Grading Nebraska’s 43-10 win: Good not great in first time out
LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska coach Mike Riley earned his 100th career win Saturday night, and he did it in style, with a solid game plan in an impressive 43-10 win over Fresno State.
The Cornhuskers ran the ball right at Fresno State, and had plenty of success doing it to get the season off to a good start.
Here’s how the grades break down for each group:
Offense (4.5 stars)
Nebraska wasn’t very balanced on offense Saturday night, but the Huskers were efficient and successful. They threw the ball only 13 times but ran it 51 times for 292 yards, getting five touchdowns in five trips to the red zone, plus a perfectly executed long ball from QB Tommy Armstrong to WR Alonzo Moore.
There’s not much to complain about offensively, especially when you score 43 points.
Defense (4 stars)
The Huskers held Fresno State to just 10 points, but at halftime they were on the ropes, leading just 14-10. At the half, Bulldogs quarterback Chason Virgil, a redshirt freshman, was 11-for-14 for 92 yards and a touchdown.
Those aren’t crazy numbers, but Virgil was comfortable in the pocket and led a long drive down field to make it 14-10 at half. But in the second half, the Blackshirts turned it up. Four sacks, two by defensive end Ross Dzuris, and two interceptions are a sweet way to cap of the win.
Special teams (3.5 stars)
The numbers are lower mostly because I’m still confused why De’Mornay Pierson-El didn’t return any punts Saturday night. There were plenty of opportunities, and not once was the junior trotted out there.
Also, freshman Caleb Lightbourn had a below-par day punting the ball, with a 29-yard average. That will surely go up. That mean nothing compared to the best play of the day, the first punt where the Huskers lined up with only 10 men, taking a moment to honor punter Sam Foltz, who died in a car accident in July. That play alone? 5-plus stars.
Coaching (5 stars)
Completely flipping the script and running the ball 51 times was a brilliant plan, because Fresno State had no answer for it. Nebraska ran nine different players and racked up almost 300 yards rushing.
Being their second year, this coaching staff knows their personnel much better than last year, and is starting to figure out how to use it best. There’s no way the Huskers will keep a rush/pass ratio of 80 percent all year, but it sure worked well Saturday night.
Overall (4 stars)
A 33-point win feels like an 5-star effort, but it could have just as easily been 43 points. Overall, several small things could have turned into big problems against a better opponent. Two straight three-and-outs in the middle of the third quarter and a few sloppy penalties make this a 4-star game that could have easily been 5-star.
Chris Heady is a staff writer for Landof10 and covers Nebraska football and recruiting. He’s on Twitter @heady_chris.