To say it was a tumultuous week is an understatement. A heartbreaking loss to UCLA, a leaked Bo Pelini audio and criticism of the coaching staff from fans and former players.
The best remedy: Win… and win convincingly.
That’s what Nebraska did Saturday. The Huskers thumped South Dakota State in a 59-20 win.
While the final score was very convincing, head coach Bo Pelini was disappointed in the defense – calling the performance the worst he has seen.
“There has to be a sense of urgency,” Pelini says. “A big part of playing defense is having an attitude and right now, we don’t have that right attitude.”
A killer instinct. The attitude missing with this defense, according to Pelini. He adds that it is tiring to see the defense struggling.
“We need to get this thing fixed.”
The first quarter was not a good start for the Blackshirts, allowing SDSU running back Zach Zenner to go on a tear – 10 carries for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
While the Jackrabbits put 17 on the Huskers and racked up 186 total yards of offense, Nebraska’s defense adjusted and took over the rest of the game: 279 yards and allowing just a field goal.
Something else missing from the defense this season was pressure on the quarterback… That changed tonight. Huskers got to Austin Sumner often, recording five sacks. Stanley Jean-Baptiste also added to a four-game streak of interceptions, snagging his fourth on the season.
Offensively, Pelini says the offense was rolling. With Taylor Martinez out of the game with a turf toe injury, freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. Made his first start. He was impressive and poised; completing 12-of-15 of his passes for 169 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown in the second quarter to wide receiver Sam Burtch.
The kid can also run. 5 carries for 38 yards and showing no hesitation in his decision to run. May be a slight reach, but his ability to make quick decisions and hit open creases reminded some fans and some in the press box of another “Tommie” who played at Nebraska.
Armstrong shared quarterback duties with Ron Kellogg III. The senior quarterback recorded his first touchdown pass on a 23-yard missile to Tyler Wullenwaber in the second quarter.
Some history was made for the offense in Saturday’s game. For the first time in school history, the Huskers totaled more than 300 yards in passing and rushing. Quite a feat, considering the great teams in the past.
“The offense had an attack mentality.” Pelini says.
The running backs greatly contributed to that feat, including Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross. Abdullah amassed 100 yards by halftime – finishing with 141 rushing yards on 15 carries. For the second time this season, Cross scored two rushing touchdowns (5-yard and 3-yard scores in the first quarter). He also rushed for 60 yards in ten carries.
Entering the bye week, Pelini adds the offense and defense will have to work on execution and correct mistakes. Some players will also have a chance to heal, including Martinez. When asked about his status, Pelini says it’s up to Martinez and team doctors if he will be ready to go for Illinois on October 5.
Whether Martinez will be good to go for the start of Big Ten play or not, one thing is clear… Nebraska has two very talented guys to step in and lead the offense.
Quick injury notes: Nebraska’s main wide receivers took some big hits in the win. Quincy Enunwa took a hit to the knees in the third quarter. During post-game interviews, both knees were wrapped in ice – but downplayed any injury and called it “soreness”. Meanwhile, Pelini says Kenny Bell is fine and had the wind knocked out of him in the second quarter.