The Offensive Line
It seemed in the first half like they were getting their rhythm, not doing anything spectacular, but what they weren't doing was anything noticeable to hurt drives. No penalties, decent, though not great holes and the pass protection was OK.
In the second half they went straight into the cellar.
Two penalties on one drive, first a false start by junior Ricky Henry, then a holding penalty by the usually dependable Jacob Hickman. But the most telling stats were on short-yardage situations where the line was expected to get some push off the ball.
Third and two, at their own 32-yard line, freshman running back Dontrayevous Robinson gets the carry and gets tackled for a loss.
Ward also had another rush stuffed for a loss of five yards late in the game as Nebraska had second and four.
When Nebraska had to get the tough yards up the gut, they usually didn't.
to another week of a team talking about how it needs to be more
physical and about how they need to finish off games. The line seemed
to start well, but first-half success was followed by a second-half
letdown as they were given opportunities to control the line and simply
didn't take advantage.
There was a little drop off expected here today, if only for the reason that it's going to be hard for a brand new starting QB to instantly gel with his receivers, no matter how many reps they had together during practice.
And going back to the new quarterback situation, much of the game was pretty conservative, and for obvious reasons, as Offensive Coordinator Shawn Watson was obviously trying to get his new guy under center come confidence in throwing the ball, but more than anything, managing the offense down the field.
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Khiry Cooper didn't have a bad day, but he had a key drop in the second half.
As it is, with all the unknowns going into this game as to what kind of chemistry this group would have, it's more inconclusive about this group as they did some good things, but had some issues as well.
They sure could have used Chris Brooks' sure hands today though.
Roy Helu Jr. makes one good run early in the game, but goes out of the game, once again, favoring that shoulder. It's pretty clear that the staff simply refuses to sit him, but Helu's condition is forcing you to either get him the ball in space or simply use him on those pitch plays or toss sweeps, making what he does pretty predictable.
For Robinson, his second game was a success overall, as he ran well for the most part, averaging 4.7 yards per carry against Baylor as he carried the ball 13 times for just under 70 yards and a score. He's still trying to find his way when it comes to making decisions at the line, and for someone his size it's a little bit of a surprise to see him making bad decisions in regard to whether keep going north and south. Early in the game he ran out of bounds on a short-yardage play, seemingly because he wasn't aware of where the first down was. That will come in time, but he ran well for the most part, including a leap into the end zone for Nebraska's second touchdown of the game.
Redshirt freshman Lester Ward came in late, and he's not a physical runner, but he's a slippery kid when it comes to trying to get that first big hit. He played well for the most part, but at the point he came into the game, the offensive line was going decidedly backward in their ability to block the run.
It was certainly a good first half for Green, as he wasn't always on the mark, but was very confident in what he was doing, delivering the ball well, and showing that if you give him the opportunity to run, he will, averaging over five yards per carry today, toting the ball eight times for 48 yards, good enough for second in rushing on the team, today.
Green had a six-yard scramble off the left side where you could see one major difference between how he runs versus Zac Lee. Maybe it's a byproduct of his size, Green over 6-4 and 220, but he ran down that left side and when the defensive back came up to challenge him up front, Green put his shoulder down an leveled him.
Like the rest of the offense, though, and you have to say that it starts with the quarterback, things went downhill. The first big mistake was one we have seen so many times, that "out" pattern where the ball doesn't get lofted out either on time or with a lot of velocity and the defender jumps it and takes it back for six. Green said that the issue was about timing, for sure. "Just a late throw by my part," Green said. "If I would have thrown it a second earlier, it would have been a completion."
It was hard to tell if Green was able to shake that play off due to the play calling being so conservative, but Green said after the game that he was working on doing just that. "Go back the next drive (and) forget about it," he said.
If anyone was expecting a miracle performance or something close to perfection by the one-time back up, they were being unrealistic if not just plain foolish. Green made some key mistakes, didn't always make the right decision on that option in regard to keeping it or pitching it and some of his passes weren't that good.
But he was able to make mistakes and rebound, make some plays here and there, and most of all, outside of that pick for the touchdown, he didn't continually hurt his team. For a freshman QB getting his first real time, especially when the game is on the line, give him a positive mark for the day. Green finished the day 12-of-21 for 128 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.
If you give this group an A+, it means they were perfect on the day. They weren't, but they were pretty darn good, none more than sophomore Jared Crick, who took almost constant double teams on Ndamukong Suh and all he did was set a school record with five sacks, his tackle-total being 13, two more of which were for a loss.
It was one for the ages, even if it wasn't against a historical rival.
What I think the defensive line did really well was keep the freshman quarterback on his heels, making him make decisions quickly, but also giving him very few options on those stretch plays that Baylor seemed to keep going at, even though they weren't working.
When you have forced a team into doing something they don't want to do, you know you are getting something done. The defensive line did that, as the middle was all but off limits because of Suh and Crick. But Pierre Allen and Barry Turner complimented that inside dominance with outside disruption – enough to force Baylor into situations where they couldn't sustain anything consistent.
