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September 22, 2012

Final take: That's how it's supposed to look



That's how it was supposed to look.

For me that's the best way to describe Nebraska's 73-7 victory over Idaho State on Saturday. In today's college football world that's a heck of a lot easier said than done.

Just go back to 2010 when South Dakota State came to Lincoln. The Huskers were fresh off a big win at Washington, but they showed a lack of a respect in their preparation for the Jack Rabbits and narrowly beat an average FCS team 17-3.

For head coach Bo Pelini there's not a whole lot he can take away from today's win over Idaho State, other than they gave the Bengals a $600,000 beating. NU dominated the game in all three phases and the improvements they've made since UCLA are starting to show.

"I said to the team (Friday) that we are going to find out how mature we are as a football team," Pelini said. "How are they going to approach the game? Were we going to go out there and do what we were capable of doing regardless of who the opponent was and play the kind of football we are capable of playing. I thought we did that early on.

"It's real easy to kind of have a letdown or look ahead. The first thing is first, you have to have respect for the game and how you play it. I thought our guys did that."

This game also did its part in that NU gave running back Rex Burkhead the work he needed. He learned how to run and cut in his awkward knee brace.

The other thing this game did was it gave Nebraska's second and third team units perhaps more reps in a game than we've ever seen under Pelini.

Sometimes that's worth $600,000, because it's hard to give some of your younger players the kind of reps you want to give them in conference play.

"Some of the guys who were playing late in the game were on scout team," defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. "So they're not even in the meeting we have during the week and they're certainly not learning our defenses. You have to be a little bit careful what you're calling. You can't worry about the statistics though that much or giving up a play here or there.

"It's about giving guys the opportunity or experience to play. I would rather have that and give up a couple of plays, then to keep our one's and two's the whole time and not develop some of these guys."

Now it's on to the next step. As you start to gauge the Big Ten Conference Nebraska is very much in this thing. Their schedule sets up nice with games against Wisconsin and Michigan at home and a trip to East Lansing where their defense matches up perfectly with the Spartans offense as we saw a year ago.

"One thing that has shown is there probably is some pretty good balance," Papuchis said of the Big Ten. "I don't know if anyone has separated themselves as the dominant team in the league. It's going to be an eight week war to see who comes out on top. Really I'm kind of chomping at the bit to get it started.

"It's a clean slate for us and it's an opportunity - we want to win the Big Ten. We haven't made any bones about that and it starts right now."

One other thing Papuchis and the defensive staff will welcome this coming week is not facing a no-huddle spread style offense for the fifth consecutive game in a row.

"It's nice to see a team that gets in a huddle and breaks a huddle and has a fullback in a game," Papuchis joked. "It's nice to get back to some traditional old school Big Ten football. I'm excited about that."


What I saw on Saturday

***I saw a bad football team in Idaho State. It's hard to imagine either team gained a lot from playing on Saturday. I guess the biggest thing Nebraska got is quality reps for several different back-up players. In all reality the Bengals are the worst team to ever step foot in Memorial Stadium.

***It was good to see running back Rex Burkhead shake off the rust today. I especially liked seeing him run at full speed in the open field on his 61 yard touchdown. I did think Burkhead looked a little sluggish and lacked some of his "wiggle," but that's why he needed this game on Saturday so he could shake some of that rust and get used to running in a knee brace.

***Favorite post game quote from Idaho State head coach Mike Kramer was when a reporter asked him how their ruby style punts worked out for them on Saturday.

"Gee, what do you think?," Kramer said back to the reporter. "They ran one back for 80-freaking yards for a touchdown."

***Kramer also took a dig at the officials for letting Nebraska's corners play so physical against his finesse style offense.

"When they're able to play over the top of our shoulders like that and collide as the ball arrives, it's tough to complete any slant passes," Kramer said.

***Former Husker All-American DeJuan Groce had to be proud of the punt return ability he saw from both Ameer Abdullah and Jamal Turner. Groce was in Lincoln for his Hall-of-Fame induction this weekend.

***Nebraska's fullbacks had nine carries for 27 yards on Saturday. When's the last time a fullback at Nebraska has even gotten five carries in a game?

***I loved what senior defensive end Eric Martin brought off the edge. He's playing the best football of his career right now.

The final grades

Rushing offense: A

Nebraska racked up 385 yards on 52 carries for five touchdowns. Burkhead had eight carries for 119 yards, Imani Cross 12 carries for 100 yards, Braylon Heard seven carries for 74 yards and Ameer Abdullah eight carries for 49 yards. It was a very balanced effort by NU's top four running backs.

Passing offense: A-

Quarterback Taylor Martinez played about two quarters on Saturday and finished 9-of-13 for 165 yards and two touchdowns. Back-up quarterback Ron Kellogg did a solid job of managing the offense in the second half. Kenny Bell had a 68 yard touchdown reception off a shovel pass, but it almost should go down as a run.

Rushing defense: A

Idaho State's running game was virtually inexistent, as the Bengals had 29 carries for 31 yards. ISU had just one run over 5 yards, and it came on the Huskers third-team defense.

Passing defense: A

I thought this was maybe the strongest area of the day for Nebraska. The pass rush was outstanding on Kevin Yost and the secondary came up with two interceptions from Josh Mitchell and a Ciante Evans. Yost finished just 16-of-34 for 123 yards and he was sacked six times and hurried another seven.

Special teams: A-

Other than an early missed field goal by Brett Maher and some missed tackles on an early Idaho State kickoff return, it was a solid day for Nebraska's special teams. The return game was the best we've seen it look all year and Maher hit a 49 yard field goal.

Sean Callahan can be reached at sean@huskeronline.com and he can be heard each day at 6:50 am and 4:50 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 TV in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap Tuesday's at 7 pm.



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