Husker report card: Louisiana Tech
BY BRIAN ROSENTHAL / Lincoln Journal Star
RUNNING GAME (A)
Perhaps the biggest question entering the season was answered with authority in the first game. Yes, Nebraska can run the football. Of course, that had been a point of emphasis throughout the offseason, so it’s probably no surprise that the Huskers came out Saturday intent on establishing the run. By halftime, they’d already eclipsed last year’s averaging rushing performance — 96 yards per game. The four-man rotation at running back looked nearly perfect, save for a couple of fumbles by Kenny Wilson (one lost). Can that rotation produce similar results throughout the season? Don’t expect the seasonal average to hover around 252 yards (Saturday’s total). But that’s 70 yards better than last year’s top performance, and that’s a good sign.
PASSING GAME (A)
Zac Taylor offset a bit of a slow start by going through a stretch where he completed 14 of 16 passes. Remember that touchdown drive before halftime? Thanks to a barrage of penalties, Taylor threw for 97 yards during that impressive two-minute drill, going 8-of-9 and hitting six different receivers. Yeah, there were a few dropped balls, especially early. But Nebraska’s final stats — 24-of-36, 332 yards, four touchdowns, one interception — were particularly good for a season-opening game, warranting this grade. Also, 10 different players caught passes. And great to see Joe Ganz get some action.
AGAINST THE RUN (B)
Louisiana Tech didn’t do great damage on the ground, but the Bulldogs weren’t stopped cold, either. Their average of 3.2 yards per rush was boosted by a couple of nice runs — 15 yards by Freddie Franklin and 19 yards by Patrick Jackson. The Bulldogs ran only 21 times.
AGAINST THE PASS (B)
This grade could arguably be a little lower, but we’ll give the secondary the benefit of the doubt for overcoming a scary sequence before halftime, when the Huskers lost cornerbacks to injury on consecutive plays. Starter Cortney Grixby eventually returned, but backup Isaiah Fluellen did not. When Fluellen went out, the Bulldogs, not surprisingly, went after his replacement, Titus Brothers, and struck for a 39-yard touchdown pass. Brothers wasn’t burned badly, but Johnathan Holland made a great, one-handed grab. Grixby was beat on a 56-yard completion on the first play of the fourth quarter but made up for it by forcing and recovering a fumble on the play. Pressure from Nebraska’s front seven was good, but not outstanding, netting two early sacks.
SPECIAL TEAMS (A)
This gets an A because nothing really stands out that should indicate otherwise — which is just the way you want it for the first game of a season. New punter Dan Titchener had only three punts, but all were solid kicks. Jordan Congdon made seven PATs. The Huskers calmly fielded some high, short kickoffs. The most alarming thing was Terrence Nunn’s muffed punt, but Nebraska recovered. Kickoff and punt coverage was good, but not great.
PENALTIES AND GAME MANAGEMENT (B)
If not for some penalties in some key situations, this grade would’ve been an A, based on how the Huskers managed the clock, especially before halftime, and also with the new rule in which the clock starts immediately following a change of possession. Nebraska seemed well-prepared for that. The two-minute drill before halftime was beautiful, and would’ve been perfect had it not been for 25 yards of penalties on the drive. Taylor remained calm in the series, and the Huskers made great use of two of their three remaining timeouts, allowing them to set up a running play on the goal line in the closing seconds of the half. Had Cody Glenn not scored then, NU had another timeout remaining. Another penalty (holding) wiped out a nice touchdown run by Kenny Wilson.
PLAY CALLING (A)
A great game plan, particularly with the use of all of the tight ends. Establishing the run helped Nebraska set up the pass, and the Huskers certainly had some wide-open receivers. Again, the two-minute drill before halftime was crisp (minus the penalties).
Nebraska wins 49-10 against a team that finished 7-4 last season, and runs for 252 yards in the process. How many of you would’ve taken that? In other words, there’s really not too much to complain about, especially for a season opener. Concerns? You bet. Nebraska’s cornerback situation is clearly dicey, and that could be scary in two weeks. But compared to last year’s season opener, the guess here is that a lot of Husker fans are breathing easier.