About all we knew about South Dakota State going into this game was that they were a pretty good division 1-AA team with a heck of a running back. Today, the Blackshirts made Zach Zenner look even better, as Zenner rushed for 202 yards on just 21 carries. You'd like to think it was a long time since Nebraska gave up a 200 yard rushing day, but it hasn't. (/Wisconsin scores again)
Take absolutely nothing from Zenner, who rushed for 2,044 yards last season and has 742 yards in four games this season. He was a 1-AA All-American last season and seems headed in the same direction in 2013. But Nebraska's defensive line sure allowed Zenner to make it look easy. Bo Pelini after the game criticized his defense for being unable to get off blocks, and that started right up front. That's very disappointing after the defensive line started to look promising the first three weeks of the season.
I knew Zenner was going to get some yards, but what really depressed me was quarterback Austin Sumner's ability to sit back in the pocket and find wide open receivers, especially early on. Yes, that starts up front, but the secondary didn't help much either. I noticed in the second half that Pelini inserted redshirt freshman LeRoy Alexander, who caught my eye a few times.
Offensively, the Huskers were pretty much unstoppable - except when they stopped themselves with turnovers. Quarterbacks Tommy Armstrong and Ron Kellogg were efficient, combining to complete 20 of 25 passes for 305 yards. Armstrong looked poised and comfortable in his first game action with the game on the line; a very solid debut. In fact, it was so solid that some people think Nebraska should have a quarterback controversy.
Wait. Stop. If you said that Taylor Martinez should be benched in favor of Armstrong, walk that statement back right now. Hit the delete key if it's not too late. Armstrong looked good...but it was still against a 1-AA program that has never defeated a 1-A opponent. The last time they played a 1-A opponent, they lost to Charlie Weis and Kansas in 2012.
And this is a 1-AA opponent that doesn't have a very good defense. Last week, Southeastern Louisiana completed 28 of 37 passes for 322 yards against South Dakota State. The week before, North Dakota's two quarterbacks completed 28 of 45 passes for 437 yards. The Jackrabbits are very good on offense, but they have some defensive issues. They've got a lot to work on before North Dakota State comes to visit next weekend.
What we did see was that Armstrong throws a really nice ball and can be efficient in the quarterback run game. He's better than Martinez running the option, but then again, Iowa State's Marv Seiler was better than Martinez running the option. Martinez is still clearly Nebraska's best overall quarterback when healthy. He's got the experience and he still has the breakaway speed and intangibles that will keep him atop the depth chart once his foot is ready.
I suspect that Martinez will be ready to play in two weeks; heck, I suspect that if Nebraska were playing Illinois this week, Martinez would have started. It just didn't make sense to play Martinez when his foot was obviously bothering him last week. Go ahead and rest him for a week or two, and see if that foot gets healthy. In the meantime, Armstrong gets even more preparation for 2014. He's going to be a good one down the line. Just don't read too much into his performance against a bad 1-AA defense. South Dakota State ranked 106th out of 114 teams in 1-AA in pass defense prior to today for a reason.
That's not 106th in 1-A with schools like Alabama and Texas. That's 106th in 1-AA with schools like Stephen F. Austin and Weber State. Frankly, if Armstrong and Kellogg DIDN'T put on a show today, Husker fans should have been alarmed. Great game for Martinez's two understudies, but let's not go overboard.
Now Nebraska has a bye week with plenty of things to work on. It all starts with the defense. One change I'd like to see is to move Avery Moss to the other side of the defensive line and let both Moss and Randy Gregory start. Find somebody - anybody - to man the other safety spot next to Corey Cooper who isn't a liability. Maybe it's finally Charles Jackson time.
Bottom line is that if the defense doesn't get fixed in the next month, it won't matter what Shawn Eichorst and Harvey Perlman really thought about "AudioGate".