With the help of an FCS opponent with 20 less scholarships, Nebraska snapped a 7 game losing streak and was able to get into the win column moving to 1-1 this year. Despite a second half surge, ESPN’s FPI dropped our estimated win total to 5.8-6.2, predicting 6-6 for our season finish.
I’m not sure i’ve seen a head coach start his halftime interview with “it’s just bad” like Frost did, but that’s kind of where we are at this point. This past Saturday provided plenty of ammunition for negatives that only has one more game to get things figured out before Oklahoma comes to town and then the conference stretch begins. But there also proved some positives as well. Let’s dive into them.
I will get into this with our defense as well, but a massive trend happening in college football is unbalanced formations to try and confuse the defense with who can go out or make the gaps uneven from one side or the other. Nebraska really could get no push just lining straight up and trying to go right at North Dakota. It was a tough watch in the first half. In fact, Nebraska only rushed 14 times for 60 yards in that first half, and while that’s 4 ypc, it’s tough to ignore that the first drive and the first half looked like more of the same for our offense trying to throw it everywhere.
Against Northwestern, Nebraska threw the ball all over the yard on the first drive leading to a passing touchdown. Like Deja Vu, Nebraska threw the ball 6 times on the opening drive while only running twice. It’s tough to get mad when the results are a touchdown. But for all of us that got mad at Narduzzi for what he said about Whipple trying to throw more than he should, it’s tough to not see it unfolding in front of our eyes. I’ve mentioned it before, but Frost has stated publicly he used to run the ball to see what defender they put into the box so he could exploit through the passing game. He said we are now throwing the ball to try and set up the run, and 2 games in we are seeing that. My concern moving forward is that going to work against teams like Oklahoma, Iowa, and Michigan? If you can’t line up and beat North Dakota running the ball, things could get dicey in a hurry.
A bright spot that did come out of the game is we seem to have found our RB, Anthony Grant is off to a hell of a start 2 games into his career at Nebraska:
That is going to help have a guy to lean on with Oklahoma and conference play coming up quickly. What is interesting to me though is the fact that he really got nothing going until the second half. Nebraska struggled to get any rushing attack in the first half, as Grant was held to under 50 yards, though he ended with 189 yards. To me it easily looked like Northwestern with equal scholarships wore down Nebraska in game 1, and now against North Dakota with 20 less scholarships the Cornhuskers were able to wear down the opposition.
One thing we talked about already is our unbalanced sets to try and get something going since we can’t do it straight up is a major concern, the other for me is Prochazka and how his knee is holding up. Here, we run an unbalanced line and move Prochazaka to the right side and it just does not go well at all:
To my untrained eye, he doesn’t look ready. And here’s another issue, Benhart had a rough day as well. PFF (even though not a massive fan of PFF but I get the concept) graded Benhart the worst out of our starting five linemen. Take a look at our RT this play and pay attention to what the announcer says:
Just like Grant’s longest TD against Northwestern, the play is basically all him. What is going to happen when our line blocks like that against Oklahoma, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, etc.? That will be a longgggg day and a tackle for a loss, Grant isn’t making those dudes miss.
Let’s go to the first touchdown of the second half as we have to get back to a bright spot. As we discussed teams are using a ton of unbalanced to get defenses confused. If you watch on this play, the TE and 2 WRs are to the bottom. The bottom WR is actually covering up the TE so he can’t go out for a pass… UNTIL the motion happens and you see him move back and tell the ref he is now off the line (watch his hand movement and look at the ref at the very beginning). That’s just too much before the snap for a defense and you see a touchdown:
And on top of all that we have discussed, the time of possession stat somehow got worse as North Dakota had the ball for 36 minutes and Nebraska for only 23. That is going to be a really bad deal when we play better teams. We scored first possession with our script, then our first possession of the second half with what I would deem a trick play. Judas.
Also, pretty apparent our go to guy is Trey Palmer which makes all the sense in the world. But where were some of the guys we used first game? Sipple had a decent article where he said it takes time for new people to gel, but time is running short with only Georgia Southern before the big boys come to town. That’s what worries me.
Nebraska was put in a tough spot defensively this past Saturday. I believe it was Bo Pelini that said the strength of your defense needs to be up the middle, because if you can’t stop anything there, there is no need for the offense to do anything else. We are struggling mightily there. Our DTs/NGs are in trouble, we had one ILB out with a broken hand so he will be trying to tackle people with one hand. And our safeties are brand new trying to learn things, and we’ve seen some issues failing to stop Northwestern and North Dakota.
There are some good things out there, however. For example, if you remember my preseason article, I talked about if we could use a guy like Mathis or Tannor in our spinner package to get them coming at the offense from more looks. Looks like Chins reads this, cause here it is first series:
On this play you had Mathis up top at DE, Nelson down low at DE, and Tannor coming in from the ILB spot, just like we talked about. Now, we did force the ball out quick, but something that has plagued us this season happens and we miss a tackle in the open field. Further, I think if teams like Oklahoma see us come out in this it could be them just running inside zone right at us for 10 yards as it’s our smaller lineup. But I can’t be mad at Chinander for doing that on third and long.
Speaking of our ILB play… with Henrich out, it forced true freshman Ernest Hausmann into the starting lineup. Also, if you remember from last week, we talked about how poor Kolarevic did in the open field from the nickel spot. With Henrich out, we saw them move #31 back to ILB. Is that permanent due to him in the open field? Or is that temporary with the Henrich injury?
Along our DL, they had a pretty average day again. That just can not happen against a North Dakota team from FCS. Ty Robinson is struggling and we can’t have that happen, Hutmacher and Feist played just ok which again can’t happen for our starters against an FCS team. With that said, I did see a noticeable improvement with Stephon Wynn, he was a guy that really looked a step above who we were playing out there. Take a look at this play:
But we are going to have to be so much better against Oklahoma and the rest of our schedule. Hopefully we get that figured out in a hurry.
ILBs played poorly, but I really like our edge guys. They also looked like they were on a different level than the North Dakota team they were playing. It’s important to at least show you should be out there.
The back end is where I worry (along with DL and if ILB remains thin). It looks like we’ve settled on Buford, Farmer, Newsome, and Hill, but they had a rough day against what I would call mediocre at best passing attack. While North Dakota schemed us up from time to time, they flat out just got beat many other times.
It’s just so concerning to me that we couldn’t do much of anything in the first half, we couldn’t run the ball so had to insert the QB for +1 running, and gave up a double digit second half lead to an FCS team making it 17-17 late in the 3rd quarter. We scored on the very first drive, didn’t score again until the second half on a trick “unbalanced” formation… It just doesn’t give a lot of confidence for true games that we will be playing.
We lost TOP, we lost the turnover battle, we lost the penalty battle, I mean us struggling with those things against an FCS team is just so much concern for me. we got out of it with a win but sheesh.
Tune in tomorrow when we get our Georgia Southern preview out!
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