Nebraska (4-4, 2-3 Big Ten) suffered a disappointing 38-31 defeat Saturday afternoon at the hands of the Indiana Hoosiers (6-2, 3-2). The Husker defense was gouged for 455 yards of total offense in one of their worst performances of the year.
Here are the position grades:
The fact that the Huskers were down to their third-string quarterback and the group still performed well is surprising. Both sophomore Noah Vedral and freshman Luke McCaffrey played well, combining for a 19-22, 272-yard and one-touchdown performance through the air. They added 19 rushes for 97 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
The only negative from this group was a costly fumble by Vedral in the second quarter which directly set up an Indiana touchdown. That was the only big mistake by either quarterback in what was an overall clean day for the group.
While the starting job is still Adrian Martinez’s, Vedral and McCaffrey both have proven they can play well in his absence.
Running Backs: B+
Wan’Dale Robinson is the biggest threat on this offense which both speaks to the ability of the true freshman as well as the lack of depth at the skill positions. Robinson had an impressive day, with 154 all-purpose yards on 28 touches and a touchdown. Those are solid numbers, but Robinson is only playing the position out of necessity as there are no other real threats in the backfield.
Junior running back Dedrick Mills was the only other running back to get touches and he ran for 30 yards on eight carries, all coming in the first half.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B
Nebraska did not throw the ball for much of this game, but when the passing game was called upon, the receivers delivered for the most part. Junior JD Spielman led the group with five receptions for 97 yards. Senior Kanawai Noa also had one of his best games in a Husker jersey with three receptions for 52 yards and a touchdown reception. However, he did have a costly fumble in the fourth quarter that took the wind out of a positive Husker drive.
The tight ends did not do much in the receiving game with only four receptions for 18 yards.
Offensive Line: B-
The much-maligned offensive line had a pretty solid day by their standards. In the run game, the offensive line was able to create holes most of the time for the quarterback or running back. Snaps were also not as big of an issue as they have been in the past.
Pass protection was also solid as they only allowed one sack, although the Hoosier defensive line lacks impact pass rushers.
Defensive Line: F
Entering this season, the defensive line was an area that was expected to be much-improved and a leader for the Blackshirts. At times the unit has lived up to these expectations, but today was not one of those days.
The defensive line rarely applied pressure on their own as both sacks were not due to a good pass rush. One was a coverage sack and the other was from a blitz. Hoosier quarterback Peyton Ramsey frequently had too much time to throw the ball, which made life hard for the back end of the defense.
The linebackers are the only defensive group to not get an “F”, largely because they had the least negative impact of the three groups. In the passing game they frequently were left in the dust by Indiana receivers.
The Hoosiers didn’t run the ball much, but when they did, they found some success with their two leading rushers averaging 4.3 and 4.7 yards per carry.
The secondary has had some impressive showings this year, but today’s performance against Indiana made all of those performances look like a mirage. Ramsey had a good game, but it’s easy to have a good game when his receivers win almost every one-on-one with a cornerback. There were also consistent breakdowns in coverage that cost the Huskers big, chunk plays.
Special Teams: C-
Saturday saw the return of starting kicker Barret Pickering from an injury that cost him the first seven games of the season. Even his presence didn’t stop the kicking game from struggling as he missed a field goal from 32 yards out. The Huskers also had a kickoff go out of bounds and a punt only travel 19 yards.
The only thing saving this grade from getting any worse was a made field goal from Pickering and a nifty return from senior running back Wyatt Mazour.