Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Adrian Martinez scans the field for an open player to throw the ball
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Nebraska Made Its Extra Points

September 04, 2021

Nebraska got what it paid for, which is to say the Huskers bought themselves a week.

That’s what these games are, of course, buying yourself a week. A loss is improbable, playing down a division, so you pay for the convenience a nearly assured result includes. It’s the freedom to look as close to whatever ideal form you’re working towards, play a lot of guys and put up some big numbers.

After a slightly sluggish start, Nebraska got all the value out of its investment in a 52-7 win over Fordham.

Progress?

“I would say so,” Scott Frost said. “We won a game.”

Then he gave a quick preview of Buffalo, next week’s opponent. A win gives you that freedom.

Of course, there’s a hidden cost with a game like this, too. Nothing comes without caveats. Taking a pregame win probability of 99% to 100% once it has actually been played doesn’t leave a lot of room for insight. In exchange for not much danger of going down, there’s also not much room to go up.

You might equate it to making extra points. Touchdowns are worth seven points, except for the handful of times they’re worth six.

Nebraska missed two extra points last week. It made all of them this week.

I know I’m getting older because little bring me more joy than things functioning as they’re designed. I’ll marvel at a really good can opener––I have a recommendation if you make it to the end of this column––or a thoughtful mechanical pencil.

Saturday was that. Nebraska did many things it has struggled to do over most of the past 30 or so games. The defense was jarred a bit early, but rebounded. The Blackshirts gave up 221 yards in the first half, 6.5 per play, and only 71 yards in the second, 3 per play. The defense had three takeaways, each of them dead-ending a Fordham drive that had crossed Nebraska’s 40.

At the end of the third quarter, when it was already 38-7, the Huskers’ offense had seven such scoring opportunities. Six of those ended in touchdowns, which has been a specific and persistent problem in the past.

Six of Nebraska’s first 10 drives included two explosive plays. Those are drives that almost always end in points, when you look at college football broadly, and all but the last for the Huskers did. Backup quarterback Logan Smothers fumbled trying to make a play at the end of a 15-yard run on that drive. It made the turnover margin (3-2) look less impressive, but on the bright side Nebraska was able to get Smothers in the game.

One of those turnovers belonged to special teams, another iffy punt return decision that ended in a fumble. That phase also kept three points off the board with a blocked field goal.

And, again, Nebraska made all of its extra points.

Don’t take it for granted. Not after last week. Not after the past three seasons.

Nebraska’s scheduling switch, replacing a November game against Southeastern Louisiana with this one for recruiting purposes, may not have resulted in a huge visitor list. The 11 a.m. kickoff made that somewhat impossible. The TV gods are fickle.

But after unbuckling the safety belt, stomping on the gas pedal and steering straight towards crisis mode last week before 93% of college football teams had even played, maybe this game going like it should represents the right tool at the right time.

After a strong fall camp, Frost said the players “really believed” they had made progress, that they were a better team.

“Then game one didn’t go the way we wanted it to,” Frost said, “but that doesn’t change the progress that we’ve made. We’ve got a tough slate of games, but we’ve got a long season. We’ve got to keep getting better. I think this team is going to be able to compete with anyone we go on the field with and then it’s a matter of playing clean, making somebody else beat us and not beating ourselves.”

Now, about that can opener that never beats itself. I promised, after all. It’s called the Gangy and is bright red. There are no gears, no crank to turn. It really can’t fail because there are no fail points. It also opens bottles and costs $11.

A game against Fordham is more expensive, but both were equally functional for a day.

Football isn’t often like that. It has fail points everywhere, a game of strength where, if you’re not careful, the games are decided by weaknesses.

Nebraska could’ve played worse on Saturday and still won pretty big. But it didn’t, which is a start. It calms the waters, buys a week to focus on progress rather than repairs.

It was as advertised. It was Gangy.

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