As Harvey sees it: Nebraska/USM

Come inside as Big Red Report publisher Josh Harvey takes a look at some observations from Saturday night's contest between the Huskers and Golden Eagles.

1.) Despite not being a finished product, the defense was better tonight. It was Southern Miss, which means we can't get too excited about four forced turnovers and only 284 yards allowed, but Nebraska looked to be on their way tonight. The communication was better, there was a better push up front, and I thought the linebackers did a nice job in coverage.

"Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, there is a lot we can improve on, but I think there was significant progress from week one to week two," said defensive coordinator John Papuchis. "We will see once we watch the tape on how much each individual guy improved, but on the surface view I thought we were much better."

2.) Here was the defensive starting lineup tonight:

DE.) Jason Ankrah
DT.) Thad Randle
DT.) Vincent Valentine
DE.) Randy Gregory
LB.) Josh Banderas
LB.) Nate Gerry
CB.) Josh Mitchell
CB.) Stanley Jean-Baptiste
S.) Harvey Jackson
S.) Corey Cooper
CB.) Ciante Evans

What do you notice? For me, it's two true freshman, one redshirt freshman, and one junior college transfer.

"Banderas and Gerry had the best week of practices," said assistant coach Ross Els. "We planned on rotating five guys in there…there is not a lot of difference between the five, but that is why we went with those two guys.

"This was a decision that was [made] after Wednesday's practice. It wasn't a great one for us at linebacker, a lot of mental mistakes, but Banderas and Gerry were doing the best up to that time."

3.) More on Banderas. Coming into the season I projected Banderas to play the WILL or the BUCK spot. I felt he would need time to grow into a MIKE linebacker, not only physically, but in the mental aspect as well. Instead the Lincoln Southwest product has come in calm, cool, and collected.

"He's got the intangibles as far the mental ability to understand the game and see the big picture," said Els. "Sometimes freshman just lock in to what they are staring at. Josh does a good job of seeing the whole field, reading formations, and figuring out how teams are trying to attack you. It's probably the biggest thing that's helped him."

4.) Stanley Jean-Baptiste looked even better. This time last week I was writing how great SJB looked good against Wyoming at times. It's amazing how far the converted wide receiver has come over the last two years. It can be argued he's the best defensive back on the squad at the moment.

In all reality, the entire secondary played solid tonight and really set the tone early in the game.

"Stanley (Jean-Baptiste) made a really good play on the first one, and we got a little tipped ball on the second one, but I thought Ciante (Evans) made a good choice on the route, which put him in position to make a play," said Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini when asked about the interceptions. "Overall, we did some good things. We were hawking the ball a little bit with four interceptions, but the guys for the most part they were in the right spots, the right areas. They showed some routes and alignments that I thought our guys adjusted well to and, like I said, overall our execution was good and our understanding and ability to make adjustments throughout the game was one-hundred-fold better than it was a week ago, which was good to see. It shows their understanding is continuing to build."

5.) Randy Gregory is good, but I'm waiting until next week to crown him. We have heard ever since he hit campus the ability he has, but next week we will really get to see him against a solid offensive line. I still think he has a long ways to go in the run game, but he's making strides. The only thing I would say is fans need to temper their expectations a little, judging by the Twitter world and what we see on the boards.

"I think Randy (Gregory) has a tremendous amount of ability," said Pelini. "He's a very instinctive kid and he's an instinctive football player who understands a lot of things about the game. We're not real big into the juco front, as far as bringing in the junior college guys, so we really do our homework and really find the ones we feel are right for us. We're pretty selective in that area and we've been pretty fortunate in doing that.

"He was the only guy we targeted (2013 class), and we saw a great pass-rusher at the junior college ranks. We worked our butts off, and we created a strong relationship with him and his family and I feel like that was really important in getting him here. We feel really fortunate to have him here because he fills a need for us. I think a guy with his types of talents fills a need for every football team."

6.) Moving on to the offense. I thought we saw better execution tonight to steal a term from Pelini. I really thought the difference was the offensive line, who was better overall tonight when it came to finishing blocks.

Jeremiah Sirles post:

7.) Was the running back rotation a little more set? Abdulah had 17 carries, Newby with eight, and Cross managed just four. This rotation was a little closer to what I expected coming into the season. Last week everyone was pretty even, so it will be interesting to see how they run everyone out next week against UCLA.

8.) UCLA is already on their minds. More than one player was quoted on Saturday night saying the Bruins were the first thing they thought about running off the field. The Huskers feel that not only did they let one slip away last year, but they didn't play up to potential.

"I haven't looked at UCLA," said Pelini. "I know they are a good football team and I think it will be a good matchup and we are familiar with what they did a year ago, and they have good athletes and it will be a good matchup."


* Junior college transfer Matt Finnin played in the fourth quarter. I have it on good authority the decision to play him had nothing to do with a possible extra year of eligibility by the NCAA. Nebraska is still waiting on the situation to play out. If he's granted another year, he will have three years to play three.

* Speaking of junior college transfers; it's my prediction that Chongo Kondolo redshirts this season. I'm hearing he's still getting reps with the first-team and second-team during various times at practice, but they are likely to save him with the depth they have upfront.

* Various chatter before the game suggested Nebraska would run a slightly tweaked offense to try to protect senior Taylor Martinez's shoulder. The four-year starter didn't seem to be affected by any pain – if he had any. Martinez was 15-of-23 for 170 yards and three scores, running only four times for 5.8 yards per carry. I'm sure he would have liked to had the Cethan Carter overthrow back in the second quarter, but he played a pretty solid game tonight.

* Did you know Tommy Armstrong's final two choices were Nebraska and Southern Miss? I asked the redshirt freshman after the game if he ever thinks about what it would have been like to be a Golden Eagle – "not really," he replied. More on Armstrong Sunday night.

* It was nice to see Sam Burtch get a touchdown catch. I have heard he works his butt off in practice.

* Speaking of great guys that got to play, how about Ron Kellogg. The dude is a great teammate and supposedly one heck of a teacher in the film room. Getting Tommy Armstrong reps for the future is important, but it was nice the senior was rewarded.

* Another great effort tonight by Sam Foltz. Returners are going to have to learn to backup ten yards. He's constantly kicking over people's heads. He also showed some touch in the fourth quarter, pinning USM at their three-yard line.

* A couple former Huskers made impacts for their new teams today – one in a positive way and another in a not so positive way. Former running back Aaron Green scored a touchdown in TCU's beat-down of Southeastern Louisiana. Former offensive lineman Tyler Moore, who transferred out of Lincoln last summer, had two false starts and a holding penalty in Florida's loss to unranked Miami.

* Kirk Ferentz better watch it. I know it would cost Iowa double-digit millions to get rid of him, but Iowa can't play like they have the last two weeks and expect to win a game in the Big Ten. Today the Hawks beat Missouri State 28-14, but were only up a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Josh Harvey has covered college football and recruiting for Fox Sports NEXT since 2008. He is now the Publisher of Big Red Report, covering Nebraska athletics.
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