I went into this season cautiously optimistic about the potential of the 2013 Huskers. The first game didn't give me much to justify that optimism. A three point win over a Wyoming team when favored by 30 is concerning. Giving up a school record 35 first downs is concerning. Giving up 602 yards is concerning.
And I can hear the uproar; for some, it's downright alarming. Are people reaching for the panic button? No doubt some are, but I'm going to hold off on that for now. Nebraska played pretty poorly Saturday night on both sides of the ball. Fortunately, they came away with the win...and that's pretty much the main positive on the night.
Credit Wyoming for playing well, especially quarterback Brett Smith. In the first half, Smith and running back Shaun Wick repeatedly found seams up front in the Husker defense, racking up 178 yards on the ground by halftime. In the second half, it was Smith finding receivers through the air, and suddenly turning the game interesting even after many fans had already headed for home.
While the net result was similar to Nebraska's last two games, the personnel on the field were quite a bit different...and that should temper the reaction to throw in the towel. Last year, it was seniors making mistakes and getting beat; against Wyoming, it was freshmen and sophomores who were being counted on in crucial situations for the first time. Sometimes it went well; way too often, it went wrong.
Let's start up front with the defensive line. The defensive ends didn't seem to have a great night, especially senior Jason Ankrah. Randy Gregory did a lot of good things, even if the referees disagreed. What was up with that roughing penalty? In the stadium, I could have sworn I heard the ref mention "ejection", but fortunately that wasn't the case. I have a lot of mixed opinions on the call. In the spirit of the new "targeting" penalty, I kind of see the call. It was a vicious hit...but I don't think it was illegal either, unless you are considering any vicious hit to be worth of a penalty.
Inside on the line, I felt a little better about Thad Randle's play, and I thought I saw some good things from Vincent Valentine. Judging from the amount of snaps Valentine played, I suspect the coaches did as well.
With Wyoming lining up in the spread, Nebraska spent most of the night in nickel and dime defenses, and David Santos was usually the only guy in the middle. Coaches were continually screaming at Santos from the sideline, and in the second half, true freshman Josh Banderas saw quite a bit of playing time.
The secondary was off and on. Stanley Jean-Baptiste had a great first half, but safety play seemed to be lacking quite a bit. Mo Seisay has has moved into Corey Cooper's dime spot with mixed results; offhand, I think Nebraska's better off with Nathan Gerry as the dime linebacker. Sometimes the coverage was fine; sometimes the quarterback and receiver just make the play. Other times, especially in the fourth quarter, the coverage was lacking... especially on that last touchdown that made it a three point game.
While the offense put up decent numbers, there certainly was the potential to do a heck of a lot more. Some of that apparently was by design; for some reason, Tim Beck called an awful lot of screen passes. It never seemed Nebraska had much interest in stretching the field, being content to dink and dunk. Backup I-backs Imani Cross and true freshman Terrell Newby were the highlights of the day. Cross's first touchdown of the day was highlight reel material; the legend of the "Beast" only grows stronger. He's shed a few pounds, but none of his power. And I liked what I saw out of Newby in his first action at this level.
Bottom line on today is that while Nebraska was good enough to win today, that won't be good enough to win most weeks. Next week is Southern Miss, who lost to Texas State 22-15 for their 14th straight loss. But after that is UCLA, with another mobile quarterback, who beat Nevada 58-20. Earlier this summer, I wasn't too concerned about UCLA. If I don't see significant improvement on defense next week, I'll become very concerned.