The Cornhusker Recap, Week 1: Remembrance & Rushing

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Welcome back, Husker fans!

That was quite the offseason we just had. The normal questions and curiosity surrounding Mike Riley’s sophomore season as head coach at Nebraska would have been enough to fill any regular offseason. In addition to those, we got a whole slew of events all over the emotional spectrum ranging from elation (recruiting buzz) to maddening frustration (Wide Receivers Coach Keith Williams’ arrest for DUI) to painfully somber (the tragic passing of Sam Foltz in a car accident).

Saturday’s contest represented a chance to reflect on the past — both in-game and off — and look ahead to the future.

The first thing that needs mentioned is the team’s wonderful tribute to Sam Foltz. On the Huskers’ first punt of the day the team took the field with only 10 men — and no punter. Players on the field pointed to the sky and those on the sideline took a knee to give their departed teammate the moment he deserved. The applause in Memorial Stadium grew into a deafening roar of a tribute. Fresno State, in a truly class act, declined the penalty for delay of game. Well done, all around. We’ll miss ya, Sam.

But the tribute wasn’t the only time the Huskers paid homage. If you’re one of the fans who finds him/herself yelling “Run the ball!” at any possible moment, this game gave you what you were looking for. Nebraska rushed 51 times — 51! — for 301 yards, good for an average of 5.7 yards per carry.

The rushes don’t come without questions, however. Was this a plan to hide some of the playbook? Is it a sign of things going forward? Is it smart to slow-play the arguably best receiving corps in program history? I’ll let the football pundits attempt to answer those for you, because we obviously don’t know.

Devine Ozigbo led the way with 103 yards on 17 carries and the first two touchdowns of the 2016 season. Terrell Newby added 56 on 11, followed by Tommy Armstrong with 42 on 11. That many Armstrong rushing attempts in interesting given that he only rushed 98 times all of last season. And even though Ozigbo looked like the better runner, Newby got the start and presumably will for the foreseeable future. It’ll be interesting to see if the coaches choose one guy to spearhead the running game or stick with a committee approach.

The defense had an up-and-down first half, but seemed to settle in during the second half and put on a really good performance. After allowing the Bulldogs to march down the field on their first possession of the game (only to miss a field goal, luckily) they allowed 10 points and only forced two punts in the first half. In the second, however, they racked up four punts, two interceptions, and a turnover on downs. They limited Fresno State to just 128 yards of offense after halftime. Things should look even better with Nate Gerry back in the fold next week.

But you know I can’t let you out of here without some complaints. What’s going on with special teams? First of all, a blocked punt against Fresno State is inexcusable. But the more confusing concern lies in punt returns. Nebraska didn’t register a single yard on punt returns. Not one! And where’s De’Mornay Pierson-El? He was listed first on the depth chart at punt returner yet Jordan Westerkamp was the guy out there each time. By all accounts, Pierson-El seems ready, healthy, and confident. What gives?

Still, the Huskers went out a took care of business, even if it took a little longer than it should have. A 43-10 victory in week one is vastly preferable to the gut-wrenching Hail Mary that hit us this time last year. Nebraska is 1-0, and that’s what matters. Time to take on the Cowboys.

Opponent Round-Up:

Previous Opponents: 0-1

Fresno State (0-1): They might be feeling that game for a while.

Future Opponents: 10-1

9/10 Wyoming (1-0): 40-34 win over Northern Illinois. (11:00 AM, TV: ESPN2)
9/17 #24 Oregon (1-0): 53-28 win over UC Davis. (2:30 PM, TV: ABC)
9/24 @ Northwestern (0-1): 21-22 loss to Western Michigan. (6:30 PM, TV: BTN)
10/1 Illinois (1-0): 52-3 win over Murray State. (2:30 PM, TV: TBA)
10/8 Bye Week
10/15 @ Indiana (1-0): 34-13 win at Florida International. (2:30 PM, TV: TBA)
10/22 Purdue (1-0): 45-24 win over Eastern Kentucky. (Time & TV TBA)
10/29 @ #10 Wisconsin (1-0): 16-14 win over LSU. (6:00 PM, TV: ABC/ESPN/2)
11/5 @ #4 Ohio State (1-0): 77-10 win over Bowling Green. (7:00 PM, TV: ABC/ESPN/2)
11/12 Minnesota (1-0): 30-23 win over Oregon State. (6:30 PM, TV: BTN)
11/19 Maryland (1-0): 52-13 win over Howard. (Time & TV TBA)
11/25 @ #16 Iowa (1-0): 45-21 win over Miami (Ohio). (Time & TV TBA)

I hope you find a revised — if cluttered — Opponent Round-Up somewhat useful. I’ll try to stay up-to-date on the latest time and TV information. Just because I like you.

The Tommy-to-Taylor Ladder:

With only 10 opportunities to throw the football, Armstrong connected on exactly half of them for 108 yards. Not a bad average, though a 57-yard bomb to Stanley Morgan will do that for a guy.

