Senior running back Marlon Lucky
You may argue just who is the best running back Nebraska has, but there's no arguing that Marlon Lucky made the most out of his opportunities, both in the running game and in the passing game.
What we might have seen from Lucky which we haven't seen in a while was not just the patience to follow his blocks, which led to his first score, an eight-yard scamper into the end zone in the first quarter. But Lucky also made players miss in the second level, one key juke leading to the 58-yard gain, setting up another touchdown for the Husker back.
Then there is the receiving aspect, which hasn't found Lucky as much this season as we have become accustomed to seeing, Lucky the team-leader last year in receptions. The former California-prep back had just three receptions for 21 yards, but 13 of those came on a short pass from Ganz out in the flats, which gave Nebraska a first down and led to another Husker score.
Lucky finished the game with 103 yards rushing, 21 yards receiving, getting into the end zone twice.
Oh yeah, he also added a touchdown throw to quarterback Joe Ganz, giving
Lucky perhaps a better pass efficiency rating over his career than Ganz has over
Do I smell a QB controversy? No, but it was still a good throw.
Senior quarterback Joe Ganz
Looking at him after the game with the t-shirt bulging all over from the ice packs which covered most of his upper torso, you would have thought that Ganz was coming off a game of doing nothing but running left, running right, pitching it a few times, keeping it others and pacing the Husker ground game to a win.
Well, sort of.
Ganz didn't lead the team in rushing, but at 13.8 yards per carry, it only took him five rushes to hit the 70-yard mark, third best on the team this game, one of those an option-keeper which took Ganz in for the score.
In the passing game it wasn't a typical 300-plus yard night for Ganz, the senior signal-caller throwing it for just 158 yards. But when you complete 13-of-17 of your passes, one of those going in for the score, and your rushing attack has piled up 330 yards for the game, it actually was a little like the good old days of option football, where the quarterback wasn't asked to be excellent, only efficient.
We think Ganz was actually both.
It also doesn't hurt that Ganz now joins a couple of former Heisman winners
in Eric Crouch and Johnny Rodgers as the only Huskers to score a touchdown in a
game rushing, receiving and passing.
Sophomore cornerback Eric Hagg
Every time this kid takes the field you see him take another step forward. His quickness belies his size, this cornerback standing at a very unusual 6 foot, 3 inches tall. He's big as well, Hagg physically overpowering which is another thing that you just don't see too much on the very back end of the field.
Hagg, a consummate self-critic of his play, didn't give himself too much credit after the game, not thinking about the team-leading 10 tackles he had along with the key pass break up. He preferred to concentrate on what he didn't do whether it was being where he was supposed to be or being a little slow reacting to a play.
We'll give him that in that he wasn't perfect, but when you think about the fact that this young man is in just the third game of his college career at this position, the future is scary for him and even scarier for the teams which will have to account for him and his very physical brand of play.
The Red Zone "D"
We had to do it.
On the official stat sheet it says New Mexico was 1-for-4 in opportunities in the red zone. But that hardly describes just what the Husker defense managed to accomplish on one particular trip where it seemed Nebraska was trying to give it to them and then subsequently ripped it away.
In the midst of a 14-play drive NMSU quarterback Chase Holbrook led his Aggies down to the Nebraska 13-yard line, giving them first down with just one over a dozen to get into the end zone. What followed was a series of plays that probably had Husker fans feeling a little woozy after the melodramatic trip:
The first play from the 13 and the 7th play of the drive, what appeared to be a fumble which Nebraska had recovered off a tipped ball from senior defensive end Zach Potter, was overturned (correctly) after it was ruled a forward pass which fell to the ground incomplete, bringing up a second and 10.
The second play was a short pass completion which took the Aggies five yards closer to the end zone and only eight yards away from getting that goose egg off the board. The Aggies were now at third and five.
The next pass fell incomplete, the Aggies had to go for it and the 4th down pass fell incomplete as well.
Pass interference, Armando Murillo – NMSU with a fresh set of downs at the Husker two-yard line
First and goal from the two – penalty on NMSU for a false start
First and goal from the seven – Holbrook sacked by junior nose tackle Ndamukong Suh for a loss of seven yards
Second and goal from the 14 – Holbrook sacked by senior defensive end Zach Potter for a loss of eight yards
Third and goal from the 22 – A pass falls incomplete, which would have forced an improbable attempt on fourth down.
Cornerback Lance Thorell gets called for pass interference, a penalty which I still wonder about. But there ya go, a new set of downs off the spot-foul, the Aggies with a first and 10 at the Husker 20
An incomplete pass was followed by a one yard run up the middle, which was then finished off with Holbrook throwing an interception to safety Matt O'Hanlon, a play where Holbrook himself admitted after the game that Nebraska tricked him and he bought it hook, line and sinker, O'Hanlon taking the pick up to the Nebraska 25.
That is impressive and I didn't even touch on the opening drive of the game for the Aggies where they put together a whopping 15-play drive, and after four shots in the red zone to try and get some points, all they got out of it was a blocked field goal by Potter, his third block of his career.
I realize this is New Mexico State, and for all the crazy stuff they did, they simply aren't a very good team. But even against bad teams, you give up that many opportunities in the red zone, you are going to get burned. They did, ultimately, NMSU picking up a fumble on a botched center/quarterback exchange between junior center Jacob Hickman and redshirt freshman quarterback Patrick Witt.
It was only a valiant effort by sophomore running back Roy Helu Jr. that even stopped that run back from being a touchdown, but it was still first and goal at the Husker three.
They didn't stop that one, NMSU getting a run into the end zone on the first play. So, Nebraska wasn't perfect. But considering some of the positions they were in, and yes, some they put themselves in, they managed to fight their way out in fine style.
Going into a bye-week as they prepare for Virginia Tech, the defense needed a game where they were doing some of the dictating for once. Forget the opponent, because there is no way to a player that there is going to be any real downside to the kind of game they had, overall. It wasn't perfect. Sometimes it wasn't pretty. But it was gritty when things seemed not to be going their way.
That's a start, a nice start and one darn good reason why the entire side of the ball deserves a few props for how they played in week number three.