It was good to see Nebraska football get a win over Northern Illinois and here are five things we learned.
For the first time during the 2023 season, Nebraska football is waking up as a winner, following the first victory under head coach Matt Rhule.
The final was 35-11 over Northern Illinois. It was a competitive game and the Huskers didn’t lock it up completely until the fourth quarter, but the tone was set on the opening drive.
Nebraska football forced a punt to start the game and went down the field behind first-time starting quarterback Heinrich Haarberg. The Kearney native capped it off with a touchdown pass to Billy Kemp.
Haarberg did have a fumble on a strip-sack and NIU got within four points on a field goal, but Haarberg added a touchdown pass to Thomas Fidone, as well as a touchdown run later. The offensive line got going in the second half and the defense held the Huskies to just 149 total yards.
Looking back at the 24-point win that was badly needed in the state of Nebraska, here are five things we learned about the Huskers Saturday night.
Nebraska has a quarterback
After the game, Matt Rhule didn’t say Heinrich Haarberg was going to be the starter. He said Nebraska football had two quarterbacks it could win with.
Yet, so far, I’ve only seen one. Haarberg did have the one fumble, but outside of that, which wasn’t his fault, the ball security was outstanding. He didn’t have any issues with snaps and you could tell from the opening drive that the game wasn’t too big for him.
Frankly, it seems like Haarberg likes running people over as much as he likes scoring touchdowns, which I love. His attitude was infectious and the team fed off of it.
Haarberg also impressed me as a thrower. Nobody is going to say he’s going to the NFL anytime soon, but he completed 14-of-24 passes and had two touchdowns. He threw a dart on the touchdown pass to Fidone and had three completions of more than 20 yards.
You don’t need a future first-round pick at quarterback to win games. You need someone who can take care of the ball, pick up third downs (Nebraska was 8-of-14), and execute in the red zone. Haarberg did all of those things and his short-yardage running ability was a real weapon.
I hope he gets another opportunity next week. At this point, he’s earned it.
Nebraska used Matt Rhule’s formula
The Huskers have done a lot of good things to start the season, especially on defense. The running game has been good too and averaged over 200 yards coming in.
On Saturday, Nebraska football ran for 224. The Huskers also rushed for 75 yards in the fourth quarter. They did allow some points, but it was a garbage-time TD.
When the game was on the line in the second half, the Blackshirts didn’t give up a damn thing and it was really impressive. However, it was how it all worked in conjunction that was impressive to me.
Nebraska played the kind of football Rhule talked about when he was hired and really all offseason. The Huskers were physical; they pounded the rock and played great defense.
We’ve seen a lot of games won in Lincoln Memorial Stadium using that exact formula and it was refreshing to see the Huskers apply it to Nothern Illinois.
The Blackshirts are back in force
In the past few seasons — really since the Bo Pelini days — it’s been hard to use the term “Blackshirts.” The Blackshirts haven’t looked like the Blackshirts in a long time, but they are living up to that name this season.
My goodness just look at the run defense. Not a single opponent has reached 60 yards rushing in three games and last season, Northern Illinois got 26 yards on 22 carries.
Nash Hutmacher is a man amongst boys up front and so is Ty Robinson. When P.J. Fleck said people were going to have a tough time running on Nebraska football, he wasn’t kidding.
The pass rush delivered three more sacks and while there was just one takeaway (there should have been two if the replay looked at Quinton Newsome’s pick) you can’t lodge a single complaint against the Blackshirts.
The only points allowed during the competitive portion of the game was when Northern Illinois was essentially given a goal-to-go situation by the offense, yet didn’t get a single first down and settled for a field goal.
Straight up, this is the most fun I’ve had watching the Nebraska defense in a long time.
The Blackshirts are back. For real.
Thomas Fidone is looking better and better
It was great to see Thomas Fidone catch a touchdown in Boulder, but Saturday night was a totally different story. The former top-ranked tight end hauled in a touchdown reception, as well as a massive third down conversion on the sideline in the third quarter, where he dragged his toe.
Fidone finished the game with four receptions for 42 yards and he definitely seems to have a connection with Haarberg, his former roommate. Heinrich has tossed three touchdowns in two weeks and two of those were to Fidone, who is looking healthier and better by the week.
The offensive line can be nasty
In the second half, it was clear that Nebraska put the game on the shoulders of the offensive line and those guys responded with over 140 yards and more than five yards per attempt.
Nebraska lined up in the I-formation a bunch and just ground out a win. The Huskers used the fullback, they used their tight ends, and their offensive line did a hell of a job.
