Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Huskers Survive Late Georgia Push At the Gator Bowl

Pick your narrative:  Another four-loss season for Nebraska.  Or, Nebraska beat an SEC team on New Year's Day.

They're both right, of course. It all comes down to how you want to view this game and this season. There were a lot of good things to like:  Ameer Abdulllah rushing for 122 yards. Nebraska going +1 on turnover margin. Todd Gurley being held to just 86 yards rushing. The Blackshirts holding Georgia to four field goals in the first three quarters.  Andrew Green playing one of his best games ever in his last game for the Huskers.

And a few things to dislike: Unable to cover Georgia tight end Arthur Lynch for most of the game, and then Gurley in the fourth quarter.  Tommy Armstrong underthrowing quite a few passes in the rain.

Biggest, of course, was Nebraska winning the turnover battle. Some thought that was impossible, especially in the rain.  Frankly, could Nebraska have won this game without the turnovers?  I suspect not, because Nebraska struggled with sustaining drives all day. The touchdown drives were 2 plays (14 yards), 7 plays (38 yards), and 3 plays (95 yards).  Nebraska's best drive of the day was actually a 9 play driver for 48 yards that led to a field goal in the second quarter.  (If Jamal Turner makes that catch in the end zone, it becomes a 77 yard touchdown drive and the game takes an entirely different tone.)

Yes, that was a better drive than the 95 yarder. Mind you, the touchdown pass from Armstrong to Quincy Enunwa was the undisputed play of the day, but it followed a fumbled snap that Armstrong miraculously was able to keep an inch shy of the goal line. I don't think it'll ever be possible to watch a longer Nebraska touchdown pass, mostly because it would be nearly impossible to get the ball placed any closer to the goal line without it being a safety.  That 99.9 touchdown pass may be matched at some point down the line with another 99 yarder on the stat sheet, but Enunwa's 99.9 yarder will always be the longest.

The Blackshirts played well at times, except in covering all-SEC tight end Arthur Lynch and Gurley.  Both are physical mismatches, though.  The NFL will be drooling over Gurley for the next 16 months, and Lynch is going to be playing on Sunday's this fall.  Some people will point out that Gurley wasn't 100% today, but by all reports, he was healthier today than he's been since mid-October.  And today, Nebraska held him to his lowest yards per carry average (4.1) of the season.

And that's the story of the 2013 season. When the season began, the story line was asking whether Bo Pelini could coach defense anymore.  Other than the first half of the UCLA game, Nebraska's defense seemed to still be suffering from the Wisconsin-scored-again syndrome for the entire month of September. We saw little bits of improvement in October, but in November, we saw the formation of a Bo Pelini defense. It's not quite there yet, but there's a sound foundation of freshmen and sophomores that could make Nebraska a formidable force the next couple of years.

Offensively, Armstrong had his moments today, but he's still got some improvement to make in reading defenses and adjusting to field conditions.  Today, he was short on many of his passes.  He wasn't short - or long - on the play of the day, and that's important.  When a receiver is that open, you cannot overthrow him.  Rule #1 - make sure the ball is catchable.  Throwing it to the receiver in stride is merely a bonus.  I don't think that Armstrong has locked up the starting quarterback position for 2014, but it'll take quite the effort by Johnny Stanton to overtake him in the spring and summer.

The big question for the next couple of weeks is watching to see what Ameer Abdullah chooses to do. A lot of people think that he'll head for the NFL, knowing that running backs only have so many carries in their legs.  It would be hard to argue against that decision, except to mention this.  Abdullah's one liability is his ball security; he improved this season, but his five fumbles is only one less than Tulsa's Trey Watts, the most fumble-prone running back in college football this season.  The NFL will keep that in mind...and more importantly, he probably won't have as much of a chance to improve on that in the pros.  Look at Rex Burkhead, who only played in one game for the Bengals this season.  You may only get one chance to prove yourself to the NFL, and unless Abdullah thinks he's headed for a multi-year career in the NFL, he's best advised to build his resume in his senior season.

And if Abdullah returns in 2014, things set up rather nicely for Nebraska to finally break out of that four-loss "rut". (There are worse things than that, mind you.)  Already, this winter and spring sets up to be a little more positive thanks to a bowl victory on New Year's Day.

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