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Instant Reaction: South Dakota State

Nebraska did what it had to do after a tough week in Husker Nation — it rolled an FCS team. The Huskers had more than 300 yards both rushing and passing in the 59-20 win over South Dakota State on Saturday. The defense, however, had some struggles covered up by takeaways again. Maybe that unit can exist that way this season, but it certainly seems risky.

Here are the updated grades on a 10-point scale from Saturday:

QUARTERBACKS — 7.5 (Change: +0.5)

Saturday answered one question facing Nebraska: What would the Huskers offense look like without Taylor Martinez? Against South Dakota State, it looked pretty darn good. Both Tommy Armstrong and Ron Kellogg III threw the ball with confidence, completing 80 percent of their passes cumulatively.

RUNNING BACKS — 7.5 (Change: None)

We knew coming in that Nebraska would likely be able to dominate in the run game, and the Huskers did. This is a talented group of running backs and perhaps the most consistent part of the offense thus far in 2013.

WIDE RECEIVERS — 8 (Change: +0.5)

I’m giving the Huskers a half-point bump here based solely on Quincy Enunwa. He’s having a special season so far and he does it in a variety of ways — over the middle, stretch the field, on the sidelines. Nebraska has also shown great confidence in the wideouts behind the three starters.

OFFENSIVE LINE — 6 (Change: None)

Tough to gauge the o-line play against South Dakota State, but the best sign may have been zero sacks allowed. That’s important when a team has two quarterbacks playing major snaps for the first time.

OFFENSE — 7 (Change: +0.5)

Nebraska finally punted in the fourth quarter of this game. Was that a sign of Nebraska’s efficiency on offense or the Huskers’ inherent advantage over an FCS school. Probably a little of both. I’ll award a half-point here just based on seeing the back-up quarterbacks alone. Nebraska looks deeper coming out of this game.

DEFENSIVE LINE — 4 (Change: None)

South Dakota State entered this game with a FBS-sized offensive line and it showed. The defensive line struggled against the run and, size or not, that’s tough to handle. After the game, Pelini called it the “worst game we’ve played up front.” Lot of work to do during the off week.

LINEBACKERS — 4.5 (Change: -0.5)

Building off the above, I said coming into this game that if the Jackrabbits were able to run the ball it spelled bad news for the overall evaluation of the Huskers’ defense. Zach Zenner’s 202 yards on 21 carries answered that pretty emphatically. Nebraska too often overruns plays or makes tiny technique mistakes and they’re costing Nebraska big this season. You saw it a lot at the linebacker level on Saturday.

DEFENSIVE BACKS — 7 (Change: +0.5)

South Dakota State was surprisingly effective in the passing game, but that’s becoming the pattern for the Huskers’ secondary this season. Give up some yards, but get them back with takeaways. Stanley Jean Baptiste had his fourth interception of the season.

DEFENSE — 4 (Change: None)

Nebraska got the feel-good win it needed, but this should be a tense week in defensive film room. It needs to be. Even if you include all of the mop-up time, South Dakota State still averaged 6.94 yards per play. FBS average coming into the game was 5.68 ypp, but this wasn’t an FBS team. With the defense as it is now, it’s hard to see the Huskers improving upon last season’s record unless something drastic happens.

SPECIAL TEAMS — 6 (Change: None)

Little to see here. Nebraska didn’t punt until the fourth quarter and Mauro Bondi, in for Pat Smith, hit the only field goal attempt in the game. Kenny Bell is starting to look like a weapon on special teams. He averaged 32 yards on two returns on Saturday.


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