No doubt everyone and their relative who is a Nebraska fan expected the Cornhuskers to put up a vast quantity of points on their Division 1-AA foe, the Maine Black Bears. However, much like in 2004 when the Bears upset Mississippi State, the Atlantic 10 team didn't roll over for their Division 1-A combatant. There were some highlights and lowlights for both teams and while the Cornhuskers did not lay a severe beating on the Bears, they came away with a win.
No one really knew if Nebraska Head Coach Bill Callahan was going to play Zac Taylor the entire game or if Joe Ganz, Beau Davis, Jordan Adams or even highly touted recruit Harrison Beck would see any playing time. It appears that getting Taylor game experience was the decision as he played the entire game.
I felt Zac showed much better presence in the offense than did Joe Dailey a year ago as Taylor is obviously more suited towards this offense. He had some moments where he showed some very good things from a technical standpoint. Statistically, things could've been better overall as Taylor went 15-32 for 192 yards and had two interceptions.
I feel that Zac's main two problems are his accuracy with the football and the height of some of his passes, but that goes hand in hand. Taylor strikes me as the type who will work on this issue immediately. I also attribute some of what Taylor displayed as going from Butler to Nebraska and playing in front of the crowd Nebraska produces. Many like to quote former Nebraska Head Coach Tom Osborne who once said a football team improves most from the first team to the second. I believe that will be the case with Zac and, indeed, he has the potential to improve as the season progresses.
Cory Ross had a bittersweet evening with 20 carries for 80 yards and a touchdown, however his footwork and carrying of the ball seemed very unlike his playing style from 2004. There were times when he looked like the familiar rock of a player that Nebraska fans had come to know and other times where he looks uncomfortable and awkward. Again, being the first game of the season, some flaws were expected and no doubt Cory gets plenty of work with his feet and with wet balls this week in practice.
Brandon Jackson and Marlon Lucky both showed some solid effort as Jackson continues to display a workhorse mentality and Lucky had a very positive debut with 13 rushes for 44 yards. I was curious to see Cody Glenn perform, however that did not take a place so judgment on him will obviously have to wait.
With Tyrell Spain out and Chris Brooks hobbled, Terrence Nunn and Frantz Hardy appear to be the go-to receivers, at least out of this particular game. Hardy showed brilliance at many times and appears to be one of the ideal types of receivers needed for Callahan's offense to function. Nunn also showed some flashes of what made people predict good things for him in the future. However, both had issues with dropping passes that needed to be caught.
Again, I believe this is something that will be reinforced this week in practice and that when the Cornhuskers take the field against Wake Forest, Frantz and Terrence will have something more closely resembling super glue mitts. Grant Mulkey didn't have much opportunity to shine, but when he did, he continued to show his ability to be a clutch receiver and possession man. Right now, the corps for Nebraska is razor thin, but improvement is very reachable and should be expected.
Without Matt Herian and now with Justin Tomerlin switching to defense, the tight end position was hard to get a read on. If I were to make a guess, I'd call the analysis inconclusive at this point. I did see some excellent blocking and work in general by Clayton Sievers, however, so I feel he needed to be singled out.
The offensive line has faced much adversity ever since the off-season began. Still, pass protection has improved greatly from 2004 and I feel that once the unit gels, Nebraska will have a front five that will be able to run or pass block at their coach's whims. There is still some technique and timing that needs to be worked on, but otherwise what I saw was encouraging.
With many Cornhusker fans wondering if John Blake was merely a recruiter and not a coaching asset, perhaps those critics have been somewhat silenced as Nebraska broke the school record in sacks against Maine due to, in large part, the pass rush of the Blackshirts. Adam Carriker, Le Kevin Smith, Titus Adams, Jay Moore, Wali Muhammad and Barry Turner accounted for seven of the total sacks while the entire lineman's unit totaled 20 tackles and wreaked havoc in the Maine offensive backfield.
The loss of Steve Octavien is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the 2005-2006 Nebraska football season thus far as, while healthy, Octavien was a presence and a force on the football field. Now sidelined for the season, Bo Ruud will have to step in and perform as he did against Maine. Ruud accounted for 6 of Nebraska's points intercepting a pass and taking it all the way for a touchdown showing that his brother is not the only current football-playing member of the family who can reach the endzone.
Stewart Bradley played as a starting linebacker should accounting for two sacks and six tackles (three unassisted). Corey McKeon could perhaps be given the title of Nebraska's most improved player overall as he was a terror on the field accounting for one sack and ten tackles (two unassisted) along with making several plays that don't end up on the stat sheet. The unit as a whole appears to be much faster, much more aggressive (such as McKeon pummeling the football while in a runningback's gasp in an attempt to force a fumble).
An area that has both positive and negative aspects currently, the defensive backs showed promise. Cortney Grixby and Tierre Green both had moments where their awareness will need to improve, however, Grixby played very effectively and Green took to his new position like a fish to water much as Cornerbacks Coach Phil Elmassian had been boasting. Newcomer Zach Bowman did not see as much action as anticipated but showed solid effort and ability. No doubt he will be worked into the rotation as the season progresses.
Junior College transfer Bryan Wilson took a few lumps as he was beaten easily for Maine's only score of the game. Still, game experience is invaluable and sometimes lessons need to be learned the hard way. With his size and speed, Wilson has the ability to improve.
Battling the defense for the one facet of the football team that has improved the most from 2004, the special teams units showed life as 2005 began. True Freshman Jordan Congdon went 4-4 on field goals with a 38-yard long kick as his prize for the evening, however, he did shank a PAT following Nebraska's first touchdown. Knowing Congdon's perfectionist style, I doubt this becomes a regular habit. Senior Sam Koch showed his dependability as he nailed four punts for 187 yards including a 70-yarder which ranks very near the top of Nebraska's all-time punting length record. Sam ended the game with a 46.8 punting average and left the ball inside the 20 twice.
Punt and kick returns have improved exponentially as Terrence Nunn and Cortney Grixby tore up the field with four returns for 135 yards with a long of 62 and five returns for 65 yards and a long of 15, respectively. On kick returns, Tierre Green was given only one opportunity and made it worth the crowd's while returning it 43 yards.
Coverage seems to have improved as well as with some minor tweaking, the coverage teams should be near ideal.
Offense: Frantz Hardy (7 catches, 152 yards)
Defense: Bo Ruud (5 tackles, 2 unassisted, one sack, one interception, one touchdowns)
Special Teams: Jordan Congdon (4-4 field goals, 38-yard long, 1-2 PATs)
The Two Minute Warning:
I feel that the fans were solid factors in encouraging the Maine Offense towards false start and delay of game penalties along with confusing not one but two Maine quarterbacks. I realize that many, if not the vast majority, are: 1.) Disappointed because of the score of the game and 2.) Discounting all successes due to the Division 1-AA status of the opposition. I feel that this is not the proper way to address Nebraska's first game.
The Maine game was the antithesis of the 2004 Nebraska season opener. There were a few fireworks but simply less things for people to say "Well it was <Insert Division 1-AA team name here>." Currently, Nebraska is 1-0. There is a team who played in the National Championship game last year who was more than likely expected to return to the BCS this year (and very well still may) that is not. That is the bottom line.
Also, to those who would discount the successes due to the opposition, that is your prerogative, however, I feel that we are going to not only see the same successes against Division 1-A teams but even more and more frequent successes. The 2005 Nebraska Cornhuskers have a lot of potential, however, potential is what you make of it. I am hopeful that they will take advantage of the tools they have and work towards a productive year, in fact, I see them doing just that.
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