The Nebraska football team started off slow on Saturday night against the Fresno State Bulldogs.
At the same time, the team showed exactly what it wants to do for the rest of the season based on what it did in the season opener. The team opened the game with nine straight runs and threw the ball just one time in the first quarter.
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The team that routinely threw the ball more than 30 times a game in Mike Riley’s first year, threw just 13 times overall. The 10 times Tommy Armstrong put it up is a career low under the current coaching staff.
At times, the game plan looked about as perfect as any Riley and company have put together. At other times the offense looked as out of sync as it did last year. The same could be said for the defense.
Mark Banker, came under fire early and often a year ago because his passing defense was among the worst in the country. In 2015, the defense got a bit better as the season went along.
One of the things Husker fans looked forward to seeing in the Nebraska football season opener was just what kind of pass defense Banker had in store. What they saw was a defense that certainly looked better but also wasn’t perfect.
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Finally, there was a lot of emotion surrounding the game. This was the first contest since punter Sam Foltz passed away due to a tragic car accident. The Huskers did their tribute to sam up right. Check out our good, bad and hideous for the Nebraska football team’s first game of the season.
Sep 3, 2016; Lincoln, NE, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers players and Fresno State Bulldogs players pay tribute to Nebraska punter Sam Foltz in the first quarter at Memorial Stadium. Foltz was killed in a car crash July 23, 2016. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
The Good: The Tribute To Sam
The Huskers started the game with a tribute to Sam Foltz, having the special teams players lead the squad during the tunnel walk. Those specialists were carrying a Sam Foltz jersey out of the tunnel as they walked in lockstep.
The tribute didn’t stop there. Mike Riley had talked about the fact the team was planning a way to honor their fallen teammate but didn’t go into great detail. After the Huskers went three and out on their first possession, the team came out with just 10 players.
As the team took a delay of game penalty, several of the Nebraska football players were seen pointing to the sky. The sideline was honestly emotional as well, including quarterback Tommy Armstrong who had to shake away the tears.
Best of all was the class and consideration shown by Fresno State. While the clock ticked down and Nebraska was penalized for delay of game, the Bulldogs paid respect, clapping and pointing to the Huskers. The team also declined the penalty, so the Huskers didn’t lose the five yards.
Fresno also had “27” stickers on their helmets as they remembered Foltz. There were very few dry eyes in Memorial stadium or at home watching the game when this was going on.
Sep 3, 2016; Lincoln, NE, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers running back Devine Ozigbo (22) is tackled by Fresno State Bulldogs linebacker Robert Stanley (32) in the third quarter at Memorial Stadium. Nebraska won 43-10. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
The Good: The Running Game
The Nebraska football team was successful overall on the ground no matter who carried the ball. Ozigbo stood out thanks to some truly impressive runs, including his first touchdown where he basically carried the entire Fresno State defense into the end zone.
In total, Ozigbo carried 17 times for 103 yards and two touchdowns. Another young running back, Tre Bryant took over in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach and showed the talent the coaches knew he had.
Bryant’s first carry went for 13 yards and his second carry went for 12. In total, he had seven rushes for 56 yards and a touchdown. Terrell Newby and Tommy Armstrong weren’t spectacular but they were very, very solid.
In total, the Huskers ran 51 times for 292 yards and five touchdowns. Considering Husker fans were prone to scream “run the ball!” over and over last year, it appears Riley and company got the memo. The results were impressive.
If this running game is the way the season is going to go, and not just against a bad defense, 2016 could be something special. Even Mikale Wilbon got a carry and he went for 16 yards.
Sep 3, 2016; Lincoln, NE, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers linebacker Thomas Connely (26) intercepts a pass intended for Fresno State Bulldogs wide receiver KeeSean Jackson (3) in the third quarter at Memorial Stadium. Nebraska won 43-10. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
The Good: Kieron Williams
Williams stepped into the breach when Nate Gerry was suspended and his replacement was injured. That left the secondary thin against the Bulldogs.
Williams showed he was very much up to the task by logging Nebraska football’s first interception of the season. Not only was he someone that was causing havoc when it came to covering Fresno State defenders but he also managed to get 10 tackles.
Williams was all over the field. He even had a tackle for a loss. For a team looking for defenders to step up and improve the performance on the field, Williams seems to be someone Mark Banker can lean on.
It’s just one game, but its good to see there are some members of the secondary who are already buying into what the Nebraska football coaches are selling and playing at a high level. The rest of the secondary, despite a few hiccups looked like it was quite a bit better than what we saw last year.
Kieron Williams led the way towards that improved performance. We’ll just have to see whether this is a season long improvement, or good play against a bad team.
It seems as if the trust they put in Dzuris was well founded. The Nebraska football defensive line had some problems getting pressure early in the game but as the contest wore on Dzuris stepped up.
Over the course of the game, the defensive lineman recorded six tackles, three for a loss, while also getting two sacks. Not only that, but his play seemed to help out the rest of the pass rush.
As the game went on, Chason Virgil and Zach Cline found themselves having to get on the run and had less time in the pocket than during the beginning of the game. His performance was one of the reasons the Huskers went into the half with just a four point lead and then outscored the Bulldogs 29-0 in the second half.
Considering the Huskers spent the off-season wondering how they were going to replace the losses on the d-line. Dzuris took a big step towards showing the cupboard isn’t quite bare.
Sep 13, 2014; Fresno, CA, USA; Fresno State Bulldogs wide receiver Aaron Peck (7) is unable to make a catch in front of Nebraska Cornhuskers safety Corey Cooper (6) in the first quarter at Bulldog Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
The Bad: Aaron Peck
Despite holding Fresno State to just 274 yards total, there was one Bulldog player who had a big time breakout. Wide receiver Aaron Peck caught nine passes for 112 yards and a touchdown.
That TD was the only score the Bulldogs scored against the Nebraska football team. That touchdown was a score that allowed Fresno to get within 14-10 and started getting Huskers’ fans a bit nervous.
Peck also had the longest offensive play of the day for the Bulldogs. The Huskers’ defense a year ago got lit up regularly. 30 yard plays were something we saw early and often. It’s good that there was only one long play last night but Peck still made himself a nuisance for the Huskers.
Not to toot my own horn, but Peck was one of those players that I saw possibly creating a problem for Nebraska. It turns out the defense and the Huskers’ offense managed to make the game Peck had insignificant but he was still able to put up some good numbers. Against a team like Oregon, the Huskers are going to have to iron out their lapses.
KeeSean Johnson gets honorary mention for this spot, considering he had a pretty good game as well.
During a game that was supposed to be all about honoring punter Sam Foltz, the special teams had some problems, especially in the punting game. Jordan Westerkamp seemed to have some problems with the punt return.
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Part of that was likely because Fresno State’s punter wasn’t very good. Most of his punts weren’t very long and usually ended up right in front of a pack of players.
That was bad, what was hideously ugly was the second official punt of the game for the Nebraska football team. After taking a delay of game penalty before Caleb Lightbourn kicked his first official punt as a Husker, he never really got his second one off.
During that punt, Fresno State blocked the kick and put themselves in very good position to score. That made the game closer than Nebraska was remotely comfortable with. This was by far the worst play of the game. The positive is that the play didn’t really hurt the team.