On Saturday, Nebraska scored 28 points in the fourth quarter to pull away and beat Wyoming 52-17. My photos of the game are here. Early in the game, Nebraska seems like it would be able to pull away and get a comfortable victory over the Cowboys. But a Tommy Armstrong interception at the goal line taking points off the board put things on hold, and an end-of-half Hail Mary touchdown for Wyoming gave the Cowboys enough momentum to be within four as the fourth quarter started. Nebraska’s defense forced enough turnovers to pull away and balloon the score at the end.
So, for Nebraska fans against Wyoming (with apologies to Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald for mimicking his numerical analysis) …
3.5. As in plus-3.5, which is Nebraska’s net turnover margin average over one game. That’s no. 1 nationally, according to cfbstats.com. Yeah, it’s two games against sub-par opponents. And yeah, Tommy Armstrong’s one interception at the goal line was not only horrible, but terrifyingly reminiscent of the mental errors that have haunted his career.
But we’re now one-sixth of the way through the season (!), and Nebraska is not only 2-0 but doing a much better job at taking care of the football.
10. That’s the number of receivers that caught at least one pass against Wyoming. Yes, Run The Ball Guy didn’t care for the game plan against Wyoming, but having that depth at receiver makes Nebraska exceptionally hard to defend. It can also lead to success in the running game, with teams unable to (as both Fresno State and Wyoming did) load the box and dare Nebraska to throw.
A deep pool of talent at receiver can be a critical element of Nebraska’s offensive success – if (and it’s a big if) Armstrong can continue to avoid interceptions.
2.89. That’s the average yards-per-carry allowed by Nebraska’s defense this season. While Nebraska’s pass defense was what terrified most fans coming into the season, it’s always critical to be stout against the run. And yes, Fresno State and Wyoming are no Wisconsin and Ohio State. But they’re no slouches either, particularly Wyoming.
So having such outstanding success against the run for Nebraska in its first two games is an encouraging sign for the Blackshirts in 2016.
52.6. That’s the percentage of Nebraska’s points scored in the fourth quarter. After three quarters, Nebraska was only up by 11 (21-10) against Fresno State and by seven (24-17) against Wyoming. For those of you who haven’t blocked out most of the 2015 season as a defense mechanism, allow me to remind you that Nebraska has demonstrated a disturbing history of seeing teams roar back in the fourth quarter to win.
Now, maybe Nebraska’s new-found dominance in the fourth quarter is excising those demons. But it seems an unsustainable pattern to wait for the final period before exploding on the scoreboard.
7/96. That’s the number of penalties and the total yardage of those penalties Nebraska had against Wyoming. While at least Nebraska did not draw a targeting flag this week, penalties still loomed a large factor. Late hit calls on quarterbacks and unsportsmanlike conduct calls kept Wyoming’s offense on the field, and offensive penalties took two Nebraska touchdowns off the board.
Against teams like Fresno State and Wyoming, Nebraska’s talent advantage is sufficient to avoid disastrous consequences. But against teams with equal to or superior talent – like, say, a frighteningly-fast Oregon team coming to Lincoln this Saturday – giving up nearly a football field worth of penalties will likely be a hole too deep for Nebraska to dig out of.
Stop the Insanity. OK, this one is just for those in the stadium. In the third and fourth quarters against both Fresno State and Wyoming – when the game was still at some level in contention – the crowd inexplicably started the wave. Not just a little bit during commercial breaks either, but a full-blown variable-speed wave that was going while the game was in play.
Now, look, I’m really trying not to be That Guy who complains about people having fun at a game. If the result isn’t in doubt, I’m fine with the wave – and Nebraska fans have gotten pretty good at doing the normal-to-slow-to-fast wave, in all fairness.
But here’s a pretty good rule of thumb. If the starters are still in the game, then you have no business doing the wave, fer cryin’ out loud.
(Honorable mention to Mixed Loyalty Guy, of which there were a bizarre amount of against Wyoming, wearing gear for both teams playing, such as a Wyoming hat and a Nebraska shirt. Look, if for whatever reason you have ties to both teams, I get it. I’m an unabashed Jaysker, and the Nebraska-Creighton basketball and baseball games are confusing for me. But if there’s any rule to follow, it’s that you can’t try to wear both teams’ gear to a game).
And The Papering Over Of The Cracks
So Nebraska is 2-0, after outscoring its two opponents by a total of 65 points. All’s right with the world, isn’t it?
Nope. Nebraska was in a two-score game as the fourth quarter began against a frankly terrible Fresno State club, and within seven points going into the final period against a Wyoming squad that’s only marginally better.
Sure, Nebraska pulled away late and won both games comfortably – and believe me, that’s better for Nebraska than the alternative we saw over and over again last year. But that doesn’t mean Nebraska has been grinding minnows under its heel getting ready for the Ducks to arrive on Saturday.
Maybe these late surges are evidence of a confident squad ready to make a big statement on national television. The Ducks, also 2-0, have exhibited a defensive frailty that should provide some optimism to the scarlet and cream faithful. But Nebraska fans should not look at the lopsided scores of its first two games and lull themselves into believing NU is as good as those gaudy numbers would indicate.