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All Points West: Not a lot of honor in sloppy game
September 09, 2016 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez
Coach Mike Riley said in a TV interview after the game that he was glad for the win, but Nebraska played a lot of “bad football.”

Nebraska defeated the Fresno State Bulldogs easily, 43-10, in contrast to the past two years – last season’s last-second defeat at the hands of the BYU Cougars, and a close call the previous year against the Wyoming Cowboys, a team Nebraska faces tomorrow, September 10.

For me, it didn’t seem fitting that in a game, a season, honoring the late punter Sam Foltz, (he was killed in a car crash on July 23 on his way home from attending a punters and kickers camp in Wisconsin) that Riley and company would allow that much sloppy play. Adding insult to injury, Nebraska news sources issued a report that Sam’s parents’ house in Greeley, Nebraska, near Grand Island, was robbed, while the family was in Lincoln’s Memorial Stadium watching the game. Come on Nebraska. Really? I saw more respect given in the Wisconsin-LSU contest; Badger kicker Rafael Gaglianone, who switched from wearing No. 10 to No. 27 to honor Foltz, scored 3-of-3 field goals in a 16-14 upset win against the No. 5 Tigers. He kicked his longest of the afternoon last Saturday, a 47-yarder coming in the final moments. He has a habit of doing that. Gaglianone, by the way, was the guy who lifted the Badgers over the Huskers last season, 23-21, kicking a 46-yarder with a minute to go.

For now, let’s keep our eyes focused on Nebraska’s good intentions. On the first failed series, the Huskers lined up in a 10-man formation minus the punter, taking a delay-of-game penalty. Classy. Answering the moment, the Bulldogs declined the penalty. Reportedly, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Also, this game was marked by milestones – Riley got his 100th career victory as a coach and the 348th consecutive sellout for Memorial. Sad tears turned to happy tears as the game wore on. The Husker faithful appeared angst laden through the first three quarters – scoring a single TD per stanza, during which running back Devine Ozigbo scored twice, racking up a total of 103 yards on 17 carries. Though QB Tommy Armstrong engineered the ground attack, the main thrust of the offense, he threw the ball just as effectively, completing 5-of-10 passes for 108 yards, including a 57-TD strike to wide receiver Alonzo Moore. On the ground, Tommy had 11 carries for 42 yards and two TDs.

The Blackshirt defense stymied the Bulldogs, limiting them to just 274 total yards – 31 yards on the ground. Like many fans, I don’t agree with the targeting rule, and the ejection of players for helmet-to-helmet contact. It’s confusing. But make no mistake, the idea is to leave no doubt in the minds of officials as to fair play, respect for the game, and respect for the guys on the opposite side of the ball. I agree, a simple wrap-up doesn’t have the same effect as a bone-jarring hit. It may not put the fear of God into the opponent, but it gets the job done with the same result. Husker linebacker Luke Gifford was tossed out of the game near the end of the first half. I believe in smash-mouth football, but too bad this ain’t your daddy’s game. Gifford’s hit had the same flavor as the collision between Nate Gerry and UCLA’s Paul Perkins in the Foster Farms Bowl last January. Sadly, Gerry was not in the game against Fresno State; he sat out for unexplained disciplinary reasons. So did receiver Brandon Reilly. The two obvious absences were another detractor to the game designed to remember Foltz.

Another part that doesn’t seem appropriate? The Huskers are off to their usual fast start of committing infractions. This is something that needs to be cleaned up sooner rather than later, and is most likely the issue that most steamed Riley afterward.

Hopefully, the head coach issued an appropriate amount of butt chewing in the locker room. If this team is going to be a team – the way Sam saw it – then the players need to realize their actions have larger implications. In all, the yellow flag was thrown seven times on Nebraska, for a negative 80 yards versus Fresno State’s six penalties for 30 yards. In close games, this simply will not do, especially if the Huskers want to avoid a repeat of last year.

In the Big Ten’s West Division, Nebraska may need to play near perfect against the likes of Wisconsin and the Iowa Hawkeyes. Forget the other painful memories against Illinois, Purdue and Northwestern, and the close losses overall.

It appears Riley has rewritten the playbook to make the most of the skillsets in his backfield stable, that if all goes according to his plan, a grind-it-out ground attack can and will produce comfortable margins against opponents while eating valuable time off the clock. That’ll hopefully knock fast paced teams off their game. A receiving corps of Moore and Reilly should serve as a balanced reliable outlet valve for Armstrong, who appears to be making better decisions, for now. If the Huskers move the ball with a much less porous defense, and a Blackshirt juggernaut shuts teams down, the possibilities could be endless.

Just think, if they model the pass-rush nightmares of the past – the ones led by Ndamukong Suh in the mid- to late-2000s – this team, once it shakes off some of the off-season rust, could run the table, even facing the Badgers and Ohio State Buckeyes back to back in late October and early November. I’m predicting that’s when the Huskers will hit their stride. Dreams do come true.

So, given all that, is there anything standing in the Huskers’ way?
For Foltz. GBR!
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