Saturday, October 05, 2013

Abdullah Torches Illini as Blackshirts Show (A Little) Progress

I sensed a lot of concern from Husker fans in recent days over Nebraska's game with Illinois. At a superficial level, it was easy to see:  Nebraska's defense has been porous for all season, and the Illini torched Miami (Ohio) last weekend.  Of course, most fans probably didn't realize that Miami's defense was the second worst in division 1-A.  Heck, I'm not sure that Enrico Blasi's hockey squad at Miami couldn't have done better job slowing Illinois than the Redhawks' football team.  So I wasn't quite so concerned, especially when I realized that the Illini defense was playing nearly as poorly as Nebraska's this season.

It was sure nice to see Nebraska seize command of today's game right from the start. Earlier this season, I-Back Ameer Abdullah seemed a little off.  A little slow, a little sluggish...I couldn't say for sure in the first two games against Wyoming and Southern Miss.  That was then, this is now...and Abdullah is now running at an all-Big Ten level. 21 touches for 240 yards, and it all started with the second play of scrimmage.  After the first of many errant Tommy Armstrong passes (more on that later) to open the game, Abdullah ripped off runs of 11, 3, 30, and 2 yards to give the Huskers the lead that would never be relinquished.

Abdullah's backups weren't anywhere near as effective. Terrell Newby had an 11 yard run to open the second quarter, but had a fumble in the third quarter that might have killed a drive.  Imani Cross had two fumbles (one lost), and even worse, got nailed for a safety in the second quarter.  That safety appeared to be a bad call to me; Cross got nailed inside the 2 yard line and pushed back into the end zone, where he was tackled.  Normally, the call is forward progress stopped at the 2, and that's where the ball is spotted.  Not here.

That wasn't the first of the bad calls.  Cross was also the victim of a horse-collar tackle that wasn't called.  Neither was intentional grounding on Nathan Scheelhaase for a fourth quarter throw that fell two yards shy of the line of scrimmage. But they did manage to flag Jared Afalava for pushing Scheelhaase out of bounds.  Not to mention Kenny Bell for shh-ing the student section.  And all game long, they allowed Illinois to snap the ball without allowing Pelini to get his substitutes into the game.

While the officials were wrong, it's ultimately Bo Pelini's responsibility to recognize the way the officials were handling the game, and to stop the situational substitutions.  No excuse to bull-headedly continue to be caught with players not in position, or even worse, have 12 (or more) defenders on the field.  Save the protest for the conference office; you have to play the way the game is being called.

Kenny Bell's acrobatic one-handed touchdown catch will show up on every highlight reel, but it was a symptom of Armstrong's errant throws all day.  Undoubtedly, the wind made it tough to throw the ball today, but even short throws (like that fourth and goal pass) were off target.  Only great efforts by Quincy Enunwa, Bell, and Sam Cotton turned incompletions into completions.  Am I being overly tough on Armstrong?  Yes, when you consider he's a freshman. But not at all, when people still insist that there is a quarterback controversy at Nebraska.  Armstrong wasn't too bad today, but the reality is no matter how much some people dislike the senior, Taylor Martinez is Nebraska's best quarterback.  Or at least, when he's healthy. Will he be healthy next week?  Don't know.  Will he be healthy in three weeks against Minnesota?  Hope so.  How about in a month against Northwestern?  That's the big question, and he better be.

On the defense, we saw a revamped lineup up front with several surprises.  I was pleased to see Aaron Curry start, but I expected him to replace Thad Randle instead of Vincent Valentine. Valentine played later in the game, and caught my eye a few times getting some penetration into the backfield, so I'm hoping this was a motivation thing.  Michael Rose had a big day on the stat sheet replacing Zaire Anderson (out with a bone bruise) and Nathan Gerry.  That being said, with the number of times Illinois running back Josh Ferguson got into the Nebraska secondary, there's going to be some painful video study this weekend for Nebraska's linebackers.

Randy Gregory did have another monster game at defensive end, and you get the feeling that he's starting to get comfortable with his role. This is where we remember that he's just a sophomore...and going to get even better.  Did linebacker play improve with Michael Rose and Jared Afalava in the game?  A bit, but there were still a few too many misreads with guys seemingly out of position.  Andrew Green had a strong performance today at safety; I'm still not prepared to say that the other safety position opposite Corey Cooper is solved.  Le Roy Alexander looked OK at times in relief, but sometimes it was more of the same problems that Nebraska's had all season long.

