In a game that would have rightly cost Mike Riley his job if lost, Nebraska responded by opening its Big Ten slate with a 27-17 win over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Should this victory be heralded as some massive turnaround for the Big Red? No, it shouldn’t. At this point, the program needed to take positive baby steps and it was able to do that.
Riley keeps his job for another week (as far as we know). Next up, Nebraska will be facing a short preparation before they travel to Illinois for a contest under Friday night lights. Before we get to any of that, let’s recap what we saw on Saturday.
1.) There’s going to be heavier emphasis on the offensive line this week because it will ultimately decide how this season ends. Michael Decker stepped in at center and matched — if not surpassed — what Cole Conrad has done so far. If what we saw today was any indication of what Decker can do on a weekly basis, Conrad should sit regardless of health.
2.) The same goes for Brendan Jaimes at right tackle. Yes, he had some struggles. However, the true freshman has shown just as much ability to do a right tackle’s job as David Knevel or Matt Farniok. Keep in mind he’s the fifth true freshman offensive lineman to start for the Huskers since freshmen regained eligibility in the ’70s.
Quite honestly, he looks like one of the only — if not the only — true tackle on a line full of guards. Nick Gates still struggles with pass rushers and allows the opportunity for defenders to split between him and Jerald Foster far too often.
3.) What we saw against Rutgers is probably the ideal offensive line personnel for the 2017 season. The best that fans can hope for is that they continue to gel and allow for the type of run blocking that allowed Devine Ozigbo to eclipse the 100-yard mark and helped Mikale Wilbon tally 78 yards and a score.
4.) The biggest area of concern in regards to the line is pass blocking. Tanner Lee has enough problems of his own without having defenders breathing down his neck. Regardless of who is in the pocket, they won’t be able to be effective if the five up front can’t give their quarterback more than maybe three seconds on a play that requires a five or seven-step drop.
5.) Regarding Lee…yeesh. It’s surprising that Patrick O’Brien didn’t even see a series, but that was affordable against Rutgers. Moving forward, the call to pull Lee after throwing win-threatening interceptions or handing a quick six to the other team needs to be fast. Again, some of this does come down to pass protection, but too much is on Lee.
6.) Wilbon did another admirable job and Ozigbo finally came off the milk carton. Why, true freshman Jaylin Bradley even got in the mix. Ideally, the swelling in Tre Bryant’s knee goes down somewhat so he can at least be used sparingly versus Illinois. A committee of these four backs is something Nebraska can ride, if necessary.
7.) Having Stanley Morgan out was big, but drops continue to plague the Huskers. Gabe Rahn would have some solid statistics if he was actually able to bring the ball in. Without Morgan, De’Mornay Pierson-El and JD Spielman filled in adequately. Against a better opponent, missing No. 8 costs the Huskers dearly.
8.) Speaking of DPE, how about that punt return? Brings back fond memories, didn’t it?
9.) The first half defense was obviously frustrating, especially when giving up chunks of yardage to Rutgers of all teams. That said, Bob Diaco did a tremendous job in the second half limiting the Scarlet Knights to all of 52 yards. The defense in those final two quarters looks far more like what was displayed in fall camp.
10.) Drew Brown and Caleb Lightbourn continue to be solid. Yay, special teams.
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