Jimmy Watkins World-Herald Staff Writer
LINCOLN — The World-Herald’s Jimmy Watkins is handing out his Husker Report Card, assessing Nebraska’s performance in several areas. Here are the grades coming out of the Rutgers game.
Hard to judge, considering never consistently committed to its run game on Saturday. Falling behind 13-0 played a role that shouldn’t be as much of a deterrent against Rutgers.
When NU did run the ball, it couldn’t generate much. Rutgers held Anthony Grant at bay. And while Jacquez Yant showed promise, he didn’t play a ton.
Ladies love the deep ball, but the Big Ten West rewards the run game.
Rutgers played the deep pass and the Huskers’ O-line struggled mightily.
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Naturally, Nebraska tried repeatedly to hit deep balls. Casey Thompson forced two first-half interceptions into coverage and took several hits waiting for downfield routes to develop. Chubba Purdy replaced Thompson for a drive late in the first half as a result.
The deep ball might’ve saved the day with 8:56 to play, when Thompson hit Trey Palmer with a 27-yard touchdown pass, but you could also argue NU relied on big plays too heavily for most of the game.
One again, pretty good. Nebraska held the Scarlet Knights under four yards per carry and capped their longest carry at 21 yards. This unit couldn’t stop Georgia Southern on the ground a month ago. Now he’s looked competent in back to back weeks.
Never mind the competition level. This group needs confidence.
Rutgers surpassed its season average for passing yards (161.2) in the second quarter. It nearly equaled its season total for 30-yard competitions (five) with three in the first half – plus one more for 29 yards.
Moore, who transferred to Nebraska during fall camp, replaced Malcolm Hartzog after Hartzog allowed two early deep balls.
Moore hadn’t played in a game since 2020 before arriving at Nebraska on Aug. 8. He hadn’t appeared in multiple games since 2018. These are NU’s options at CB2.
But credit Moore and Myles Farmers for snagging big-time interceptions, and credit the secondary for cutting out the big plays in the second half.
Rutgers’ passing game looked too competent for a team that entered Saturday ranked 117th in yards per game. But even without starting cornerback Quinton Newsome, who left the game with a snout injury in the first quarter, NU made plays when it needed to.
You get a punt blocked, your grade suffers. Nebraska’s special teams had mostly averted disaster this season until four Scarlet Knights broke into the backfield with 3:56 to play in the first quarter.
Rutgers defensive back Max Melton blocked the kick and sent NU punter Brian Buschini to the medical tent in the process. RU running back Parker Day recovered the loose ball, and Day might’ve scored had Blaise Gunnerson not made a touchdown-saving tackle at the 9-yard-line.
Rutgers settled for a field goal. The blocked point cost NU three points, but Gunnerson’s tackle saved four. That perseverance under pressure – along with another solid punting performance from Brian Buschini – earns you grace.
Thinking hard about Whipple’s “We don’t have the ’86 Bears’ defense” comments after tonight. He called the offense early like he needed to score 50 points. He only ended up needing 14.
Rutgers anticipated Whipple’s aggression and positioned its defense to prevent deep balls. Outside of one drive to start the second half and one pass to take the lead, Nebraska didn’t adjust well.
The irony in Whipple’s comments from Tuesday: Nebraska’s defense played well Saturday. It only allowed one touchdown drive and fought its way out of some tough spots. The offense is the unit that struggled.
Maybe that’ll make him reconsider his approach.
It was ugly, frustrating and didn’t inspire much confidence, but it was a win. The Big Ten West might not be that messy, but it’s still a mess. And on the road, with an interim coach and defensive coordinator, style points matter little.
For the second straight week, Nebraska made the plays required to win a close one. And this time, the opponent made the crucial mistake. Nebraska doesn’t usually get breaks like the late hit out of bounds in the fourth quarter.
The 2022 Nebraska football schedule
North Dakota Fighting Hawks
Georgia Southern Eagles
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Illinois Fighting Illini
Minnesota Golden Gophers