PYB checks in after a horrendous loss to BYU and its merry band of hypocritical Mormons. A horrendous loss, that after a second viewing, isn't as horrendous as once suspected but is still a sad reminder of Nebraska's status in the college football food chain. Let's go down the line with some snap judgments:
Luke Gifford: Looked foolish on at least three plays early in the game and was the main offender in not defending the final, game-blowing play. Apparently, the preseason word from camp that he 'showed promise' was propaganda. Wayne State or bust.
Alex Lewis: Apparently, it's still easier to beat the shit out of a civilian outside a bar than it is to block opposing Division I defensive lineman. Lewis appears to have traded his reputation as a penalty machine into one as a rag doll. We saw him in the backfield multiple times after missing an assignment or getting railroaded straight backward. Kudos, Captain Alex.
Penalties: Twelve flags. 90 yards. Won't get it done. Private Pinelli would be proud. His process is in place.
Run game: 126 yards. 37 attempts. 3.4 yards per carry. Awful. Even worse was the coaching staff's lack of imagination in getting Tommy Armstrong into the open field. The one option they ran worked well. Even worse was the reliance on the jet sweep (to the short side) on the game's most critical third and short. At least the coaches owned the mistake. Sadly, we all realized how many holes Ameer Abdullah, Rex Burkhead and Roy Helu have covered the last several seasons. Gaining 1500+ yards with no blocking is indeed a gift.
Cornerbacks: Can this be considered bad, if NU doesn't have any cornerbacks? Josh Kalu is a potential star at safety. The coaches have him playing CB, either because they've failed to properly evaluate his skill set or because they have no other options at corner. We wish Pinelli could make him a permanent, one-game starter at corner and move him to safety.
Daniel Davie is incapable of covering good wide receivers. A possible contributor as a dime corner, the fact that he'll be covering the opponent's top pass-catcher every game is horrifying.
BYU Cheap Shot: Safety Jordan Preator took NU tight end David Sutton out of the game and for several weeks with a cheap shot for the ages. That came at the 11-minute mark of the second quarter and was Preator's third dirty play of the game. We shouldn't act surprised. The most self-righteous teams are usually the cheapest. Brawl vs. Memphis, anyone?
So, the awful Big Ten officials shouldn't have been caught by surprise. The only thing more disappointing than the officials not calling the penalty is that Nebraska did not retaliate. This should have been policed on the field, without any coaching. Instead, NU turtled.
The Roster: The lack of depth (not to mention talent) is shocking. Saturday was a true measure of just how pathetic the former staff was at recruiting and player development. No proven running back to replace Abdullah. One healthy tight end. An offensive line with a combined 15 starts going into the game (13 for one player)
On defense, not one proven defensive end. A suspended starting linebacker and another making his first start as a true freshman. A horrendous defensive backfield.
On special teams, the return game was again a non-factor with DeMornay Pierson-El out. Drew Brown wa and is a disaster at placekicker, missing two easy field goals. Sam Foltz hurt his ankle, and there is no backup. We're fine.
Strength and Conditioning: BYU owned the line of scrimmage. Countless Cornhuskers were carted off the field, and in some cases, came back in the game only to get carted off again. BYU was tougher, both physically and mentally (see: no retaliation for cheap shot). This is a direct indictment of the last staff. The team, as a whole, looked lead-footed. Hell, if the team's last strength coach didn't even believe in publishing 40-yard dash times (the standard index for all of football for the last 40+ years), what does that say?
The Not As Bad As We Initially Thought
The Offense: PYB, as many fans likely did, remembered the second quarter and let it taint our memory of the full-game performance. The first quarter was good -- 180 yards and a 14-7 lead. Just 58 yards in the second quarter. Obviously, not optimal, but not as disastrous as suspected. The pass game got slightly off track in the second quarter and stalled a couple drives, as did a fumble near the end of the half. It's the risk of passing 40 times a game with a streaky (at best) passer at quarterback. The staff will have to find the right mix of plays to ensure this doesn't happen regularly.
In the second half, NU used a solid run game and gained 146 yards in the third quarter. In the fourth, the lack of push and third-down conversions hurt and the unit only gained 65 yards. 445 total. Certainly enough to win a home game. But, in the end, if it's taking 41 passes to net 319 yards, those 445 aren't as meaningful as it would be for an offense that's controlling the clock and/or has big-play potential. This group, for now, has no proven home-run hitters.
Armstrong: 24/41. 319 yards. One damaging interception. 58.5% completion rate. He'll never be a great passer but wasn't supposed to be. PYB still maintains the guy could be an above-average quarterback if he had a coordinator that used his full arsenal of talents. His one option run gained 15 yards. Maintaining that threat would open up easy passes to the tight ends and the deeper routes to wide receivers.
He'll need much-improved decision making, whether it be eliminating the crucial interception or simply throwing the ball away rather than trying to perfect the Taylor Martinez "spin away and throw the ball blindly to try to avoid a sack and instead throw an interception or get an intentional grounding penalty" play. Either way, would prefer not to see him crying on his dad's shoulder at the end of the game. If it meant that much, make more plays and fewer errors
the previous four hours.
The Offensive Line: Obviously, not great push or sustained run production. But, considering the unit had only 15 career starts prior (13 for Lewis), we liked that the same five linemen got every rep during the game. Develop a smaller, core group rather than a menagerie of mediocre players. Interesting theory.
Play calling: Despite the aforementioned short-yardage misses, PYB saw glimpses of strategy in the play calling. Progress indeed. The switch to straight-ahead running in the third quarter was nice. We wish the staff had found a way to keep that momentum going.
The Defense: Gave up 511 yards. 293 in the first half. 218 in the second, 81 of which came on two last-gasp, fourth quarter jump ball plays against outclassed athletes (Davie & Gifford). Outside of that, they controlled BYU in the second half.
Dedrick Young: The true freshman from Phoenix wasn't perfect and looked to be feeling his way around. Understandable. He was second on the team with seven tackles and should only improve. Let's hope he stays healthy.
Josh Banderas: Showed flashes of what we thought he would two years ago. There's that Pinelli/player development thing again.
Nate Gerry: His third-quarter interception changed the game's momentum. PYB would love him to be more consistent and to be the teams consistent, spiritual leader. (Translation: make a play himself on the game-losing play)
Tackling: The Blackskirts actually tackled offensive players. Even made a few stops in open space. Progress. Let's hope it continues.
Defensive Tackles: Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine led the core of this talented unit, and stabilized the interior of the defense -- especially in the second half. Here' to hoping the rest of the defense can improve greatly in the next couple weeks before a road game at Miami.
So, there you have it. Another predictable punch in the nuts for a team and fan base that didn't need one. Losing on a Hail Mary made it worse, like hitting one's head on the bike rack while falling to the ground after that playground shot to the groin. Hopefully, NU will be able to get healthy and refine some things during a should-be layup against South Alabama this week. Surely, some overmatched BTN announcer will tell us that a team improves most between its first and second games and we'll all rejoice that Nebraska is back and here to stay and ready to take on the Hurricanes.
Reality tells us that the cupboard is widely bare. That Old Mother Hubbard (Pinelli) was too busy bending over and taking the Big Ten's bone to stock up, develop and keep talent in house. Mike Riley is stuck with that reality. We can only hope he's smart enough to make the transition to his offense a gradual one. A 1-2 record after Miami is a cold reality, either way. Should Riley try a full year of square peg/round hole, he can expect a nuclear winter in Lincoln.