While Lord was seemingly better than adequate rolling out and making the harder throws, when players were almost in front of him and wide-open, Lord was consistently inconsistent. You would have to assume that when it comes down to that, it's all mental, but it was a hurdle I am sure everyone (including Lord) was hoping would be a thing of the past.
Lord ran well as always and at times, was as scintillating as he was slippery for defenders to tackle, but that's always been his strength. However, he's a QB and in a system that wants to hit at least 55 percent of their passes, his 50 percent was simply a poor performance.
There did also appear to be some communication problems with the sidelines, NU utilizing a new way of bringing in the plays, using the back-up quarterbacks (Stuntz and Dailey) to send in signals, one simply for decoy.
It wasn't really fooling anyone as Cotton almost always either was looking at Mike Stuntz or holding his hand so that it was obvious his play was going to Stuntz to send it.
Lord had said after practice on Monday that it was hard at times to get the signal straight because people would walk in front of the person sending them in and that was in some small way responsible for the rather lackluster ending to the first half.
Overall and again, Jammal looked like the same Jammal from last year, able to make a good pass here and there, but missing what would seem to be the easier passes available. While running well, he still hasn't posed to defenses the full package that is going to make a Cotton-offense or any other offense that is predicated on versatility, effective.
He'll have a tune-up in Utah State to try and remedy that, but it wouldn't be unreasonable to assume that because of the opponent, all of the quarterbacks (including Dailey) could see some time at the helm.
Though Lord looked like he did last year, what was attributed to some of his lack of success last year wasn't present in this game to any great extent. That being the offensive line.
Throughout most of the game, it appeared the offensive line was stout, in-shape and even initially, was able to move the ball down the field on the Cbwboys. The penalties were actually the only real thing stopping the offense as they were seemingly always in the red zone, penalties taking them back out of clear touchdown opportunities.
The protection was good, Lord had plenty of time and they held the ball for an amazing 35+ minutes. If you can control that much of the clock, you have done two things. One, you have kept the other team's offense off the field along with your defense, allowing them some rest and you probably have wore on their defense more than a little.
With the staunch and ready nature of the NU O-line this year, wear on OSU they did, some affects of that being noticed as early as before the end of the first half.
If the O-line was looking for a good start to their season in regards to execution and effectiveness, they could have done a heck of a lot worse than this.
Penalties, penalties, penalties. A plague to NU last year, it reared it's ugly head again against Oklahoma State, 8 offensive penalties in total. Penalties that took NU out of no less than two scoring drives that were in the red zone, ending up in field goal tries instead of touchdown opportunities.
The offensive face mask, a call that I can't recall seeing in many years of watching the game was actually called twice against NU. Whether or not this is going to be consistent, it had to have been frustrating to a staff that had to be equally shocked with what is a rare penalty being called, not once but twice.
Other than that, it was one penalty compounding another seemingly at the worst points of the game or certain drives and if not for the penalties, the very outcome of the game wouldn't have been different in regards to the win, but certainly different in regards to the disparity of the score.
Penalties cost Nebraska no less than 12 points and against teams solid on both sides of the ball, that is the difference between a win and a loss.
There was a stretch towards the end of the first half that was bad enough that fans around the stadium were booing with a great deal of zest. It started with a run-on of incomplete passes by Lord, but ended with some mis-communication between the sidelines and Lord as to what play was being called. That resulted in them sending in the field goal unit that subsequently had the kick blocked, Nebraska heading into the locker room down by 4.
It was a situation that Frank Solich actually occurred twice, but noticed that the fans weren't quite as privy to it the second time as they were the first. "The fans sure noticed it the first time." Solich stated. "But, they weren't on top of it the second time it happened."
Yes, it was ugly and the fans booing, well that's always ugly when that happens, but sports are sports and though at Nebraska, it's surprising, those things are to be expected. We can attribute this though more to everyone with inexperience in utilizing this system of sending in the plays, something that Lord himself admitted he needed to get used to.
Josh Davis proved why he is the starting running back, running as tough as he always has, more in control than possibly ever, Davis didn't hit the century mark on the day, but hit a home run in how he ran not just physically but mentally as well. Able to hit holes with a purpose while still being fleet of foot, Davis' debut as a starting I-back was a successful one to be sure.
And, the one fumble that made everyone harken back to mental mistakes of the past, well, it wasn't a fumble at all, so erase, erase, erase. Bad call by the refs, Josh Davis cleared and he should be a solid contributor for Nebraska all year long.
Sandro DeAngelis said this off-season that he had paid his dues, thus the starting job at kicker was his. Well, after this weekend, he might have bought himself a one-way ticket to the bench, going 1-3 on FG attempts.
One of the main problems with DeAngelis not being as successful as was thought he could be was the fact that his ball had a very low trajectory. That problem reared it's ugly head, his field goal towards the end of the first half being blocked. Couple that with the other miss that hit the upright, it was a marginal day at best for NU's starting kicker.
It almost seems unjust to stamp the performance of the NU defense, "good". They were better than that. Holding an offense that tore up most opponents it faced last year, NU all but shut them down, holding the vaunted Rashaun Woods to under 50 yards receiving, Josh Fields under 100 yards throwing and Tatum Bell under 100 yards rushing. All in all, the offense managed just 183 yards in total offense, an abysmal failure for them, an enormous success for a defense that was looking to create the very identity it did this last Saturday.