Anthony Grant bounced back with seven attempts for 46 yards and a touchdown. Gabe Ervin had 14 rushes for 67 and Haarberg got 21 attempts for 98 yards with a long run of 20.
The fact that Nebraska got 224 yards without a run longer than 20 shows the sledding wasn’t easy, but the offensive line won the day in the second half, which was good to see.
3 keys to a victory for Nebraska football vs. Louisiana Tech
Nebraska football will be looking for a second straight win on Saturday and here are three keys against Louisiana Tech.
For the second week in a row, Nebraska football will be at home. It’s the second of three straight home games and the Huskers will be looking to take advantage of their incredible home-field advantage once again.
Before big bad Michigan comes to Lincoln on Sept. 30, Nebraska football will have a final non-conference game against Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs are 2-2 but have been really up and down in the second season under head coach Sonny Cumbie.
Louisiana Tech runs an air-raid offense but does have a couple of talented running backs. Quarterback Hank Bachmeier is a Boise State transfer but is questionable for the game on Saturday due to a shoulder injury.
The defense ranks 100th in scoring defense. Louisiana Tech is 63rd in scoring offense and while Nebraska football has its own question marks, such as who will start at quarterback? The Huskers are a 19-point favorite and here are three keys to a win on Saturday.
Keep stuffing the run
When you think of Louisiana Tech, you don’t necessarily think of a running team, but the Bulldogs average 5.1 yards per attempt and 181 yards per game on the ground. True freshman Keith Willis has 240 rushing yards and averages 7.3 yards per attempt. Tyre Shelton averages 10.2 yards per attempt and is also over 200 yards for the season.
But if there is one thing Nebraska football has excelled at it is run defense. The Huskers have held each of their opponents to fewer than 60 yards rushing. They also rank among college football’s top five in rushing yards per game (46.3) and rushing yards allowed per attempt (1.7).
If that continues on Saturday, I feel really good about Nebraska’s chances of winning without incident. Yet, if the Bulldogs can find success on the ground, things could get interesting.
Hit the quarterback, whoever it is
Whether it’s Bachmeier or Jack Turner who has thrown for 146 yards and a touchdown this season, as well as an interception, Nebraska football needs to hit the quarterback and it should have an easy time getting home.
Louisiana Tech ranks 110th in the FBS in terms of sacks allowed per game. The Bulldogs have allowed 11 total and that’s an average of 2.75 sacks per game. Nebraska football is in the top five in college football with 14 sacks total and 4.6 per game.
The Huskers have done a great job of getting pressure from different levels. Tony White has done a great job of creating blitzes and the defensive line is also winning one-on-ones.
This feels like a game where the Huskers shouldn’t have a problem getting four or five sacks, especially if Nebraska football is able to build a double-digit lead and pin its ears back.
Run the damn ball
It’s not ideal that Nebraska football lost two of its top three running backs to season-ending injuries, but the Huskers should be licking their chops this week.
Louisiana Tech is allowing 4.9 yards per rushing attempt which doesn’t bode well against a Nebraska ground game that is second in the Big Ten, ranked in the top 25 nationally, and averages 5.1 per rush.
Nebraska is getting 209 yards per game and the quarterbacks have been a big part of it. Whether Jeff Sims gets the start of Heinrich Haarberg, I expect plenty of quarterback runs again.
With Anthony Grant taking over as the bell cow, Nebraska is going to need to lean on its quarterbacks and even if Haarberg isn’t the starter, I want to see both utilized in the running game, because it has been one of the most effective parts of the offense through three games.
Nebraska Football lands athletic playmaker in JD Crisp
Nebraska football continues to recruit for the 2024 class. They picked up a commitment from 2024 wide receiver JD Crisp on Wednesday afternoon. Crisp played both sides of the football in high school, playing both defensive back and wide receiver for Second Baptist High School.
He is not ranked in the 247Sports regular or Composite Rankings. However, he does have a solid offer sheet. Crisp had seven offers in total, including one from Minnesota. He was officially offered by the program on September 16 and quickly made his decision.
It’s also worth noting that his recruitment was active throughout the summer. He attended Texas A&M Aggies camp on June 14. At the very least, he garnered interest from a prominent Texas school. That is notable in of itself.
#Nebraska has picked up commitment No. 25 in the 2024 recruiting class from DB/WR recruit JD Crisp from Cypress (Texas) Second Baptist. Crisp recently visited Nebraska and committed to the #Huskers on Sunday following his visit. pic.twitter.com/IDzfYCw64e
— Bryan Munson (@BryanMunson_) September 20, 2023
What could he bring to Nebraska football?