It's hard not to give them a perfect grade, but we'll nitpick this one a bit. Besides, this is the kind of grade that entire unit has been getting all year, and they just continued that momentum as they head into Oklahoma next week.
I can probably count on one hand the times where a linebacker missed a tackle or physically, just got beat on a play. Redshirt freshman Sean Fisher had one short-yardage play where the ball carrier simply put his helmet into Fisher's chest and ran him over for the first down. But anyone can see that Fisher still needs to add some more weight, which isn't easy for him.
But when you asked him to make plays from behind, that's where his athleticism really stood out as he did that pretty consistently.
The one issue was that open part in the middle of the field which seemed to be there for the taking, as it often has for most of this year. But that was by design, some of it what the Baylor offense was doing to open up that middle and some of it simply what Nebraska was doing in putting themselves into position where they thought most of the plays would go.
They actually guessed right, because even though the middle was there, Florence, the Baylor quarterback, wasn't able to consistently hit that. And when he did key off on it late in the game as he saw that area as a prime target to get yards with his feet, the game had gotten to the point that nickel and diming their way down the field was no longer an option.
Phillip Dillard didn't have 12 tackles in this game like he did in each of the previous two, but his five tackles, along with his great pursuit on those stretch runs, like every other linebacker, was doing exactly what he was asked to do.
Baylor kept running those stretch plays even though they weren't working, and while the defense forced that issue, the linebackers had to keep things shored up on their end, and for the most part they did just that.
After the first half this could have easily been an "A", but again, as the team seemed to take a swan dive in regard to their efficiency, this group was not saved from following suit. The loss of sophomore Alfonzo Dennard early in the game was big, as junior Anthony West came in and did OK at times, but in the second half really struggled, especially on a long pass play in the fourth quarter, where West got beat to the outside, tried to make up ground and basically ran into the receiver right before the ball got there, forcing the pass interference call.
And Prince Amukamara, despite the great read he made on the quarterback as he got his second interception of the season, this coming in the first half, mentally , checked out a bit in the second half, but he had some company, including Eric Hagg, who had some great open field tackles during the game, but got lost sometimes on the big shots Baylor was trying downfield.
Give it up to Dejon Gomes for showing great hands again, as he brought one down in the end zone, which stopped what could have been a crucial drive for the Bears. Safety Matt O'Hanlong overall, had a solid game, but had a clear shot at an interception of his own in the end zone, as did Anthony West, which neither pulled down.
So, typical to much of the rest of the team, solid first half…second half….not so much. But they actually forced turnovers, which they didn't do at all last week.
Jekyl and Hyde once again.
Nebraska opens up the scoring with an Eric Martin blocked punt, which was picked up by Justin Blatchford, a redshirt freshman defensive back from Ponca, Nebraska, and taken over 20 yards for the score.
That's the kind of momentum this Husker team needed, and they seemed to thrive on it in the first half.
Outside of that block, though, the punt coverage is still a work in progress, because even if you take out that desperation lateral-fest at the end of the game as Baylor was just trying to get into the end zone, the Bears still averaged around 12 yards per return. That kind of average would put you in the upper-third in the entire country as a team.
Alex Henry was…well……..Alex Henery. When he makes mistakes, it's a headline, because he simply doesn't, and back to that late-game attempt by Baylor to get into the end zone via the lateral, it was Henery who squashed that play in the end, making the tackle on the ball carrier at the Nebraska 32-yard line.
Yes, I don't have a single problem with what the team did on offense as far as how they approached it, because you can see the difference from the first half to the second half was players not making mistakes.
And it's pretty darn sad when you call a run up the middle on third and one and get knocked for a loss. That's not on the play calling. That's on the offensive line.
With a true freshman quarterback, who is starting his first game of his collegiate career, I think you have to call the game to his strengths, and work his opportunities in as the game progresses. I think Watson did that with Green, and some of the stalls in the offense, especially in the second half, was either Green making a mistake or the rest of the team not doing its job.
Coaches kill our ears with the word "execute", which I think certainly applies here. But that doesn't save the offensive line from the criticism that when they needed to get that push off the ball, they were getting pushed themselves instead.
I suppose I could just average it out between the two, but I'd say this one ends in the "C"-range. Yes, the defense once again saved the offense from itself, but this time they actually made plays on the back end instead of waiting for the defensive line to do it for them.
It's pretty clear they need Dennard back in the game, who re-aggravated his injury. And I would say it's equally obvious Roy Helu Jr. just needs to sit. It's almost completely predictable now when you put him on the field, and let's face it, if you look at the defensive line Nebraska is facing next week, if they can't run inside on Baylor, OU is going to give them a reality check like they can't imagine.
It's a win, as they say. Not great, and there are perhaps more questions coming from this win versus the aberration that was last week's loss. But it's a win they needed.
Now onto OU.