It’s hard to believe that after everything that happened this past Saturday, the Nebraska Cornhuskers are still ranked No. 10 in the country. Their 42-29 pressure-filled victory over the Fresno State Bulldogs was so tense, emotional and fascinating to watch that when you stop and put in perspective as being “just another game,” it’s hard to believe that the outing would even qualify as that.
As was the case with the Chattanooga game, there are a lot of takeaways from the Huskers’ battle versus the Bulldogs. It wasn’t a pretty win, that much is clear – but those are the ones that will teach you the most about a squad’s toughness and inherent grit. And, as hard as it may be to swallow, games like the one that Nebraska had against Fresno State are inevitable over the course of a given college football season.
So, with that in mind, here is the good, bad and ugly of what we witnessed this past Saturday.
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Unlike their opponents -- who ironically stayed true to their name -- the Huskers will not roll over for anyone. Let’s put aside, for a second, the fact that Nebraska never should have been down to these guys in the first place. That the Nebraska defense, for whatever reason, couldn’t find a way to pressure a quarterback who was being protected by an offensive line comprised of four inexperienced youngsters and without Richard Helepiko.
Similarly, let’s momentarily forget that the Huskers somehow lost the time of possession battle to Fresno State in a way that they previously hadn’t since 2007. And, of course, we can brush aside the inconsistency and sloppiness of the offense that plagued the squad for the entire first half of the game.
Despite all of that, Nebraska still had the wherewithal to collect themselves, dust their knees off, and put up a fight until the bitter end. As is typically the case when a team doesn’t quit despite a rough early going, the dedicated effort paid off.
Quarterback, Taylor Martinez went 6-of-8 in the second half. More importantly, though, he showcased the fact that when the situation calls for it and the opportunity is there, he can in fact connect on the long ball – not simply take off running at the first sign of impending pressure. The offensive line, for whatever reason, also finally found it within themselves to give some time to the skill players. And the special teams, man oh man, did they come through.
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No story of the good from Saturday’s game would be complete without recounting what the game’s hero, speedy youngster Ameer Abdullah did.
There were good things that happened on Saturday, but then there were some not so good things as well.
Whether people want to admit it or not, football is still a game of numbers. If you lose certain battles, you suddenly become far more likely to choke away the whole thing away – especially when you face better opponents than Fresno State. In their latest showing, the Nebraska somehow managed to lose the time of possession battle and the total yardage battle to opponents that got beaten senseless by Cal in the week prior.
The Bulldogs, to their credit, held onto the ball for 37:12. Although that number may not appear awe-inspiring initially, it becomes all the more interesting when you realize that it was a.) Fresno State who put it up and, b.) it was the largest figure put up by a Nebraska opponent since 2007.
As troubling as losing the time of possession is, though, losing the yardage battle to a team of Fresno State’s lack of stature is far more of a cause for concern. That loss of the yardage battle can be directly attributed to the ugliest part of Nebraska’s win.
Nebraska always has, and always will, hang their hat on the defense. Always. Whereas the offense can be sporadic and inconsistent, the defense has to continuously be reliable and ready to pull the squad out of any hole that they get themselves into.
On Saturday, for the first time in a while, the defense disappointed.
Playing against an inferior, inexperienced offensive line, somehow, the Huskers were unable to record a single sack of quarterback Derek Carr. He threw the ball 41 times for a grand total of 254 yards so the opportunities were obviously there, but Bo Pelini’s unit simply did not deliver. Worst of all, though, the Nebraska defense couldn’t shut down a single portion of Fresno State’s attack – neither the pass nor the run.
Robbie Rouse, Fresno State’s capable running back, racked up 169 yards on 36 carries. For the game, the Bulldogs accumulated 190 rushing yards total, averaging 4.7 per yards per run. It was ridiculous on every level.
There are a lot of elements at work here, and a number of reasons for why the unit that typically excels floundered on Saturday. Perhaps this is the byproduct of a speedier offensive scheme being implemented by the team’s offense, which in turn forces the defense to clock more time on the field. That, mind you, would also explain the snaps disparity in this outing – a battle which Fresno State won. It would also explain why the defense looked so lethargic, particularly late in the first and second halves throughout.
With Alfonzo Dennard out, the rest of the defense was expected to compensate for the thinness in the Huskers’ secondary. This simply hasn’t happened and, instead of making up for Dennard’s absence, the defense appears to be regressing with holes forming all over the place.
The offense will be the offense. They’ll be prone to periods of inefficiency in between glimpses of brilliance. That’s just who they are, and who they will be for the foreseeable future. The defense, however, is the key to this team’s fortunes. If this outing versus Fresno State was just an aberration, a mistake-filled showing that won’t repeat itself again this year – so be it. Chalk it up to an unlucky day and move on.
If it was more than that, though, and signified the new look of the Huskers defense in 2011 – the team’s chances at a championship suddenly decrease ten-fold.