The Huskers (2-1) bounced back from their loss last week in resounding fashion as they dismantled the visiting Northern Illinois Huskies (1-2) 44-8.
Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s game:
The offense loves big plays
Fans love offense and boy, was there lots of it for the Huskers. They didn’t do it in a methodical fashion, as many of their scores and drives were built around big plays. The Huskers had two big runs of 61 yards and 60 yards by junior running back Dedrick Mills and sophomore running back Maurice Washington, respectively.
There were also big passing plays as sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez had a long 41-yard pass to junior wide receiver JD Spielman on the first drive of the game. These three plays were the longest plays of the game, but the Huskers had a total of nine plays over 20 yards on the day. Before today’s game, the Huskers had eight such plays on the season.
While this is definitely a good sign for the offense, it should be noted that when there were no big plays, the offense looked anemic. There were numerous drives where the Huskers couldn’t establish the run and either went three-and-out or needed a key play on third down to move the chains.
This could be one of the reasons this team has struggled to close out games. If the offense does not get going with a big play, then they struggle to succeed. This will be something to monitor in future big games.
Special teams roller coaster
The special teams on Saturday were all over the place and that is an understatement. If someone wanted to play special teams bingo at the beginning of this game, they would have gotten bingo within the first half. There were blocked punts, blocked kicks, pooch punts, kickoffs out of bounds, the whole shabang.
There was some good for the Huskers, as they blocked two Northern Illinois punts which resulted in seven points. The blocked punts would have resulted in more points if a field goal attempt hadn’t been blocked. Those two blocked punts were enough to force the Huskies to pooch punt for the rest of the first half. Another big special teams play for the Huskers was a fourth-down stop on a fake punt.
In the future, the Huskers are going to need to figure out their placekicking issues. After missing a field goal in each of their first two games, three were blocked today. While not having sophomore kicker Barret Pickering available does hurt, it should not be this big of an issue. While there is a lot of good to take away from this special teams performance, there is a lot to learn from as well.
New faces come up big on offense
While the usual suspects like Martinez, Washington and Spielman had good games today on offense, a few players who struggled at the beginning of the season shined.
Running back Dedrick Mills was one of those players. Mills came in as the top JUCO running back in his class and was expected to make a big impact this season. Through two games, that was not the case. Until today. Mills impressed as he ran for 116 yards on 11 carries and one touchdown. This game was huge for him as he struggled to start the year, only rushing for 66 yards in his first two games. Having a second quality running back with a different style could pay dividends for the Huskers down the road.
Another player who impressed today was senior graduate transfer wide receiver Kawanai Noa. Through the first two games, only one pass had been completed to a wide receiver not named Spielman or Wan’Dale Robinson. Today, Noa filled that void as he had three receptions for 51 yards and one touchdown, and his 27-yard touchdown reception at the end of the first half was particularly impressive. Having another weapon on the offense can’t hurt and Noa appears to be embracing that role.