|All Points West: Half-fast effort nearly costs Huskers|
|October 01, 2015 Frank Marquez|
The non-conference games are finally out of the way.
As much as I donít want to say it, Tommy Armstrong and company made things interesting in the second half of their game against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles on Saturday. They were up 22 points in the first half, while the Eagles laid a goose egg.
As I implied, second half half-fast efforts by Nebraska changed that.
This past week, Armstrong was named a co-Big Ten player of the week.
If weíre counting style points, Iím guessing the effort was more for not allowing a loss, than giving second tier Southern Miss a solid beat down. One good thing, the Huskers staff recognized this and made quick adjustments, calling the right plays down the stretch, allowing Nebraskaís offense to build up a cushion. Give the Eagles credit for not buying into excuses as the visiting squad, and almost 90,000 Big Red fans turning up the volume in an attempt to throw them off their game.
However, while the defensive line seems to be improving its pass rushing with junior defensive tackle Maliek Collins leading the way, the secondary remains suspect despite senior cornerback Daniel Davie out of the lineup, and underclassmen picking up the slack.
Southern Miss QB Nick Mullens put up respectable numbers through the air. He threw 26-of-41 passes for 447 yards, roughly a 10-yard average, and two TDs versus an almost non-existent ground game. On the stats sheet, Nebraska fizzled in the fourth quarter on both sides of the ball, allowing the opposition 21 points, and relying on one strong drive. Without wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp, who had 11 receptions for 118 yards on the day, think about this, the Huskers fail, miserably.
Meanwhile, Armstrong was a big name in the Big Ten. The feet first QB shared conference honors with Indiana Hoosiersí RB Jordan Howard for offensive player of the week. Armstrong completed 23-of-35 passes for 368 yards, and gained a career high 431 yards total offense, carrying the ball seven times for 63 yards. Letís hope he sheds the one stat that seems to always matter in close games: INTERCEPTIONS. So far this season he has four. Last year, he had 12.
Now through nearly six weeks of football since Aug. 19, the Huskers probably canít wait for the return of key offensive weapon sophomore DeíMornay Pierson-El, perhaps to give Armstrong another target. The latest report from Coach Mikey Riley indicates heís returning soon. Last yearís frosh phenom has been nursing a foot injury since a mid-August practice.
In the 2014 season, he sparked a comeback last season against Michigan State, but one that fell short, because of bad play calls, not enough time on the clock, Armstrongís impatience, or a combination of all three. Given the value of more dynamic play calling, Pierson-El could be the difference maker down the stretch.
Speaking of the state of Michigan, the Wolverines made a statement this past Saturday with a dominating 31-0 win over common opponent No. 22 BYU at Ann Arbor. Looks like the Cougís ran out of Hail Maryís, and just about everything else. Though the Wolverineís first loss at Utah might not have been an indication Michiganís effort was weak in a 24-17 loss in the first week. The No. 10 Utes dismantled the Oregon Ducks, 62-20, in their first PAC 12 game of the season.
That might not be saying too much with the absence of Heisman caliber QB Marcus Mariota. And frankly, the quacks just arenít the same team. Plus, expect the left coast teams to beat up on each other before itís all said and done.
Looking to the Big Ten, several teams remain undefeated including the West Divisionís Iowa and Northwestern. While the Eastís Sparty, and Ohio State Buckeyes were expected to be tough, the Hoosiers might be the surprise. The Huskers play Northwestern on Oct. 24, and Iowa just a short month later on Nov. 27. Forget about playing Wisconsin just yet. Given small gaps in the scores against opponents, cleaning up penalties must also weigh heavy on the mind of Coach Mike Riley.
Nebraska, which still wears the crown for the most penalized team in the conference, racked up 12 in the game against Southern Miss. Through four games, the Huskers have 43 penalties overall with an almost 92-yard average per game. Must I say it? Thatís almost a touchdown folks.
Next up, the Huskers travel to Champagne to take on the Fighting Illini (3-1). So far, Illinois has played no one, winning over Kent, Western Illinois and Middle Tennessee, but losing big to North Carolina. It was an emotional narrow win over the MT Blue Raiders, 27-25. Otherwise with a loss, they match the Huskersí record at 2-2.