It’s interesting that he is a two-way player. He played both the receiver and safety positions in high school. As far as Nebraska is concerned, I could certainly see him playing at receiver. He has as a tremendous amount of athleticism, and played mostly on the outside and high school. Crisp was very good at catching in space, and making contested catches and tight windows.
Playing receiver would make sense for him, given Nebraska’s lack of depth at the position moving forward. He has the agility and ability to become a solid piece if developed properly.
Nevertheless, he has overall qualities that could make him a good safety as well. This coaching staff loves the opportunity to work with athletes and molding them as they see fit. His ability to fire off the football and read a play certainly stands out.
The commitment of Crisp adds to a 2024 recruiting class that ranks 24th overall nationally. The class itself is stacked with talent. It currently has 25 commitments in total.
It will be interesting to see what Crisp can do for Nebraska football. He is definitely more of a project player. Nevertheless, his athleticism and speed is intriguing. One of this coaching staff’s strengths is identifying how players fit into the program. They will have to do that with Crisp.
5 things to watch for Nebraska football vs. Louisiana Tech
Nebraska football will be looking for win No. 2 on Saturday against Louisiana Tech and here are five things to watch.
As the Huskers get set for their second home game of the 2023 season, as well as the final non-conference game for Nebraska football, there are plenty of lingering questions.
We do know that Gabe Ervin and Rahmir Johnson are out for the season. That means Anthony Grant will be the bell-cow running back this week, although we don’t know who will start at quarterback.
There are some other things to explore in the Nebraska football vs. Louisiana Tech matchup and here are five things to watch for the Huskers on Saturday.
Who will start at quarterback?
It sounds like the quarterback reps are being split about 50-50 this week among Jeff Sims and Heinrich Haarberg. Last week, Sims was the No. 3 quarterback so it might be a stretch for him to play Saturday.
Matt Rhule even said that while Sims was throwing well, he wasn’t moving the way the coaching staff wanted. The quarterbacks have shouldered a heavy load in the running game so far this season and if Sims ankle isn’t 100 percent, there’s no sense in bringing him back early.
Haarberg completed 14-of-24 passes last week and had two touchdowns. He also impacted the game with his running ability and a similar gameplan to last week wouldn’t be a big surprise.
Can Anthony Grant protect the ball?
Anthony Grant is a proven performer. He was just shy of 1,000 yards last season, so there’s no doubt about his ability. Grant just needs to prove he can take care of the ball.
Even if he can’t, Grant is going to be the No. 1 back. He’s probably going to get about 20 carries per game. So far, Grant has 16 carries for 74 yards and a touchdown. Emmett Johnson is another talented dude who deserves some opportunities but the Huskers have to be able to rely on Grant and that starts this weekend.
Nebraska should be in line for a few more sacks
The Huskers are ranked third in the country in terms of sacks with 14 total and 4.67 per game. That’s good news for Nebraska football and bad news for Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs have played four games but have also allowed 11 sacks or nearly three per game. That ranks Louisiana Tech 110th per game.
We don’t know if Nebraska will have Cameron Lenhardt this weekend, but I don’t know that it matters. The defensive line has been winning against everyone and if the Huskers can apply pressure to Louisiana Tech Hank Bachmeier, it should greatly improve their chances of avoiding an upset.
Louisiana Tech can run the ball too
Sonny Cumbie is known for his fondness of throwing the ball, but the Bulldogs average 181 yards per game and have two running backs with more than 200 rushing yards and each averages at least 7.3 yards per carry.
Keith Willis Jr. has 33 attempts for 240 yards and three touchdowns. Tyre Shelton is also over 200 yards and has just 21 carries. Louisiana Tech is throwing for 225 yards per game. Smoke Harris is a dangerous threat at receiver and has 288 yards as well as 24 receptions.
But a huge key for Nebraska football will be the run defense. The Huskers are allowing just 1.7 yards per rush. The first three teams were also held under 60 yards rushing so Louisiana Tech will have its work cut out for it in terms of matching its season averages.
The Bulldogs haven’t seen a D-line pairing like Ty Robinson and Nash Hutcmaher so far this season.
Avoiding the turnover bug
With a defense that’s playing really well and a running game that’s second in the Big Ten going into conference play, the Huskers shouldn’t have problems with Louisiana Tech.
However, turnovers are a quick way to even the playing field. Nebraska football only gave the ball away once last week and it would be great to see them put up a zero in that category for the first time in 2023.
If Sims plays, we’ll see if he can take care of the ball. Grant needs to do the same and although Haarberg did well last week, it would be to get through a game without any turnovers by the quarterback.
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