On a breezy but sunny September afternoon, the Nebraska Cornhusks beat the North Dakota Eagles 38-17 in their home opener, a game that wasn’t decided until the fourth quarter. The Huskers improved to 14-0 against their FCS opponents, but as opponents dominated possession in the first half (20:38-9:22), the Huskers had only 24 offensive snaps before the break.
Between the Blackshirts’ sloppy steals and the inability to glue the offensive line together, Husk stumbled after a quick opening score, and the subsequent kickoff ended with turnovers, punts and missed field goals. Meanwhile, North Dakota had 16 80-yard scoring drives that consumed nearly half of the second quarter and tied the score at seven.they got help six Suspended as head coach Scott Frost contributed three of Husk’s stoppages to allow the Eagles to score with 13 points left. Nebraska had to end the second half due to a lack of clock management. Equally puzzling, the Husk guard celebrated the Eagles’ 2-yard 4th and 1st conversion from beyond the 5-yard line. I can only conclude that the players think North Dakota is in a fourth-and-goal situation. Players and coaches are concerned about the lack of game awareness.
Today was the fourth straight game since last season, with Nebraska scoring in the opening game. When the Huskers ran for 75 yards in six games to start the second half (just 1:48), it marked the second week in a row that they scored on their first second-half possession. Maybe Husker’s offense should be back in the tunnel after every score, because they’ve come out of the locker room so well. Nebraska shot again after a loss from North Dakota to take another double-digit lead in the second half. And, for the second week in a row, they gave up that advantage in just 4:14.
But the difference this week was that Hesk’s defensive bow limited the Hawks to 55 yards in the final 19:22 of the game. Meanwhile, the offense had just one poor possession and 183 yards while scoring 21 points in that same time frame, putting the game out of reach. With 10 minutes left in the crucial game, the Huskers led just 24-17. Facing the 3rd and 14th of their own 7-yard line, Casey Thompson’s pass found Trey Palmer, who jumped two defenders for a 31-yard gain. That led to a game-winning 89-yard scoring drive, and the Huskers ran seven of the next eight games, culminating in a 14-yard TD rush from true freshman Ajay Allen.
The Huskers had many problems on both sides of the ball as both lines faltered in mediocre competition. But it was encouraging to see them beat their opponents and win the fourth quarter this week. New players add a much-needed spark and may not be completely tainted, as they tend to predict the worst when adversity strikes. I’d include linebacker Okugawa Mathis in this group because he’s been playing in the mid lane, even though he’s been controlled by the offensive linebacker many times.
What defines the “goals” of the top ten officials? After today’s game, I am more confused than ever. I was under the impression of aiming when a defender fired, hit an opponent in the helmet and didn’t go for the ball. Apparently this is not the case when the receiver has an “N” on the helmet. Also, when you’re late to hit the quarterback, but it’s not ruled a target, it’s obviously not late either. Confused or just bad referee?
Casey Thompson completed 14 of 21 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown pass to a pair of backup tight ends. He also threw a terrible ball that was picked up and returned to the Husker 8-yard line after the Huskers had a 10-point lead. A big change this week is that the Huskers only took 22 shots and 41 rushes. Thompson rushed for -2 yards six times. He had two good runs at 10 and 14 yards, but was denied by two 27-yard sacks. Thompson seems to be a good steal, can pull the ball well and use some passing options, but he seems hesitant. Maybe a few trips to the injury tent just added to that hesitation.
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The offensive star of the game was running back Anthony Grant, who rushed for 23 times for 189 yards, including 19 and 46 for touchdowns. Grant is at his best when he has some space and no precious space in between. His ability to cut and slide outside makes him a dangerous defender who will only get better if the offensive line can start creating the kind of push they did late in the game today. Perhaps his best run was one of his turnovers in the backcourt, which came close to a turnover and turned into a 16-yard gain. Grant is the first Husker with back-to-back 100-yard games since Devine Ozigbo’s three-game streak in October 2018. Ajay Allen has only added 60 yards on 11 carries (5.3 average) and there’s little guarantee the real freshman will burn his red shirt.
Trey Palmer (82 yards on four catches) set a career high in receiving yards. Nate Boerkircher (2 catches for 32 yards) had his first career touchdown with a 19-yard steal in the third quarter. Marcus Washington (2 catches for 31 yards) had a beauty on the touchline that was initially ruled incomplete. Allant Brown and Omar Manning each added two catches when Manning made his debut. The Bruynton Speaker can do more than just blow up defenders while on the run. Today, he caught a 5-yard TD pass and was pinned to the “no aim” head.
The Blackshirts gave up 306 yards in 70 games. Perhaps most surprising, they gave up just seven points in the first half while North Dakota had the ball at 20:38. There were still too many missed tackles, especially in the first half, preventing defenders from going down. The defense was led by an emotional Garrett Nelson, who tied the team with eight tackles, was forced to fumble, sacked, and knocked down a pass. He has lost at least one tackle in 13 of his 17 games. Isaac Gifford added 8 stops, including a failed tackle, while Luke Reimer contributed 7 tackles to make him just short of a career stop One point into the top 50. Ernest Hausman (5 tackles) became the fifth freshman since 1993 to actually start a linebacker. Marcus Buford (5 TFL tackles) made two saves and a touchdown in a drive when he tackled Isaiah Smith-yd line after 63 yards in NU 6 3 and the end zone of the goal to break the pass. I admit that Ochaun Mathis above (2 tackles) was very damaging in the middle and also got sacks.
The Special Forces had a mixed bag in this game, and even though Busini averaged just two 42.0-yard kicks, his kicks were still his forte. The wind was blowing at 15-20 mph all the time, making kicking and catching the ball a tough challenge. Timmy Bleekrode hit his first Husker field goal with a tailwind for 46 yards, but headed wide to the left at 37 yards. The burst drive from midfield wasn’t as silly as last week, costing the Huskers a 6-yard net on the field only. Brendan Frank hit five touchdowns on seven drive-thru attempts. Wyatt Liewer’s attempt to pick up a kick that was about to be knocked down is anyone’s guess. It could have led to a turnover, but no, he was of course lucky that stupidity in that situation didn’t come at a high price.
Huskers is still a work in progress. There are a lot of flaws to fix, and they’re clearly not ready to play Oklahoma, let alone the balance of the conference schedule. But then came Georgia South, who scored 28 points in the fourth quarter today to beat the Morgan State Bears 59-7. Nothing is easy for this Husker squad, but let’s see how it plays out for a week at a time. Me and many Husker fans just wanted to see some evidence of continuous improvement. Go big red! !