1. Taylor Martinez (7,258)
2. Tommy Armstrong Jr. (6,799)
3. Zac Taylor (5,850)
4. Joe Ganz (5,125)
5. Dave Humm (5,035)
6. Jerry Tagge (4,704)
7. Eric Crouch (4,481)
8. Tommie Frazier (3,521)
9. Turner Gill (3,317)
10. Vince Ferragamo (3,224)

Those 108 yards have him within shouting distance of Nebraska’s all-time passing yards leader, Taylor Martinez. I’m guessing Tommy won’t normally have that few pass attempts. If he adds up yards somewhere around his 2015 average (about 233 ypg) he could overtake Martinez as soon as the Oregon game.

The Wester-Ladder:

Well, let’s start with the good news here: Westerkamp’s lone catch of the day kept alive his school-record streak of consecutive games with a reception, extending it to 27. The bad news? His one catch netted him six yards. He’s got a decent distance to reach the Swift-Rodgers-Bell level, but if he puts up similar numbers to last season (918 yards) it won’t be a problem at all. However, if he’s shooting to be the first-ever 1,000-yard receiver (in one season) in Husker history, Saturday’s offensive game plan put him in quite a hole.

1. Kenny Bell (2,689)
2. Johnny Rodgers (2,479)
3. Nate Swift (2,476)
4. Jordan Westerkamp (1,954)
5. Terrence Nunn (1,762)
6. Todd Peterson (1,602)
7. Niles Paul (1,532)
8. Quincy Enunwa (1,526)
9. Matt Davison (1,456)
10. Maurice Purify (1,444)

Maybe we can add Brandon Reilly at some point this season. He’s 108 yards away from knocking Frantz Hardy out of the #25 all-time receiving yards spot.

Odds & N’s:

That rainbow over Memorial Stadium? Yeah, that was pretty cool.

[Obligatory comment about Dwyane Wade being at the football game.]

If you’re unsure who Dwyane Wade is, rest assured that I did not misspell his name. How that happened still makes me wonder…

Really cool moment with Sam Foltz’s nephews leading the team during the Tunnel Walk. Having them lifted up to tap the horseshoe was pretty special as well.

Did Alonzo Moore travel back to 2002 to raid my closet for that baggy long-sleeved t-shirt?

If Northwestern would have won, all of Nebraska’s upcoming 2016 opponents would be 1-0. Alas, they did not.

Nice work by the Nebraska band playing the ‘Game of Thrones’ theme song. Very topical. Wait, did I hear you just say you were looking for thorough recaps of ‘Game of Thrones’ episodes on this very website? I know a guy! Hashtag shameless plug. But you can find them all here. See you for season seven!

Dirk Chatelain writes that the tribute for Sam Foltz makes a memory for a lifetime.

He also has a fascinating look at the decline of home-field advantage across all of college football.

The running game looks like it’s Nebraska’s new best friend, says Tom Shatel.

Lee Barfknecht relays the story of Wisconsin kicker Rafael Gaglianone’s game-winning kick over LSU. Gaglianone was a close friend of Foltz’s and is wearing #27 this season in his memory. Very, very cool story.

Opponent Preview:

Now it’s time for the Wyoming Cowboys.

Northern Illinois took Wyoming to three overtimes before falling 40-34. The extra periods probably inflate some of the Cowboys’ offensive numbers, but quarterback Josh Allen accounted for three touchdowns and put up 245 yards through the air and 70 on the ground, to eclipse Fresno State’s offensive output by himself. Running back Brian Hill added two touchdowns and 125 yards on 30 carries.

I don’t see Wyoming being the pushover that Fresno State was, but there might not be a team on Nebraska’s schedule more motivated to beat the Huskers than these Cowboys. Former Nebraska defensive coordinator Craig Bohl — who apparently doesn’t hold a grudge against his former team — leads a team that has never defeated Nebraska. In a series dating back to 1934, Nebraska leads 7-0.

The closest the Cowboys ever got to defeating Nebraska was a 37-34 contest in 2013, in which Taylor Martinez suffered the toe injury that would ruin his senior season. Another close contest, oddly enough, was during one of the Huskers’ greatest seasons. In 1994, with Tommie Frazier sidelined by blood clots, Brook Berringer fought through a collapsed lung to lead the team to a 42-32 victory.

This year’s Wyoming squad is already halfway to last year’s win total of two and undoubtedly ready to erase the memory of 2015 from their minds. An upset win on the road in Lincoln would go a long way toward achieving that. If Nebraska is looking too far ahead to Oregon, this game could be a lot more interesting than those in red might like.

Thanks for reading! See you back here next week.

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I enjoy college football more than a person probably should. When not cheering for my Huskers, I root for professional teams that let me down year after year. Chances are I won't change a thing.

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