Aside from OSU's lone scoring drive where Woods would get 32 of his less than 50 yards receiving on the day, the "blackshirts" were in fine form most of the contest. Though the coaches will no doubt be able to see a variety of miscues, bad reads and out and out mistakes, to the public, this was a vintage Nebraska defense wreaking some vintage Nebraska hell on an opponent.
Whether it was Josh Bullocks with the 2 interceptions, Lornell McPherson adding a spectacular leaping one of his own, Jerrell Pippens causing a fumble after sacking Josh Fields or Barrett Ruud picking a Tatum Bell fumble up and scampering into the end zone, the "Good" was pervasive.
Benard Thomas in his first start as a Husker (believe it or not) started off slow, but got into the game as it went along, topping it off with some impressive backside pursuit, collaring Josh Fields behind the line of Scrimmage.
Trevor Johnson proved to be simply too much for the tackle he was going against, in the backfield most of the day. Johnson is quiet in words, but his play on the field, at least for this game was heard all over.
The interior line proved to be as stout as expected. Oklahoma State averaged less than 3 yards per rush, not even hitting 90 yards net yardage as a team. The middle was simply no-man's land for OSU rushers, their best effort by Bell, almost always having to bounce to the outside. The penetration probably wasn't as good as hoped, but that line was hardly ever moving the other direction.
The linebacking core is special. There's really no other way to put it. Between Barrett Ruud, Demorrio Williams and T.J. Hollowell, they were all over the place, making play after play. In fact, Williams and Ruud were 2nd and 3rd on the team respectively in total tackles. This unit is fast, aggressive, smart and the scary thing is (for opponents anyway), they can only get better than their very first game playing together as a group.
You can't say much more about the secondary than what the stat sheet tells you already. Responsible for all the interceptions, the lone sack and holding one of the best receivers in the country to less than 50 yards, well, that pretty much speaks for itself.
Granted, they got the help they needed from the pressure applied by the rest of the defense, but Pelini's "zone" with a smattering of "man" coverage worked like the proverbial charm. To those lock-down cover-corners, zone coverage may not sound like the sexiest of defenses, but it was that coverage that freed players up to make the kind of plays you saw on Saturday. In fact, the one score that NU did give up, it appeared that they were in "man" coverage, Pat Ricketts having to cover Rashaun Woods by himself. Not an enviable task for certain.
Between the scheme and that players that were out there making it a reality, the secondary was stingy to the point of being stifling. And, they did this against a QB that threw for over 3,000 yards last year and a receiver that lit up secondaries (NU included) almost consistently for more than a 100 yards a game.
Play-calling. I'm usually not one to get on this bandwagon as you really have to either be experienced in this area enough to know or arrogant enough to think you know what good and bad really is. I'll take a stab at it anyway.
I thought that overall, the play-calling was pretty good. After all, much of NU's chances to score were not halted by plays gone bad, but penalties and maybe a missed pass here and there. Cotton seemed to recognize what was working and stuck with it, but mixed up a few interesting plays here and there.
In truth, it might have seemed fairly vanilla, but considering the success NU was having so early in the game just shoving it down OSU's throat, I didn't see that there would be a need to "mix it up" as they say, all that much.
There were some obvious mis-communication issues, maybe an issue here and there about when plays got in, but the foundation seems like it's definitely there that when everyone gets on the same page, the plays will be coming in expeditiously and I wouldn't expect the play-calling to taper off either.
Cotton didn't appear to be faced with much of a dilemma during this game as to doing some vastly different things to have success, so I thought what was shown as pretty good overall.
OVERALL = GOOD
So much was made of what NU could accomplish this off-season trying to implement new systems on both sides of the ball, with new coaches trying to familiarize themselves with other new aspects, new surroundings, new players and the players having to become used to them and their way of doing things.
That's a lot.
Against a team that ended their year so hot, NU stopped them cold and showed potential on the offensive side as well as to what Husker fans can hope to expect.
First games are never pretty in that you almost always have execution problems, communication issues from sideline to the field, players simply not being in the game mentally the entire time, especially early on. There's just so many things that happen in first games and most of them usually aren't good.
NU weathered the rust of not playing in a real game, putting all that learning in the off-season to the field for the first time and played inspired on top of all that.
Plus, there's no word, good, great or whatever that can give enough credit for what Bailey did for the strength and conditioning program. Players that last year seemed lethargic even as early as the third quarter were pulling no punches all the way to the end of the game.
Just the way a Nebraska team is supposed to be.
When people got used to years of NU teams tearing teams apart in the second half, wearing them down on offense, wearing them thin on defense, last year was a reality check and this year, at least for the first game, a bit of nostalgia sets in.
I thought that especially for the defense, the OSU game was a great barometer considering some of their weapons, but for the offense, it was a good barometer as well. What's most important about an NU offense is their ability to control the clock, thus sustaining drives and it was their own mental mistakes that minimized what NU was able to do.
That's bad, but that's good, because mental mistakes "should" be much easier to correct than having to adjust a technique or even scheme. So, you should see some improvement as early as this weekend against Utah State.
Point of fact, in some cases, Nebraska was the only reason that Nebraska didn't make a close score a huge disparity in the end, so take that as positives for the future.
Nebraska showed up against a good team and won. To that end, most would be satisfied based on last year alone. NU also did something else in that they showed the kind of potential that makes Nebraska fans not just think of bettering a lackluster season, but thinking about starting over on a few of those streaks they lost.
It's still way early and NU has some serious teams ahead, but they definitely earned a GOOD this time around.
Next up, Utah State.
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619
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