Nebraska football is now four games in. The non-conference schedule is over, and Nebraska has a bye week before conference play begins. So with a third of the season complete, now is a good time to take a step back and see which players have surprised us with their performances.
Here is a list of five players who have shown Nebraska fans something they might not have expected to see in 2013.
We knew going into the season that Nebraska’s backfield would be loaded. We knew that junior Ameer Abdullah would be the starter. And we knew that freshmen Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor would be fighting for playing time in 2013.
So it might have been a little natural to forget about Cross, the thumper who made his debut last season as a freshman.
With his size (6’1”, 225 pounds) and his skill set, he got a label as a short-yardage back last year. He certainly has been Nebraska’s go-to option when the to-go number has been small.
But Cross has shown himself to be more than just a between-the-tackles bruiser.
He has 30 carries for 198 yards and five touchdowns and has shown an elusiveness with jukes and spin moves that belie his size. Cross looks to be breaking out of the box most had put him in at the start of the season.
When Nebraska selected captains at the start of the 2013 season, Jean-Baptiste was not one of the players chosen.
But over the first half of the season, Jean-Baptiste has made a strong case to be Nebraska’s defensive MVP. A converted wide receiver, Jean-Baptiste has now become a true ball-hawking cornerback, nabbing four interceptions (one for a touchdown) to go with his 14 total tackles, five defended passes and one tackle for loss.
At the start of the season, Jean-Baptiste might not have been top of the list in terms of Nebraska’s best defenders. He’s there now.
An injury to senior quarterback Taylor Martinez meant that redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. got his chance under center for Nebraska.
Splitting time with Ron Kellogg III, Armstrong took advantage of his opportunity, going 12-of-15 for 169 yards and a touchdown while rushing five times for 38 yards.
But how he achieved those numbers might be more surprising than the numbers themselves.
Armstrong showed a touch and an accuracy on his passes, particularly the deep ball, that was encouraging. Even more encouraging was his ability to place the pass where only his receiver could make a catch. Armstrong also looked very comfortable running the option, even though he lacks the explosive speed of Martinez.
Check yourselves, Nebraska fans. There’s no quarterback controversy; Martinez will be (and should be) running the team when he is healthy.
But Nebraska fans got a sneak peek at the future, and they should have liked what they saw.
True freshman tight end Cethan Carter was pressed into service this year due to injuries depleting Nebraska’s tight end corps.
And while Carter struggled at times with his blocking duties, his size (6’4”, 240 pounds) and speed have started to show flashes of a truly dangerous weapon in Nebraska’s offensive arsenal.
Carter has three catches for 55 yards on the season. But as he learns his position, look for his role to grow both in blocking and as a pass-catching weapon.
When Gregory was signed as a junior college transfer, he was immediately tabbed as the answer for Nebraska’s struggles creating pressure from the defensive line.
So how can he be a surprise player?
Primarily because of how well he has slotted into his role as defensive end. From the first game, Gregory has been a disruptive force in opposing backfields, netting 3.5 tackles for loss, a half-sack and 17 total tackles in the first four games of the season.
More impressively, Gregory has demonstrated the speed and the desire to provide back-side pursuit on plays, frequently making a stop or forcing a play coming from the other side of the field. And he got a gift against South Dakota State on Saturday when he stepped in front of a pass and took the interception 33 yards for a touchdown.
As a sophomore, Gregory still has a lot to learn about Pelini’s defensive scheme. But he’s off to an amazing start.
Or, you could always use the Twitter machine to follow @patrickrunge.