Sunday, September 13, 2015

Nebraska Out-Talents South Alabama...But Leaves An Uneasy Feeling

I'm not sure I remember a Nebraska football game that the Huskers won so handily that left me so concerned afterwards. Maybe that 2002 game against McNeese State perhaps?  A 48-9 victory shouldn't leave you feeling that way, but that's my take. Much of that goes to the opponent, who really isn't that good. Five returning starters (though they did pick up a few exiles from UAB) on a team that struggled last week to defeat Gardner-Webb 33-23 last week.  (Gardner-Webb went 4-8 last season and defeated Elon tonight in triple overtime.)

It's not like there weren't good things to see, such as the Huskers rush defense stifling South Alabama's running backs.  Xavier Johnson was apparently suspended for the first quarter, but still ended up being the Jaguars' leading rusher with 28 yards on seven carries.  And that's with three starters (Jack Gangwish, Dedrick Young and Josh Banderas) in the front seven sidelined with injury. Truth be told, though, I'm not so sure they were missed that much, thanks to the return of Nebraska's best linebacker: Michael Rose-Ivey.  You could tell early on that he was motivated to make up for being suspended last week.  The other linebackers seemed to play well as well: Chris Weber did fine in the middle in his first real playing time, and Luke Gifford played better as well.  Freedom Akinmoladun gave us two big splash plays in relief of Gangwish at defensive end.

Terrell Newby put up some impressive numbers (198 yards on 28 carries), but I suspect that had more to do with the opponent than Newby.  After Gardner-Webb rushed for 177 yards last week, I expected Nebraska to rush for 400 yards on the day, and that didn't happen. Much of that has to do with the play calling: Nebraska threw the ball 38 times and only rushed the ball 37 times. Tommy Armstrong was efficient throwing the ball, completing 21 of 30 passes, but this points to a philosophical difference I have with the Riley plan. Mike Riley and Danny Langsdorf simply feel more comfortable throwing the ball than running the ball, and that's something that I think will bite this team as we go into the Big Ten season.

Or maybe next weekend when the Huskers travel to steamy Miami.  The 'Canes looked rather feeble in the first half Friday night against Florida Atlantic, but rolled in the second half. Last weekend, Nebraska didn't handle the heat and humidity well at all, and the heat index is forecast to hit 100 next Saturday.  Miami's Joseph Yearby looks to be the toughest runner Nebraska has seen this season by far, while Brad Kaaya certainly looked impressive last season against the Huskers last season in Lincoln.

Which brings me to my biggest point of concern: the decline of the Nebraska secondary.  Going into this season, I thought the secondary would be Nebraska's strength on defense, but it actually looks like it's now the weakness. I don't believe it's a talent issue either; I believe it's a schematic and philosophical issue.  Nebraska's defensive backs seem to be playing softer, and frankly, not very well. Daniel Davie could find himself riding the bench next week in place of Jonathan Rose or Chris Jones.  Way too often against South Alabama, the Husker defensive backs got beaten on a deep throw.  They aren't getting much help from the defensive line either, who aren't generating much of a pass rush this season either.  It's way too much pitch and catch.

It's also week two.  Way too early to even begin consider looking for a panic button.  But like I said, it leaves me an uneasy feeling heading to South Beach next weekend.

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