Photo Credit: Eric Francis

The Good, Bad and Unexpected: Nebraska Versus North Dakota

September 04, 2022

With a little time to have now absorbed what we saw in Nebraska’s 38-17 win over North Dakota, it’s time to review. Here is the good, the bad and the unexpected from the Huskers’ first win of the season.

The Good

Anthony Grant: As Brandon Vogel pointed out, Grant became the first Nebraska running back to top 100 yards in back-to-back games since Devine Ozigbo in 2018. He ended his day with 189 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.

A number of people tweeted about Grant on Saturday, asking where Nebraska would be in the game against North Dakota without him. The answer is likely not a pretty one. He was the workhorse of the offense on Saturday, and it would appear that Nebraska has found its top guy.

By the way, you should also check out Drake Keeler’s Play of the Game recap on Grant’s 46-yard touchdown run.

Walk-On Tight Ends: There were a lot of question marks surrounding the tight end position with Travis Vokolek out for the week after suffering an ankle injury against Northwestern. The room was already light on depth and losing Vokolek—who is also a Nebraska captain for 2022—was a major area of concern.

Tight ends coach Sean Beckton was clear about what needed to be done.

“Beckton told us that we need to step up,” tight end Nate Boerkircher said. “There are about four of us that had to take a big role this week. I think we did pretty good.”

Boerkircher, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound graduate from Aurora, did just that. In the third quarter, he was able to break free and make himself wide open for a 19-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Casey Thompson. It was the first touchdown of his college career and one that gave Nebraska a 14-7 lead.

And then there was this touchdown late in the fourth quarter from Chancellor Brewington. The score provided Nebraska a little extra insurance right at the end of the game.

All in all, it was a good day for Nebraska’s walk-on tight ends. Both Boerkircher and Brewington stepped up when called on.

 

The Bad

Offensive Line: What is there to even say? After a less than stellar performance against Northwestern, the Nebraska offensive line didn’t fare much better against North Dakota. There were some interesting rotations against the Fighting Hawks too, which makes it all the more curious.

Teddy Prochazka, Trent Hixson, Turner Corcoran and Bryce Benhart played the entire game on Saturday, but Henry Lutovsky rotated in for Broc Bando for a couple of series. Hunter Anthony also rotated in for two snaps at one point.

Overall, the line gave up two sacks and four quarterback hurries on 25 drop backs for Thompson. For Thompson, he definitely took more hits against North Dakota than he should have but one quote post-game may have been misrepresented as a callout of the offensive line. Instead, it sounds like Thompson may have been battling something else throughout the week that contributed to how he was feeling post-game.

Here’s the quote in full:

“I feel good physically, just sore,” Thompson said. “I was struggling actually a little bit this week with a cold or some type of sickness. I woke up on game day and it kind of all went away. You know, when the game starts you feel fine, so I felt good during the game, but like I said I’m definitely sore right after.”

With that said, Thompson will need the offensive line to improve. That will be especially true as Nebraska prepares for Big Ten play (and even Oklahoma before that).

Tackling: There was a joke about a “missed tackle counter” circling on Twitter at one point during Nebraska’s matchup with North Dakota. It ended at some point with people throwing their hands up and declaring they had lost count.

Both edge Garrett Nelson and edge Ochaun Mathis had sacks against North Dakota, which was good. However, the tackling overall as a team wasn’t great once again. An example of this? Linebacker Luke Reimer played every defensive snap for Nebraska on Saturday. He rated out at a 59.1 from Pro Football Focus with his seven tackles, which makes for an “OK” day.

Nebraska’s defense really has to improve its tackling—and fast—because a “tackle counter” won’t be so much of a joke on Twitter against upcoming teams on the schedule.

 

The Unexpected

Isaac Gifford: Hey, credit where credit is due. Nickel Isaac Gifford ended his day with eight total tackles (seven solo and one assist), tying him with Nelson.

“You know, it was business,” Gifford said about his day. “We went in there and we knew we were doing exactly what we were supposed to do. And the game plan we put in was working, and we just had to stick to our job. We were given up when we didn’t execute our job well enough. So we just knew we just had to keep doing our thing.”

Gifford could easily have been placed on the “good” list, by the way. What made him unexpected was the fact that he tied to lead the team in tackles against North Dakota despite not being among the initial Blackshirt recipients and opening the season in a rotation with Chris Kolarevic at nickel.

Squib Kick: Let’s just start with what Scott Frost had to say about it.

“Thanks for calling it a squib kick,” Frost said. “I meant to open with a joke about that. We have the smartest football fans in America, and I want them all to know that was not an onside. We practice that all the time. If we get a 15-yard penalty on the PAT, rather than kick it out of the end zone and give them the ball. We try to squib it and bury them inside the 20. Our aim has been off on a couple of those, and we hit somebody. I’m glad that it wasn’t a penalty kick in a soccer game to win the game where he’d have hit the goalie in the face.”

The failed squib kick was particularly triggering because of what happened one week prior for Nebraska. Against Northwestern, Nebraska attempted an onside kick halfway through the third quarter, up 28-17. Regardless of how it was or was not executed, the Wildcats recovered the attempt and Nebraska’s momentum took a hit. The Wildcats went on to win, 31-28.

So fans were rightly flabbergasted by what they saw. Was it an onside kick? No, it was a squib kick but it still brought back plenty of bad memories.

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