkansas State was looking for; one sack, three quarterback hurries, and a fumble recovery. Nice to see someone up front making plays.

Zaire Anderson had a slow start in his first action, but made a key stop in the third quarter to haul down Ryan Aplin for no gain on third down.  Holding Arkansas State to 6 of 16 on third down is a step forward; not great, mind you...but improvement.

And that was the name of the day.  Before last week's debacle against UCLA, I would have been pleased with a 42-13 victory over Arkansas State.  After last week's defensive meltdown, I'm extremely pleased.  (I predicted 56-31 over at CornNation.)  Let's face it; the defense really only gave up 3 points.  How can you blame the defense for holding Arkansas State to 0 yards and a field goal after Ameer Abdullah's fumbled punt return?

Abdullah's muffed punt was the only blemish on an otherwise sparkling performance by the sophomore.  Last season, I wondered about his ability to run inside, but today, he was solid in all aspects of the game.  This is going to blasphemous for me to say, but Nebraska doesn't miss Rex Burkhead as a running back.  Rex does a few things better than Abdullah, and can do things in the Wildcat that we haven't seen from Abdullah, but Abdullah has a fourth gear with breakaway speed...and that's something Rex Burkhead really doesn't have.

Taylor Martinez was solid today; 13 of 14 in the passing game for 180 yards.  That one incompletion could have been intercepted, though.  Even worse, Jamal Turner had a seam; if he hits Turner in stride, Turner probably scores and blows the game wide open.  I'm not going to blame those two fumbles on Martinez; Ben Cotton missed a block on Nathan Herrold, who blindsided Martinez for the Red Wolves only touchdown of the day.  And I couldn't tell, but it may have been Braylon Heard who missed picking up a blitz on Martinez and led to another fumble.

Unless Kenny Bell's Husker career is cut short by declaring early for the NFL (or injury, considering all possibilities), seems destined to become Nebraska's greatest receiver ever.  Both touchdown passes were great plays, but I loved the second one for knowing exactly where the end zone was and running wide then finding an opportunity to stretch the ball across.  That's heady play to work with both his blazing speed and solid hands.

Considering all that has happened this week, it was a solid game for Nebraska. The defense found a way to shut down the high flying Arkansas State offense in the second half (only 89 yards of offense), and most importantly, Bo Pelini was released from the hospital.

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