To steal the words directly from Nebraska coach Mike Riley, the Cornhuskers’ 27-22 win over Indiana on Saturday wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done.
That’s essentially how you could sum up Nebraska’s entire season so far. There’s been a few messy wins with some inconsistent play, but in the end, the wins are all that matters.
In Nebraska’s five-point win in Bloomington, it was a weird combination of well-timed scores and well-timed picks. Everything else in between was messy and a little inconsistent.
Let’s give out some grades, on a scale from one star to five:
Offense (3.5 stars)
Senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong was playing on one good ankle and one really bad one, but he still managed to play a decent game. Armstrong was 10-for-26 passing for 208 yards. He connected with Stanley Morgan Jr., on a 72-yard score but also threw two interceptions.
Both picks were thrown off his back foot — his healthy one — and were vintage Armstrong overthrows. But the offense, for the most part, showed up despite not having three of its biggest weapons. Without sophomore Devine Ozigbo, Nebraska’s leading rusher, the Huskers still ran for 152 yards. Senior RB Terrell Newby led with was with 102 yards and a touchdown.
Without senior WR Jordan Westerkamp, Morgan led the team with three catches for 93 yards and one touchdown. And senior TE Sam Cotton filled in nicely for the injured Cethan Carter, hauling in three catches for 37 yards.
The offense sputtered at times and was hardly in a rhythm all day. But when the Huskers needed it, they got the job done.
Defense (4 stars)
In the battle between the vaunted Indiana air attack and the Nebraska pass defense, the Huskers came out on top.
Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow was 19-for-32 passing for 196 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Lagow’s passing percentage and passing yards against Nebraska were both below his season average. Plus, his two picks were extremely costly, especially junior corner Chris Jones’ pick-six.
The Huskers linebackers had been non-existent that past few weeks but senior LB Josh Banderas led the team in tackles on Saturday.
Nebraska defensive coordinator Mark Banker really dialed up the pressure on Lagow, and it paid off. A few big plays, including a 33-yard touchdown run from Devine Redding and a 36-yard bomb from Lagow to Ricky Jones, helped keep Indiana close late in the game.
Special teams (3 stars)
Riley will certainly talk about the locked punt at his press conference on Monday.
It was the second time this season Nebraska punter Caleb Lightbourn has been blocked, and this time it turned into two points for Indiana on a safety.
Lightbourn was fine the rest of the game, averaging 37.8 yards on five punts, and junior De’Mornay Pierson-El returned four punts for 25 total yards.
The biggest plus was kicker Drew Brown’s two field goals from 39 and 40 yards. The 39-yard field goal sealed the win for Nebraska late in the fourth quarter. Brown is the shining star on this dull special teams, and the only reason why this rating isn’t lower.
Coaching (4.5 stars)
Going for it on fourth down late in the fourth quarter and blitzing Lagow like crazy were what won this game for Nebraska.
Nebraska’s defense hasn’t put much pressure on quarterbacks this year, but Banker knew the only way to slow down Lagow was to rush him. So he blitzed senior safety Nate Gerry and his linebackers constantly, which forced Lagow’s two interceptions.
Overall (4 stars)
Yet again, Nebraska’s best quarter was the fourth, highlighted by a long drive down the field, a risky fourth-down conversation, 11 minutes possessing the ball, and an interception. But again, Nebraska’s second and third quarter were disasters.
Nebraska still hasn’t put together a full four quarters this year. That needs to change before the critical Big Ten West showdown Wisconsin in two weeks.