Maybe Mike Riley will grow more fond of Friday night football games if his team can perform like the Huskers did in a 28-6 win over Illinios on the road.
Hail Varsity's Greg Smith, Jacob Padilla and Derek Peterson offer up three final thoughts from the victory.
Talk about a game being just what the doctor ordered. Building confidence is key right now in Husker Nation. Confidence of the fans in the program and confidence of the players that they can play clean football and finish games. Another strong defensive showing and another solid running game is giving everyone a bit more hope and pep in their step as Nebraska moves “on to Wisconsin.”
A couple of tweaks to the offensive line should be here to stay as we saw another good game from Michael Decker at center. I would be in favor of leaving Brenden Jaimes at right tackle because you don’t pull a player's redshirt only to bury him on the bench again, particularly when he played pretty well. There will be bumps along the road with a true freshman right tackle but he is now a cornerstone of your future offensive line so you have to live with that.
Tanner Lee found his groove Friday night with a steady performance that was much closer to what we saw during spring and fall camp. Now the key for him will be consistency. Can Lee find a way to be that efficient against a completely different beast when they face Wisconsin? As we have seen in recent games with the Badgers, every possession matters and they don’t beat themselves so it’s a good practice not to help them.
I am extremely encouraged by what we have seen from the defense. You can only perform against the teams put in front of you, but it has done very well since the second half of the Oregon game. I think a lot of the defensive improvement comes from the accountability Bob Diaco has instilled and the power of belief these players have in his scheme right now. It’s great to see guys like Ben Stille get a chance and make the most of it, flying around making plays.
Memorial Stadium will be nuts Saturday night for Wisconsin and we will get a chance to learn even more about this Nebraska team.
As most are aware of by this point, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco is a firm believer in the bend-but-don’t-break style of defense. That was on full display on Friday as the Illini put together two double-digit-play drives that took them inside the Nebraska 10-yard line, but both time the Huskers held firm and forced a field goal.
Nebraska has given up just two touchdowns in its last 14 quarters of football including none by the Illini.
“I think the biggest thing is just limiting explosive plays, making teams earn everything they get,“ senior linebacker Chris Weber said about the defense’s recent improvement. “If they’re going to drive it down the field, our job is to bow up at the end.”
They’ve done just that. In the last two games, the opponent has entered the Nebraska red zone four times and has scored just one touchdown.
Perhaps the biggest stand of the game came following a fumble by running back Devine Ozigbo. The Illini started their drive at the Nebraska 32-yard line down 21-6. A touchdown could have cut the deficit to one score.
What followed was a sack by redshirt freshman Ben Stille on first down, a run for no gain by the quarterback on second down thanks to Weber and junior Luke Gifford and a sack by sophomore Carlos Davis on third down. Just like that, a possession that began at the 32 ended with a punt from the 46.
“That’s something that we kind of emphasize, those sudden change plays,” Weber said. “You don’t know when they’re going to come at any point in the game but if you can come in and get a stop, you have a great chance to win or a great chance to win some of that momentum back. It was great that we were able to do that.”
Nebraska marched down the field and scored its fourth touchdown on the ensuing drive and that was all she wrote.
That drive — and the game as a whole — showed that while Diaco places more importance on limiting big plays than forcing negative ones, the Blackshirts have the talent to get some of those negative plays too in Diaco’s defense.
Nebraska entered the game with 18 tackles for loss and three sacks on the season. Against Illinois, they racked up 10 tackles for loss and five sacks. Five different players each had a sack and seven different players notched at least half a tackle for loss led by Stille with three.
“Those dudes up front were blitzing well, getting off blocks, wreaking havoc and making him pull the ball down so that was fun to see,” Weber said.
Nebraska isn’t going to rank anywhere near the top of the Big Ten in forcing negative plays, but as the players continue to gain comfort within Diaco’s system and as Diaco gains trust in them and opens up his bag of twists and stunts and blitzes, well-timed pressures could pay dividends. Bend but don’t break is the goal, but there’s nothing wrong with skipping the bending part as well once in awhile.
Do you feel better now about this team than you did three weeks ago?
I’m genuinely asking. I think you should.
Nebraska’s offensive line, for the second-straight showing, turned in a much more complete performance and kept quarterback Tanner Lee upright for most of the evening. Lee responded by having his best game of the season for the Huskers. A 17-for-24, 246-yard, three-touchdown day that helped the Huskers build up a 21-3 lead before halftime. The running game got going again and, despite an unnecessary fumble, tailback Devine Ozigbo had another really strong showing with a career-high 106 yards and a score.
I think the Huskers have found something in Michael Decker at center and if they can get one of Matt Farniok or David Knevel healthy enough to go at right tackle for next Saturday against the Badgers, I’ll be as confident in the front line as I’ve been all season.
And the Blackshirts? They’ve given up two touchdowns in the last 14 quarters of play.
Nebraska still has things to clean up – tackling was randomly a major issue and a three-and-out to open the second half is not what you want – but I think Nebraska is trending in the right direction at the right time.
Take this from guard Jerald Foster:
“I’m not going to be the one that comes out and says something crazy. But I’ll tell you this, Wisconsin’s always been on my target list. I really, really would love to be able to have a win against this team. They look good, just being able to watch them in the games I have. But, when we break them down and do the things like scouting and figuring out their kind of game, I’ll have a better understanding probably Thursday if we’re ready for them. I’m ready for a good game.”
Now take this from offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf:
“I think our preparation really from the very beginning of the week has been better, much improved. I guess it took a bad game [against Northern Illinois] to get that straightened out but I just think there’s been a better focus, better intentions by our guys really early the week and they’ve been able to take that all the way through to the end of the week and just play better. There’s no magic pills that we’re taking, we’ve just done a better job at practice. Our preparation through the week and the study of the opponent’s been better and all of it has just improved. That’s shown in our play and I think that added focus is going to be really necessary coming into this Wisconsin week.”
You can talk about “quality of the opponent” all you want but Big Ten games are Big Ten games. Any team can win on any given day and I like what I’m seeing from the Huskers more and more as we get closer to the biggest test of their season.