In looking over the game against Wake Forest, Nebraska had areas of improvement, most of those being on offense, but the defense still remained strong. While many question marks still remain the offensive side of the ball almost all question marks on defense have been erased at least when it comes to the linebackers and defensive line. As an interesting change of pace from 2004, when a defender makes a claim about his unit being one of the best in the country, a Cornhusker fan might actually agree rather than laugh.
There were moments when Joe Ganz was warming up due to Zac Taylor possibly not being able to continue after taking several hits from a tenacious and fired up Wake Forest defense. Still, Taylor showed toughness by sticking out the entire game and trying to find some fluidity with his offense. I feel that Zac did actually make some progress this week from last. While he went 14-33 for 114 yards, he did manage a touchdown pass to equal an interception.
Also, I would like to point out that there were a few drives in which Zac managed to look very crisp and fluid. That said, I still think that there is a 50/50 problem with Taylor and his receivers. I feel that Zac does not trust them as much as he wants to, even, perhaps, his favorite target, Frantz Hardy. I also feel that the wide receivers are suffering from a lack of trust from Zac's throws along with seeing each other drop balls.
I would be remiss if I did not point out the excellent audible by Taylor to Terrence Nunn in the second quarter with about 7 minutes remaining. I feel that Zac can improve from week to week and if he does, I believe that by mid-season, we will see something solid. In fact, during the bye week, I would expect Taylor to focus on these skills as much as possible and come out against Iowa State with renewed confidence and better accuracy.
Cory Ross showed, yet again, flashes of his 2004 brilliance as he had 20 rushes for 123 yards with a 57 yard scamper and a 6.2 average per carry. I feel that Cory relies a little too much on his juking ability to make a play. I feel if he simply settled into the position a little more traditionally first and got the basics down to instinct, the jukes and jives would come. Of course, it helps when you're not running a sweep on 3rd and 10. More on that later.
Ross was the main star of the runningback show as both Brandon Jackson and Marlon Lucky got limited time. However, one must applaud Jackson for catching a tipped ball while running a passing route that could've been either incomplete or intercepted. It ended up as a 7-8 yard gain.
As mentioned above, there still are some trust issues between Zac and his wideouts. That said there were some fantastic catches made and there were some catches that are needed to be made. I would like to point out that Grant Mulkey showed last night why he earned his scholarship as his play can be summed up in one word: clutch. 144 yards passing isn't quite what you want out of this receiving corps, but the desire is there, the potential is there, now it needs to be turned into production and consistency.
As far as the tight ends go, I believe Clayton Sievers is one heck of a pass catcher and as the season goes on, I believe he will be integrated more into the offense. That said, J.B. Phillips' play last night was horrific. He didn't block well, he didn't catch well and when he did try to block, he ended up costing valuable yardage and killing momentum on a badly needed drive, at least for confidence's sake. No doubt the coaches will identify this and rectify this in some manner.
Much like their quarterback, the offensive line had moments of excellence and moments that befuddled the 270th consecutive sellout crowd. I noted key blocks from Cornelius Fuamatu-Thomas, but I also noticed times when he simply looked like a fish out of water. Obviously this group needs time to gel, but what I have seen in the past two games is not exactly encouraging.
Still, I give them their due for the drives that were completed very well and this shows me that they can, in fact, improve. Will they? That's the big question and it's one that will have to wait until next week at the very earliest to be answered in any manner.
While Nebraska fans are fawning over Corey McKeon (and rightfully so, might I add), give credit where credit is due. The Nebraska front four looked like something out of an old Arnold Schwarzenegger film as they seeped through the Wake Forest Offensive Line and either sacked or hurried Wake Forest QB Ben Mauk into making terrible decisions. While the sacks were not as plentiful as they were against Maine, effective hurries were just as good as tackling was crisp and in several cases, for a loss.
One aspect of the defensive line that I love is that Nebraska can put in their technical second string and there is no drop off in talent or effort. It doesn't matter if it's Le Kevin Smith, Wali Muhammad or Barry Turner. You're going to get production no matter what.