Bottom line is that it was a win, and a better win than Vegas oddsmakers and some pessimist fans expected.  And that makes it a good win.


Stephen Johnson said...

Finally a review of the game with realistc comments about performance.

Stephen Johnson said...

Good comments. Seems like all the other writers have stardust in their eyes.

Josh Jerrod said...

Refs were correct, Cross broke away from the initial contact and started heading backwards into the end zone. Safety.

"Horse-collar" tackle by rule clearly was not a horse-collar. Good no call.

The shh call and the substitution calls were BS. Agree with you there.

Finally Armstrong throws a much better ball, is a legitimate run threat and makes better decisions than Taylor. He can run the option. No question Taylor has made progress in terms of accuracy and decision making, but if you think Armstrong is making "errant throws all day" I think you need to go back and look at Mr. Martinez's accuracy over the last 3.5 seasons. Even on days with no wind. Tommy hits players in stride. Taylor? he's gottenbetter but not by a lot.

Especially given the limited amount of game time he's seen, Armstrong gives the team the best chance to win.

I know you'll blast me b/c I disagree and that's fine. Have at it.

Husker Mike said...

We'll have to disagree on the safety. He was pushed into the end zone.

You'll have to clarify why you think it wasn't a horse collar tackle.

And it's clear that you made up your mind about Tommy Armstrong long before he took the field.

Husker Mike said...

Watch the safety again... Cross gets hit at the 2, and gets pushed behind the goal line...where he gets swamped.

Bad call.

Josh Jerrod said...

Wow couldn't speed that gif up any faster? Watch it in real time, he starts heading backwards before he's contacted, gets contacted, pulls his leg out in the end zone. He's live at that point, the play has not been called dead. Then he gets swarmed. If the guy who grabbed his leg initially had maybe hung on and then he got swarmed you may have a case.

Now I wasn't there but it didn't seem like anyone from NU was even putting up much of an argument on that play.

Horrible play call by the way. Stretch play to Cross with that field position?

The NCAA ruled in 2008: "Following the lead of the NFL and acting on a proposal made by its Football Rules Committee, the NCAA will assess a penalty this season when a runner is yanked to the ground from the inside collar of his shoulder pads or jersey."

I didn't find a pic/vid of it but the Illinois player, as was shown on replay, grabbed the runner's jersey roughly mid-back - nowhere near the inside collar of his pads. At full speed it looked like a horse collar but it wasn't.

It may be clear to you that I made up my mind about Armstrong before he took the field but that would just be another thing you're incorrect about. I made up my mind yesterday after the 2nd straight game where is confidence and skill at running the offense were noticeably greater than Martinez's.

Taylor doesn't throw so much better that he's an automatic, especially without the real threat of a run. Frankly I'm not so sure that the other 2 don't throw better straight up.

I had been hopeful that Taylor would take another step up in his passing effectiveness and show us some of the burst we saw as a freshman. Given his injury it would be a miracle if that happened now.

skerzoid said...

Not sure about the safety, but I thought it was legit when I saw it. I thought the horse collar was a horse collar. The call on Bell was ridiculous, & I thought there should have been grounding on the afore mentioned call. What I thought was bad was that Illinois put on a clinic in offensive holding all day long and was rarely called for it. That was really poor officiating.

Shannon Munson said...

I disagree with Mike as well. Yes Cross got pushed back into the end zone and if he then would have went down, yes, it would not have been a safety. But he reestablished his footing and tried to make a move to leave the end zone when he finally got tackled.

And there wasn't a horse collar. He didn't grab inside the jersey/pads he just pulled the back of the jersey. Still just as dangerous but doesn't violate the rule.

Jury is still out on Armstrong. Two good games against terrible defenses is not enough. Taylor is still the starter. But if Tommy looks good again on the road, and Taylor falters at all, there may be an open competition at that point. But we have not seen enough out of Tommy to unseat Taylor at this point. Not even close.

Charles Hasegawa said...

I'm not certain Taylor is the better passer or decision maker. I think the coaches like his calls at the line of scrimmage, which gives him the edge - if he is healthy. I think Tommy is gaining the trust of the offense and his ability to lead is going to make the team more effective.

Would you rather have the QB that starts his offense in better position and does a good (not great) job of running things, or the one that is more likely to make a bad call at the line, but makes those around him more effective?

This staff appears to lean towards the former, BUT, we haven't had a game where the offense has sputtered and needed a lift yet. If/when Taylor is health, he'll be the guy. If we get down to Northwestern under Taylor and need the spark, then there will be a controversy.