Huskers battle Maine, themselves in win

Against Maine, the end result was supposed to be obvious: win and win big. Someone forgot to tell the Black Bears. Between a lackluster Husker offense and a game Maine defense, a contest that was on-paper a complete route…….wasn't. That's home-openers, though, and Nebraska comes out with the 25-7 victory, but one has to wonder now if the questions from the opener outweigh the answers.

Some questioned simply scheduling Maine , a division 1-AA team that did beat Mississippi State last year, but couldn't manage a winning record at their own level of play.


The great thing is, a team like that should be a perfect tune-up as you prepare for the "real" teams on the schedule.


The only problem was, someone forgot to tell Maine 's defense to lay down.


Maine geared up to stop Ross
Cory Ross going into his last year as a Husker and coming off a season last year, where he battled turf toe most of it and still ran for over 1,000 yards, this should have been the start of a stellar swan song to his career. Maine counterpunched well, though, holding Ross to under a hundred yards on 20 carries and all but stifling the rest of the running game, the remaining Huskers combining for 64 yards on the ground.


"We knew Maine would come in here with a real heavy blitz package and lean to that during the course of the game," Callahan said. "I really felt as we were running the ball, there were some good runs, but we weren't consistent overall."


"Just in the overall timing, we were off a click."


The frustration in the running game was felt as well in the passing game, Zac Taylor ending the contest, completing just 15 passes on 36 attempts and throwing two interceptions. Callahan chose not to focus on the stats in regards to Taylor 's overall performance, because he didn't think that told the whole story. "I really believe that if you just look at the pure stats of what he was today, I don't think it's even close and certainly not indicative of what he's capable of doing."


If there was a story, though, it was about momentum and that Nebraska grabbed it for a second, but just as quickly it was gone:


1st possession: Ross runs for a 16 yard gain up the middle for a first down – 4 plays later, Nebraska turns the ball over on downs.

3rd possession: Nebraska starts on their own 48 yard line, pushes the ball down the field and has first and goal on the Maine 5 – Cory Ross fumbles, Maine 's Kurt Bulwith recovering.

Maine possession: Nebraska defense holds Maine to just 16 yards on five plays, but a muffed punt by Tierre Green and ensuing recovery by Maine gives them the ball at the NU 41


It wasn't until just over five minutes were left in the half, when Nebraska finally got on the board with a field goal by true freshman, Jordan Congdon, one of four he made on the day. "When you have a young freshman kicker, who comes in and kicks four field goals, that was a real positive."


"His kickoffs were exactly where we wanted the ball placed. He hung it like we thought he could and allowed the coverage to get down and make some plays."


To that end, Nebraska held Maine to 18.4 yards per kick return, bettering their average last season of 24.73, which ranked them as one of the worst teams in the country in that area.


In the punt return department, another sore spot for Nebraska special teams last season, the Huskers bettered that category as well, averaging 5.8 yards a return last year, but averaging 19.8 a pop against Maine, Terrence Nunn totaling 135 yards in punt returns on only 4 attempts. In all, Nebraska had 198 yards on punt returns, this single game total bettering last year's entire total, the Huskers amassing just 181 yards on the season.


The main bright spot for the Huskers was the defense, because while Nebraska was having trouble keeping momentum on offense, Maine rarely had any, unless it was off one of Nebraska 's 5 turnovers in

Bo Ruud has career day against Maine
the game.


Nebraska tallied a school record 11 sacks for 69 yards in loss, Adam Carriker, Le Kevin Smith and Stewart Bradley each tying for the team lead with 2 sacks a piece. Some newcomers got into the act as well, true freshman Barry Turner along with Bo Ruud, Corey McKeon and Blake Tiedtke all getting into the act.


What set up the solid pass rush was what Smith called what every team has to do in games; stifling the run. "You always have to stop the run before you start playing the pass," he said. "It's a way you can keep a defense on the field and get them tired."


"(we) completely shut down their running game (and) forced them to pass. When you've got those two things working for you, your defense dominates."


Adding to the frustration of the Maine offense was Bo Ruud, who proved eerily reminiscent of his brother, especially when Ruud intercepted a ball, taking it 27 yards for a touchdown, the first interception taken back for a touchdown since Texas A&M two years ago, where Barrett Ruud had an interception for a touchdown as well. Titus Adams also added an interception for a score in the game against the Aggies in 2003.


Ruud also had a fumble recovery and totaled five tackles, along with a pass break up.


Stewart Bradley added to the prolific linebacker performances, appearing at the very least, unblockable at times, Bradley finishing second on the team in tackles with six, three of those for loss, including the aforementioned sacks and two quarterback hurries as well.


The defense did take a hit, however, promising junior college transfer Steve Octavien going down with what was reported as a broken fibula. Callahan said after the game that the injury was season-ending. "You saw his ability to run and be active and obviously, use his athleticism to make plays," Callahan said. "We'll certainly miss him." Playing less than half a game, Octavien still ranked 6th on the team in tackles, totaling 4, including 2 for loss.  


On the game, Nebraska held the Black Bears to -6 yards rushing, the 14th best mark in school history and fewest yards allowed since 2001, when the blackshirts stifled Troy State 's running game for -25 yards on the day.


Frantz Hardy hauls in 73 yard reception from
Zac Taylor
The offense did have at least one bright side, junior college wide receiver Frantz Hardy setting the fourth best single-game mark for yards (152 yards on 7 receptions) in school history. Within that stellar performance, Hardy grabbed a 73-yard pass from Taylor, that being the longest pass play since Joe Dailey completed a 74 yarder to Cory Ross against Baylor last year.


If you wanted to wrap this game up in a word, it would be vastly different depending on which side of the ball you were talking to. For the defense, while statistically dominant, even Smith admitted that the score wasn't to their liking. For the offense, frustration might be the word for the day, because just when things started to go well, they took a decided turn and a passing game that was expected to be vastly more efficient simply wasn't, much to someone's angst.


"There's a lot of throws I'd like to have back," Zac Taylor said. "I'm lucky it's the first game, we got out with the victory and I can watch film tomorrow and learn from that stuff."


There's probably little else you can say of a game, where the theme should have been disparity, but in certain areas, it wasn't as much as the staff or players might have hoped. In home-openers, though, especially when playing so many newcomers (nine true freshman played), there are often unexpected bumps in the road.


Nebraska felt those and survived, so for at least that, they can feel good and even better that they are not sitting where the Oklahoma Sooners are right now. "This is a good game to learn from," Callahan said. "If you minus those turnovers, I really felt good that we had the ability to move the ball consistently, but those turnovers really hurt us at opportune times, especially in the red zone."


"So, there's a lot of factors, a lot of things to draw from that are positive, but obviously a lot of things that we have to go back to the practice field and improve."


Nebraska faces Wake Forest next week, the game to kickoff at 6:00 P.M. CST. Wake Forest played Vanderbilt yesterday, dropping their season-opener 24-20.


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