When looking at the 2005 Nebraska football season, I doubt few would've guessed that all three starting linebackers would have touchdowns to their credit. Corey McKeon erased all questions about him possibly being the most improved athlete on the team as he absolutely decimated any Demon Deacon around him notching 10 tackles (six solo), two tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception returned 38 yards for Nebraska's first points.
Bo Ruud and Stewart Bradley also turned in solid games with Ruud picking up eight tackles (three solo), one tackle for loss and two quarterback hurries. Bradley had two tackles, a quarterback hurry and an interception returned 43 yards for a touchdown. Even with the loss of Steve Octavien, the linebacking corps continues to shine and when he returns next year, opposing offenses aren't going to have a fun time game planning around this bunch.
Daniel Bullocks showed why he was voted defensive team captain notching 13 total tackles (seven solo), one tackle for loss and not so much a forced fumble but rather literally taking the ball from the Wake Forest runningback and scampering the other way for six. Don't take Bullocks' numbers to mean that he simply stood back in the secondary and had to make plays from there. Much like his linebacker counterpart McKeon, Bullocks was all over the field.
Blake Tiedtke, a young man that no one knew much about before the season, proved a solid contributor adding three tackles (two solo) and an interception made while he was the only safety available at the time. He returned the pick 28 yards. Zach Bowman showed more glimpses of why he was so highly touted out of junior college and should be expected to contribute more and more as the season progresses.
Sam Koch admittedly was not the best punter on the field last evening as he went against one of the ACC, and indeed the nation's, finest punters in Ryan Plackemeier. Koch did have a decent evening overall with 8 punts averaging out to 42.5 yards per kick with a 76 yard long and placing four punts inside the 20 yard line.
Jordan Congdon was not placed under as much pressure as he received last week, but did manage a 25 yard field goal and managed all extra point attempts requested of him.
The return game did not sparkle as it did versus the Black Bears as Cortney Grixby seemed to have some difficulty holding onto the ball. However, with an unorthodox punting formation, one of the best at the position and swirling winds, the task was not an easy one, so I am willing to give Grix a pass on this one.
Offense: Cory Ross (20 carries, 127 yards, 6.2 yards per carry, 0 fumbles)
Defense: Daniel Bullocks (13 tackles, seven solo, one tackle for loss, one forced fumble, one fumble return for touchdown)
Special Teams: Sam Koch (8 punts with a 42.5 average, 4 punts inside the 20)
The Two Minute Warning:
One thing I forgot to mention in last week's article is that the game versus Maine was actually the first penalty-free game Nebraska has played since 1997. Moving on, I was impressed with both Wake Forest's punter and their star runningback Chris Barclay who could easily be called "The Human Pinball". I found the Deac's defense to be very scrappy and a bunch that definitely wants to win, has the will to win, but as far as talent and coaching goes, I don't think that they match up well with Nebraska overall.
On the topic of coaching, I feel some of the playcalling was rather odd last night. For example, there was a toss sweep to Cory on 3rd and 10 late in the 2nd quarter. However, questionable playcalling aside, I was impressed with adjustments that began in the 2nd quarter and that were obvious during the second half. I also would like to tip the cap to Defensive Coordinator Kevin Cosgrove whose charges prevented Wake Forest from scoring a touchdown in a game for the first time in five years.
I also feel that a pat on the back is due for the crowd at the Wake Forest game. This was a crowd that was very loud, knew WHEN and HOW to cheer and did a very effective job at making life miserable, at least in small part, for Wake Forest. Well done, folks and here's hoping that we have a similar showing versus Pitt.
Speaking of the Panthers, I feel that they present Nebraska with a similar opportunity as Wake Forest. The potential is there for a similar score and another defensive domination. If we can manage a few more offensive drives ending in touchdowns, this would be good, but points in general help so if Jordan gets some more work next week, that'd be fine too. I'd like to recommend to you all that we not focus on Pitt just yet. Take tomorrow to enjoy this game as well for it was a solid win and I think as much as an individual fan may want to tear down the win, you only need look at two things: the scoreboard and the fact that Nebraska is 2-0. In 2004, The Cornhuskers could not say the same.
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