All Points West: Papuchis should demand perfection
     2014-10-02      By Frank Marquez   
Would it be too much to ask for the defense to come ready to play?

The defense’s multiple faux pas continue. C’mon, it was Illinois. At Memorial Stadium … At night … All the conditions were right. Even the sea of red turned up the volume the same way they did against the Miami Hurricanes a week earlier in a 41-31 statement victory.

With all due respect Mr. Defensive Coordinator John Papuchis, you let the Fighting Illini score in the first series that took three plays and went 70 yards capped by running back Josh Ferguson’s 41-yard touchdown. Was it confusion? Did the defense forget to watch film on this guy?

Then there was a breakdown in pass coverage. Senior Cornerback Josh Mitchell, a little too focused on the ball, lost out to the Illini’s version of Megatron Receiver Geronimo Allison, when pushing him out of bounds might have done the job, and would have denied Illinois a touchdown. I’m not asking for perfection, but something pretty close to it, especially against an Illinois team that really only had about three legitimate stars among its ranks — a mediocre Big Ten squad at best.

This type of soft defense cannot start against No. 10 Michigan State and its workhorse running back Jeremy Langford in East Lansing on Saturday. Look for me. I’ll be watching the Huskers up close and personal. Papuchis may need to run his unit through a few hard contact drills on the practice field before kickoff. Maybe that’ll wake them up.

Lest you think I’m being too tough on Mr. Papuchis and the Black Shirts, I was glad they finally decided to show up. Frankly, I was worried they were resting on the laurels of a triumphant performance against the Canes. Against Illinois, DT Randy Gregory collected 2.5 sacks and a vicious block during an interception run-back by Nate Gerry, who got in on the act with a sack of his own. The supporting cast needs to step up. Waiting for Gregory to inspire just won’t do. And if the defense is waiting for some type of miracle, there’s only so much the Boneyard’s strongest mojo can do. There’s no shortage of talent, but who among the Black Shirts will strike the first blow against the Spartans?

Sure, Nebraska could trade blows with Michigan State, but tit-for-tat scoring relies on I-back Ameer Abdullah, one-third of the Husker offense, to get the team’s first downs and the subsequent scores. Creating more Heisman buzz this week, Abdullah carried the ball 22 times for 208 yards and three touchdowns and all in the first half against Illinois. Sophomore QB Tommy Armstrong is coming into his own, very quickly learning from his mistakes after a few tosses down the middle, but not after one was picked off. He came back sticking to his bread-and-butter plays, and not trying to force passes. Armstrong shined in the second quarter with a 63-yard touchdown strike to Kenny “Fear the Fro” Bell. It boils down to consistency, and which helmsman keeps his head in potential panic situations. Will it be Armstrong or Spartans QB Connor Cook?

Nebraska moves up to No. 19 in AP rankings (No. 17 in the USA Today rankings) as the Huskers seem to be gathering steam.

I’ll see you in East Lansing under the lights for what should be a masterful tilt between top Big Ten programs — Nebraska representing the West Division, and Michigan State representing the East. This will shape standings in the conference and set up either team for a run at the NCAA playoffs.

My advice to the Huskers in Week 6: Believe!

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