nebraska running back charges past defenders
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Between Errors, Nebraska Shows Signs of What It Can Be

September 16, 2018

Perhaps the most frustrating part of Nebraska’s 0-2 start to the season is the glimpses of what Scott Frost wants his team to be interspersed between the boneheaded mistakes and lack of execution. 

In week one, we saw Adrian Martinez dazzle on the ground and through the air before suffering the knee injury that kept him out against Troy. With the freshman quarterback as the catalyst, Nebraska moved the ball up and down the field.

Defensively, the Huskers have racked up 10 sacks already, the first time since 2005 Nebraska has reached that total in two games, and the Huskers managed to get that turnover against Troy that eluded them against the Buffaloes.

Sadly, the Huskers have managed to shoot themselves in the foot enough times to cancel out all of the positive plays they have made, and Nebraska is going to continue to lose until that changes. For the time being, however, let’s dive into what Nebraska did do right against the Trojans on Saturday.

Let’s start with a defensive highlight, Nebraska’s first interception of the season.

On second-and-7 near midfield, the Troy offensive line blocked to the right as quarterback Kaleb Barker faked the handoff to a running back then rolled back to the left. Defensive end Ben Stille was left unblocked and he read the play well. The sophomore pursued Barker as he approached the line and dived at his leg just as Barker was letting loose a shot down the field.

Cornerback Lamar Jackson actually got beat on the play and was trailing the receiver by a good 5 yards when Barker released the ball, but Stille’s pressure forced an off-target throw. Jackson managed to close the distance and attacked the ball, snatching it out of the air. It looked like both players had their hands on it, but Jackson was in better position because of how under thrown the ball was and the official awarded him possession for the first interception of his career.

It was the first interception by a Nebraska corner in 21 games. There was certainly a bit of luck involved as a better throw would have been a touchdown, but Stille forced the bad throw with his pursuit and Jackson deserves credit for the way he made a play on the ball, something we haven’t seen much of from defensive backs in recent seasons.

“Sometimes the D-Line is the one that puts the pressure on and the ball gets up in the air and all of a sudden that’s the interception,” defensive line coach Mike Dawson said after practice on Tuesday. “This is the ultimate team game. The guys have to be able to do their job within each play and good things are going to happen to everybody.”

Let’s flip over to the offensive side of the ball.

With Nebraska trailing 17-0 late in the first half, the Huskers were in big trouble. That’s when leaders need to step up and your playmakers need to, well, make plays. Stanley Morgan Jr. did that.

First, Morgan found a gap in the defense and Andrew Bunch hit him up the seam for a big gain. He made a nice move to avoid one tackle and stretched the reception into a gain of 33 yards. On the next play, freshman running back Maurice Washington ripped off a run for 21 yards, setting the Huskers up inside the 15-yard line. After a 2-yard run by Washington on first down, Bunch dropped back to pass on second-and-8 from the 9. 

Nebraska lined up with two tight ends to the right and Morgan isolated to the left. Bunched faked the handoff to the back then rolled out to the right. The safety on the weak side reacted to the fake handoff for a step before dropping back, but he doesn’t drop far enough. Morgan runs a simple slant in front of the corner across from him and behind the safety. Bunch has a nice window to make the throw and delivers it on time and on target for his first touchdown as a Husker.

It was also Morgan’s 16th touchdown, moving him into a tie for fifth place in program history with Maurice Purify.

Let’s get back to those sacks. The Huskers only had three of them on Saturday after recording seven against Colorado, but the third was a pretty big one. Last week, Khalil Davis made a splash with two big sacks. Apparently the other Davis twin, Carlos, didn’t want to get left in the dust by his brother.

On first-and-15 following a false start, Nebraska sent four rushers. Davis’ get-off at the snap was tremendous. Before the left guard even knew what hit him Davis had put his hands on him, and it was all over from there. The 325-pound lineman violently shed the guard like a rag doll and then exploded forward, sacking Barker less than three seconds after the snap.

Davis was pretty excited after the sack, and celebrated as Blackshirts often do.

Finally, we have a twofer of plays on this last clip courtesy of BTN.

Trailing 24-13 after a Trojan touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, Nebraska was running out of time and needed an answer. Bunch and Washington moved the Huskers down the field but a holding penalty on third down put them behind in down and distance and Nebraska found itself facing a fourth-and-8.

Troy only ends four rushers, but a well-executed stunt frees a rusher to get a clear shot on Bunch. The quarterback managed to unload the ball before he got hit, however, lofting it up to 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman tight end Kurt Rafdal up the left sideline. Rafdal hauled in the pass and moved the chains, setting up the Huskers at the 16-yard line. It was a great throw under pressure by Bunch.

Two Devine Ozigbo runs later and the Huskers had third-and-1 at the 7-yard line. Nebraska ran a play-action screen to JD Spielman with solid blocks thrown by Rafdal and Morgan. Spielman picked up the first down easily, but he wasn’t satisfied with simply moving the chains. He joked out the only defender who had a chance to tackle him and ran into the end zone for the touchdown, cutting the deficit to one score.

Nebraska wasn’t able to finish off the comeback, but the Huskers did give themselves a chance thanks to some big plays at key points.

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