Nebraska vs. Purdue: 10 Things We Learned from the Cornhuskers' Win
Nebraska's win over Purdue was important for many reasons, not the least of which it keeps the Cornhuskers on track for a run at the Legends Division title in the Big Ten. But besides keeping their BCS hopes alive, what else did we learn about the 'Huskers in this win?
The Nebraska defense continues to improve, and Taylor Martinez's absence has allowed other potential offensive stars to shine. There's still plenty of room for improvement, but for right now, the 'Huskers are in a pretty comfortable position heading into the meat of the Big Ten schedule.
We'll talk about the defense, the offense and plenty of other things, as we delve into the 10 things we learned about the Nebraska Cornhuskers from their win over Purdue.
The 'Huskers Miss Martinez
This is probably one of those "no kidding" kind of things. Any time a team like Nebraska loses a quarterback like Taylor Martinez, there's bound to a bit of a falloff when it comes to offensive execution. That was certainly the case Saturday against Purdue.
Nebraska was a combined 16-of-31 for 184 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions between Tommy Armstrong and Ron Kellogg. There were plenty of reasons to miss Martinez, but the biggest might have been the lack of offensive consistency.
With Nebraska forced to platoon quarterbacks, there's bound to be some miscommunication between the signal-caller and his offensive line and receivers. We saw plenty of that Saturday, and the only thing that kept those problems from being exposed was a fairly inept and overmatched Purdue defense.
Once Martinez returns to the active lineup, Nebraska will instantly become a much better team capable of beating any given Big Ten team on any given Saturday.
Tommy Armstrong Has a Lot of Growing Up to Do
Since we mentioned it, we might as well keep going with the quarterback theme.
Armstrong got his first road start of his career Saturday at one of the nation's most non-hostile environments: Ross-Ade Stadium. Still, Armstrong was just 8-of-16 for 43, no touchdowns and three interceptions.
Freshman mistakes were abundant, but as time progresses, Armstrong looks as if he could turn into a pretty decent starting quarterback as his reps continue to climb; there's no substitution for game experience.
RK3 a Dual-Threat of Sorts
Another quarterback lesson from Saturday? Why not?
As shaky as Armstrong was, at times, Saturday, Ron Kellogg III was a pleasant stabilizing influence on Nebraska's offense. In addition to finishing 10-of-13 for 141 yards and tossing the Huskers' only passing TD of the day, Kellogg also showed an ability to extend plays with his feet, often picking up positive yards on designed draws or when scrambling away from pressure.
While he finished with minus-four rushing yards on the day, don't underestimate the contribution his feet had to his 141 passing yards.
Winning Field Position Is Still Important
It's not the sexiest part of a college football game, but winning the field position battle not only makes the job of your offensive and defensive units easier, it quickly tires out the opposition.
Saturday, Purdue started every drive during the first three quarters from its own 25 or worse. Special teams doesn't often contribute points to the game, but Nebraska's special teams certainly made it exceedingly difficult for Purdue to score points Saturday.
Combine a stellar special teams performance with improved defense and a returning Taylor Martinez, and all of the sudden, it looks as if Nebraska might have the complete package for a Big Ten title hunt.
What Red-Zone Woes?
Heading into Saturday's game, head coach Bo Pelini had several goals for his team. Among them was improving on closing out offensive drives.
Three points are good, but seven points is better. Saturday, Nebraska had no problem foregoing field-goal attempts for touchdowns, finding the end zone on every scoring drive, only missing out on points once due to a turnover.
Those kind of numbers will certainly please Pelini, even if the turnover situation still remains a major concern.
Defensive Speed Exposes Opponents
Nebraska has long been known for its prowess on defense. While there have certainly been reasons to doubt the Huskers defense this season, it's clear that team speed isn't one of the reasons doubt has crept into our minds.
All afternoon long, Purdue's offense was prevented from developing any kind of rhythm, thanks to Nebraska's ability to blow up plays in the backfield and prevent any room around the corners.
Purdue's Danny Etling was constantly harassed by the Huskers defense, and receivers were rarely able to create any separation between themselves and the Huskers' secondary.
That defensive speed also kept Purdue's run game in check with ball-carriers often being met at or near the line of scrimmage by several Husker defenders.
Sure, Purdue isn't the greatest, quickest offense in the Big Ten. But Nebraska's success against Purdue does show the that the Huskers clearly aren't as terrible as they had us all thinking they were after the early-season defensive debacles.
Impressive Defensive Improvements
Speaking of that Nebraska defense, the Huskers entered this week with the 10th-ranked Big Ten defense, giving up an average of 445.4 yards per game. Nebraska gave up just 216 yards and seven points to Purdue.
Combined with last week's performance against Illinois, Nebraska has suddenly transformed itself from one of the Big Ten's worst defenses into one of the conference's best against Big Ten opponents. If that trend continues, Nebraska could enter its difficult November slate with its defensive reputation restored.
Ameer Abdullah Is the Real Deal
If you thought the loss of Taylor Martinez would completely stifle Nebraska's defense, you obviously weren't familiar with Ameer Abdullah. Abdullah had 20 touches in the running game Saturday and averaged 6.3 yards per carry for 126 yards and one touchdown.
In addition to the impressive numbers, Abdullah also showed great elusiveness against Purdue's defense. Initial contact at the line wasn't even enough to slow Abdullah, who seemed bent on putting up numbers massive enough to put him in the running for conference weekly honors.
With the return of Martinez imminent, we suspect the improved passing attack Nebraska will field will put opposing defenses in a pretty pickle: cheat up to cover Abdullah and risk getting burned by Martinez's arm or fall back into coverage and allow Abdullah or Martinez to abuse the up-front run defenders?
That's quite a predicament.
Loss to UCLA May Have Been the Best Thing for Nebraska
Life is full of seminal moments. Nebraska's epic second-half collapse against UCLA may be one of them.
At the time, the loss to the Bruins seemed to underline everything that was wrong with the Nebraska program. The defense was ineffective, the coaches were incapable of adjusting and the fanbase seemed ready to revolt—especially after the Pelini rant scandal.
However, as so often happens in history, great things are accomplished in the face of great adversity. So, too, it seems as if the adversity created by everything in the week surrounding the loss to UCLA has spurred the Nebraska football program to improvements no one saw coming or believed possible.
The offense has stepped up, despite losing Taylor Martinez for the past few weeks. The defense has reinvigorated itself and shown glimpses of a return to true Nebraska form. Even the coaching staff has settled into a slow, methodical approach to a long, grueling Big Ten title hunt.
Legends Division Title Still Very Realistic
If there was one thing Nebraska wanted to do this season, it had to be a repeat win of the Legends Division to give the program a chance to redeem itself in the eyes of its conference brethren.
After all, the pitiful performance by the Cornhuskers in the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin had the rest of the conference snickering, while the Huskers faithful simply wanted to hide their faces.
After the first few weeks of the 2013 season, it appeared that the defense hadn't improved at all—or maybe had even taken a step backwards. There was no chance Nebraska would be able to compete with the rest of the division for another trip to Indy, was there?
We can safely say now that the earlier reports of Nebraska's Big Ten demise were greatly exaggerated.
It now appears as if Nebraska will be locked in a three-way tussle with Michigan and Michigan State for the Legends Division this season. And let's face it: Neither of the two teams from the Great Lakes State has been overly impressive thus far.
With games against the Wolverines and Spartans not coming until November, the 'Huskers have plenty of time to smooth over all of their rough edges in time to earn that coveted trip back to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game.
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