The knee-jerk reaction of most Husker football fans after Saturday night’s 37-34 win over Wyoming is justifiably negative.
The Big Red surrendered just over 600 yards of total offense and nearly squandered a 37-21 lead with as little as 6:26 left in the game.
This was against a team that only managed a 4-8 record in the Mountain West Conference a year ago.
However, it is important to err on the side of positive thinking. At least for now.
The first observation that needs to be made is that these early-season matchups against out-of-conference mid-majors are not the gimme’s that they are so often made out to be.
Kansas State lost at home on Friday night to North Dakota State, 25th-ranked Oregon State was caught napping by Eastern Washington. Those are two teams who played in bowl games last season whose Bowl Championship Series hopes were dashed in week one by opponents from the Championship Subdivision.
There is an adage as old as athletics that “a win is a win,” and, as disappointingly as they played on Saturday night, Nebraska won.
Also, the defensive unit is still young. The Blackshirts lost eight starters from a year ago and this year’s lineup was riddled with redshirt freshmen and players making the first start of their college careers.
This was not a back-and-forth game where the Husker and Cowboy offensive units traded blows on an even keel.
After overcoming some initial confusion with the Cowboys’ no-huddle, Nebraska was fully in control of this middle two quarters, taking a 31-14 lead in the third period and a 37-21 advantage with 11:38 left to play.
During post-game questioning, players admitted openly to phoning it in during the fourth quarter.
It’s inexcusable but it’s something that young teams have done for as long as there have been young teams. It might not be completely fixed by the time Nebraska plays Southern Miss on Saturday, but you can bet it will be addressed.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste showed flashes of brilliance on Saturday night, as did Ciante Evans and the rest of the Husker secondary. While it doesn’t change the fact that he threw for 383 yards, Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith hadn’t thrown an interception in eight games, and against Nebraska he threw two.
The Nebraska offense was a juggernaut in the best kind of way. Whether it was in the trenches or at the second and third levels of the defense, Wyoming was simply outgunned every time Nebraska ran the ball.
Both Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross went over 100 yards on the ground, Taylor Martinez chipped in 80 to go along with 155 passing yards. Terrell Newby kicked off his college career with another 76 yards on 15 carries.
For the second year in a row, Nebraska has a stable of formidable I-backs running behind a seasoned offensive line.
Cross looked leaner and more athletic than he did a year ago, and this offensive line is the best this program has seen in years. If the defense can get things figured out—and they’ll have to—the Big Red has the horses on offense to be extremely competitive in the B1G.
Having said all that Nebraska will play much better opponents during their B1G schedule, and they’ll have to improve if they want to beat them.
It’s a long season.
The biggest improvement is between week one and week two.
Additional tired-out sports cliché.
Here’s something that isn’t cliché: Nebraska hasn’t won a conference championship since 1999. This could be the team that changes that. Football is here. Go Big Red.