Saturday, September 05, 2015

Huskers Get All 'Riled Up In the Second Half...But Allow BYU to Snatch Victory on Hail Mary

Under new head coach Mike Riley, the Huskers played three decent quarters of football against BYU.  In the middle was a horrific second quarter where Nebraska couldn't block, pass or tackle - and didn't try to run the ball. BYU's run defense was stout last season; the Cougars only gave up six rushes of 20 yards or more in 2014. So it made sense for Nebraska to throw the ball against BYU - but not as much as Riley and Danny Langsdorf were choosing to. At halftime, Alonzo Moore was the leading rusher with 24 yards on two jet sweeps.  Mikale Wilbon had 16 yards on four carries, Terrell Newby 3 carries and Imani Cross one carry.  Only three of those carries came in the second quarter.

Tommy Armstrong threw 15 passes in that second quarter.  Only three were completed. I suspect that Tommy Armstrong's hot start (10 for 12 in the first quarter) misled the new Husker coaches into going out of balance.  Or is this a case where the new coaches don't really understand their players?  Case in point: Mikale Wilbon.  Wilbon was the most impressive I-back in the first half, but only touched the ball four times in the second half.  Yes, the offense was better in the second half, but still, it was a curious decision based on what we saw.

Defensively, frankly, there was a lot not to like. We know that Nebraska struggled with stopping the run under the previous regime, but against BYU, there wasn't much stopping of anything. Receivers running free, non-existent pass rush and linebackers, well, frankly lost at times if they weren't blitzing. And that final Hail Mary play?  Four defensive backs line up deep in the end zone...and let the game winning touchdown get caught in front of them.  Nate Gerry did make an attempt to knock the ball down, but nobody else made any attempt to stop Mitch Matthews.

Lucky play? To some degree.  Poorly defended?  Absolutely.  This is an extreme example, of course...but it wasn't the only time the secondary was out of position.

There are more concerns; let's start with conditioning.  We've heard lots of raves about new strength and conditioning coach Mark Philipp. How many times did Nebraska players have to leave the game with cramps?  Yes, it was a hot day, but you didn't see many BYU players camping up.  And if you think today was hot and humid, there's an afternoon game in steamy Miami in two weeks. (AccuWeather predicts a heat index of 98 on September 19.)

The Huskers were flagged 12 times for 90 yards. That's sloppy at best, but perhaps to be expected when changing coaching staffs.  Except there's this little detail about Oregon State being one of the worst teams in college football the last two years:  87th in penalties in 2013, 122nd in 2014.

I don't want to read too much into one game...especially one game against a pretty good opponent. But this first game confirms many of my concerns going into this season. They say that a team improves the most between the first and second game; Nebraska has a lot to improve on over the next week.

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