Nebraska Football: 10 Things We Learned from the Cornhuskers' Win vs. ISU
If you love offense, there was plenty of it Saturday when Nebraska hosted Idaho State. Unfortunately, for Idaho State, the offensive showcase was all on the side of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Nebraska improved to 3-1 on the season with a lopsided 73-7 win.
Nebraska’s first possession ended in a failed field-goal attempt from 51 yards out, but senior I-back Rex Burkhead took the Cornhusker offense onto his shoulders on the second possession, scampered through the line and went 61 yards for the first score of the game.
Nebraska eased out to a 66-0 lead after three quarters of play, put in the second- and third-team players and controlled the clock to put the finishing touches on the win.
Next, Nebraska enters Big Ten play with a showdown in Lincoln, hosting Wisconsin.
Here are 10 things we learned from the Nebraska win over Idaho State...
Rex Burkhead Is Ready for Big Ten Play
A left knee injury in Nebraska’s first game of the season sidelined Rex Burkhead for a pair of games. When the Cornhusker coaching staff brought him back for the Idaho State game, it was on the understanding that he would get a limited amount of touches against a team that was susceptible to giving up yards against the rush.
All Burkhead did was rack up 119 yards on eight carries with two touchdowns. He was able to cut and power through tackles. The knee didn’t appear to be bothering him at all, and that is a very good thing. A 5’11”, 210-lb senior, Burkhead will be instrumental to the running attack as Nebraska moves into Big Ten play.
Cornhusker Offense Deep at Running Back
Nine Cornhuskers carried the pigskin against Idaho State. Nebraska had 385 yards of rushing offense and five rushing touchdowns. While younger players gained substantial statistical ground in mop-up duty late in the game, the fact that Nebraska can rely on so many to carry the pigskin is very good.
The Cornhuskers carried the ball a total of 52 times during the game, averaging 7.4 yards per attempt.
Nebraska Can Score in a Variety of Ways
The decent blocking scheme on punt returns opened holes in the Idaho State coverage and allowed Ameer Abdullah to break would-be arm tackles en route to an 81-yard touchdown return. In addition, Nebraska had three passing touchdowns and five rushing scores, as well as an interception return for a touchdown.
That kind of production can create headaches for other teams. It shows that the Cornhuskers are not a one-dimensional team and can hurt an opponent a number of ways.
Martinez May Be Best Choice for Aerial Attack
Junior quarterback Taylor Martinez started slow but found a nice rhythm as the game progressed. Taylor was 0-of-2 to start the game with his second throw nowhere near any receiver. With 6:03 left in the first quarter, Martinez fired a perfect pass 35 yards down the field, hitting Quincy Enunwa in full stride, cutting through the end zone for a score.
Martinez finished 9-of-13 for 165 yards and two touchdowns. His backup, junior Ron Kellogg III, was only 3-of-5 for 19 yards and one interception. Martinez actually looked good in the pocket and rolling out.
While it appears that the thrust of the Nebraska offense may rest on running the ball, being able to pass effectively will open up the run game even more.
Offensive Line Needs to Pass Protect Better
Bigger and stronger than the defensive front for Idaho State, the Cornhusker offensive line did a great job for most of the game. There were holes so big for the running backs, at times, that a farmer could have planted a decent corn crop. And sealing the ends so that backs could get into the secondary for big games was also a huge factor in the game.
But, Martinez was sacked twice by an Idaho State defense that had no sacks coming into the game.
Defense Tough Against Pass; Really Tough Against Run
Idaho State came into the game averaging more than 400 yards passing per game. It came out of the game with 179 yards through the air. The rushing attack, which was not very good to begin with, was limited to only 31 net yards on 29 attempts.
The Cornhuskers plugged holes, penetrated through the Idaho State offensive line and hammered would-be rushers. At the half, Idaho State had -10 yards rushing. It wasn’t until later in the game that the Bengals were able to get that element of the offensive into registering positive yardage.
Bengal quarterback Kevin Yost is also a prolific passer, though not so much against the Cornhuskers. Yost finished 16-of-34 for 123 yards and two interceptions. Pressure and coverage combined for hurried throws and four sacks.
Cornhuskers Need to Take Better Care of the Ball
One could argue that the turnovers were committed by second- and third-team players, but if a starter goes down, it will be those players who are in the game against better defenses. Nebraska lost two fumbles and gave up an interception. One of the fumbles lost was on Nebraska’s own 11-yard line.
That could hurt against a Big Ten opponent. Idaho State was unable to capitalize on any takeaway, not even on the short field.
Secondary Can’t Play Soft with a Lead
Granted, the lead was insurmountable, but Nebraska went from tight coverage at the start of the game, taking away Idaho State’s passing game, to allowing underneath routes, flairs to the sidelines and a couple of downfield strikes later in the game.
The Cornhuskers could get away with that against Idaho State and its struggling offense, but against good teams, that could result in a torched secondary.
If Nebraska wants to contend for the Big Ten Conference title, the Cornhuskers will have to play wire-to-wire with the same tenacity it showed at the game’s onset.
Kicking Game Didn’t Prove a Huge Threat
With little pressure, the Nebraska punting game only averaged 34.5 yards per punt and was 1-of-2 on field attempts. Brett Maher hit from 49 yards in the second quarter but came up short from 51 yards in the first.
A strong kicking game aids in the battle for field position. If Nebraska can’t do better in the punting game, it could give a stronger opponent great starting field position.
The Cornhuskers also didn’t control the game clock in terms of possession. Idaho State actually won that category by a 30:07-29:53 margin.
Nebraska Needs a Better Opponent for Conference-Play Warm-Up
Coming into the game in Lincoln, Idaho State had dropped 33 straight road games. The Bengals play Big Sky football in the FCS, a division before Nebraska. The Bengals got a healthy check for play Nebraska, but what did Nebraska really get in running over an inferior opponent?
The chance to run wild over an outmatched team doesn’t really count, and it might have been devastating had the Cornhuskers suffered big injuries in this game. This was hardly a valuable tune-up game, though.
From a confidence standpoint, maybe this game had a bit of value. And non-starters got the opportunity to gain on-field game experience. Idaho State, though, was several steps slower than the Cornhuskers.
This win, and the stats, should be taken with a grain of salt and shouldn’t be considered viable in prepping for Wisconsin.