Hard as it may be to believe, the 2013 Nebraska football regular season has reached the halfway point. After a 44-7 dismantling of Purdue on Saturday, Nebraska sits at 5-1 overall and 2-0 in Big Ten play.
So now that we have reached the midpoint of the season, let’s take a look back and give a grade to the players and the coaches.
Offensive Line: A-
But the Pipeline’s performance has not failed to live up to his boasts in 2013.
Nebraska leads the B1G in sacks allowed with three through six games and is second to Wisconsin in rushing yards per game with 284.8.
Unfortunately, the impact of the injury to all-conference senior guard Spencer Long against Purdue, which threatens to end his 2013 season according to Dirk Chatelain of the Omaha World-Herald, is difficult to overstate. Mike Moudy struggled to replace Long on the line, and it will be a huge challenge to maintain the level of performance we have seen from the offensive line without Long at guard.
Offensive Backs: A
At I-back, most people expected Ameer Abdullah to pick up from his 1,000-yard season last year spelling for the injured Rex Burkhead.
But not many expected Abdullah to be the No. 7 rusher in the country, averaging 136 yards rushing per game.
And the guys behind Abdullah aren’t bad either.
Imani Cross came into camp lighter and has shown himself to be an effective every-down back rather than just a short-yardage specialist. True freshman Terrell Newby has carved out a role for himself in the offense as well, demonstrating a burst and a decisiveness in rushing that should make Nebraska fans excited.
Quarterback has, of course, been a struggle for Nebraska with Taylor Martinez suffering a turf toe injury. Redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong showed his promise with strong outings against South Dakota State and Illinois, but he struggled on the road against Purdue. Senior Ron Kellogg has answered the bell and was able to help guide Nebraska to its first road victory of the season.
Offensive Receivers: B+
Quincy Enunwa has emerged as Nebraska’s most dangerous receiver, using his size to carve out space and make plays. Kenny Bell, always dangerous, made what might have been the catch of the season with his one-handed grab against Illinois. And Abdullah has shown himself to be dangerous as a receiver as well as a runner.
Nebraska has been trying to find its way at tight end after the graduation of Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed last year. Senior Jake Long has been hampered with injuries, giving true freshman Cethan Carter an opportunity to see the field and grow into his position.
Defensive Line: C
Junior college transfer Randy Gregory may actually be exceeding the hype he generated before the season started. Gregory and Avery Moss are tied, leading Nebraska with 2.5 sacks each. As the season is progressing, you can see their confidence and comfort in Pelini’s defensive schemes growing.
Of course, the defensive line has been at the heart of Nebraska’s struggles early in the season, with alarming yardage totals against teams like Wyoming and South Dakota State.
Nebraska’s collapse against UCLA had more to do with the offense’s inability to sustain possession, but a 38-point run by an opposing offense is always a frightening thing.
Defensive Linebackers: C+
We knew that Nebraska’s linebacker corps would be a work in progress throughout the season when all three of NU’s 'backers from 2012 graduated. And we have seen just that. David Santos, Josh Banderas and Michael Rose have all rotated through the middle linebacker position.
Zaire Anderson still looks to be the best overall playmaker at linebacker, but he has struggled to stay on the field. And Jared Afalava has made the most of his opportunities as the season has progressed.
With the plethora of spread offenses Nebraska has faced this season, it actually has been notable when NU can get into a base 4-3 look and have three linebackers on the field. So under very challenging circumstances, it’s hard to fault the performance of Nebraska’s young linebackers.
Defensive Backs: C
Stanley Jean-Baptiste has emerged as Nebraska’s best defensive back, getting an interception in each of NU’s first four games of the season. Josh Mitchell has solidified the other starting corner position, while Ciante Evans and Corey Cooper have also become mainstays in Nebraska’s secondary.
Nebraska’s pass defense had been the area of greatest concern for NU’s defense, with the squad checking in at No. 108 nationally at one point in the season.
Nebraska’s performance has improved with its first two conference games (dramatically on the road against Purdue), so it may be that the first few games of the season were what was necessary for the defensive unit to come together.
Punter Sam Foltz has been a revelation, demonstrating a strong leg and accuracy to pin teams deep when called upon. Nebraska’s punting game looks to be a strength.
Similarly, Mauro Bondi has been very reliable in getting kickoffs into and through the end zone, forcing touchbacks and eliminating the potential for big returns. Between Bondi’s kickoffs and Foltz’s punting, Nebraska’s “defensive kicking game” has been strong.
The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for Nebraska’s placekicking, its “offensive kicking game.”
Yes, Nebraska is perfect on field goals, but that may be deceiving given that NU has only attempted four field goals in six games. More worrying is that Nebraska has already missed three extra points in those six games, more than it has in the previous six years combined.
So, whose grades in this report card are the most wrong?
It has certainly been an interesting season for Nebraska’s coaching staff, having presided over a 38-point collapse at home and then having Bo Pelini’s profanity-laced tirade from 2011 released by Deadspin. An injury to Martinez also left the coaching staff with the potential for a quarterback controversy after Armstrong played well in his first two opportunities.
From the start of the season, when Wyoming notched over 600 yards against the Blackshirts and were within a field goal of tying the game, Pelini and staff have been questioned like never before by the fanbase.
Two comfortable wins (admittedly, against two of the poorer B1G opponents) have quieted the critics to a degree. And it does appear that a lot of Nebraska’s young talent is starting to find its way forward.
But the end of the season will bring the real challenge for Nebraska, with NU facing Northwestern, Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State in consecutive weeks. We’ve seen how Nebraska’s coaching staff has guided the team through relatively calm waters.
But the end of this season will really demonstrate how good a job they have done this season.
All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.
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