- Mitch Sherman, ESPN Staff Writer
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LINCOLN, Neb. -- There’s plenty to dissect in the aftermath of Nebraska’s harrowing, 37-34 win over Wyoming on Saturday night.
Here’s a look at a few key topics:
1. The Blackshirts aren’t ready for the big stage: Not even close. Nebraska picked up where it left off last season on defense. After surrendering 115 points and more than 1,200 yards to Wisconsin and Georgia at the close of the 2012 season, the Huskers allowed Wyoming to pile on another 602 yards. Wyoming? Yes, QB Brett Smith is good, but never should he accumulate 475 yards against Nebraska. Despite the promise of improved athleticism, this was simply a new verse of the same, old, sad song. It’s just one week, but alarms are sounding over this performance. The Huskers finished last season by scoring more than 30 points in consecutive losses for the first time in school history. It nearly happened again on Saturday.
2. All that said, the defense display a few bright spots: Really, without the final, frantic six minutes, before which NU led 37-21, the Blackshirts were on pace for an unspectacular -- but somewhat expected -- performance, considering the inexperience. Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste showed big-play ability in the first half. Ciante Evans was typically effective. Linebacker David Santos generally performed well in his first extensive time as the defensive quarterback. Up front, Wyoming had a lot of success, but freshmen Avery Moss and Vincent Valentine flashed a few moments, as did newcomer Randy Gregory at defensive end.
3. Discipline remains an issue: Nebraska was the most penalized team in the Big Ten a year ago with 6.1 flags per game. On Saturday, it was called for 10 penalties, totaling 84 yards. Included in that was a pair of drive-ending false starts in the first half on third-and-1 plays -- one by tight end Jake Long and another by I-back Imani Cross. Early in the third quarter, Gregory was flagged for roughing the passer as he sacked Smith on third and 8 deep in Wyoming territory. Gregory pulled Smith down by the neck. Nebraska fans disagreed with the call. So did some media in attendance. Like the rules or not, the NCAA and the Big Ten have placed a huge emphasis on avoiding high hits. What’s not to understand?
4. The offensive line is not a finished product: Plenty of experience returned up front for Nebraska. Quarterback Taylor Martinez touted this group as potentially the best in school history. Few expected that, but they also didn’t expect the Huskers to fail twice on running out the clock against a Wyoming defense that ranked 117th nationally against the run in 2012. But it happened in the fourth quarter, when a simple first down or two on the ground could have prevented much of the fourth-quarter drama. Nebraska pounded the Cowboys in the second and third quarters, but the big guys up front lost some of their edge when the Huskers needed them most.
5. Special teams are in good shape: Gone is Brett Maher, the reliable kicker and punter of the past two seasons, but things looked good on the kicking front with a three-man system that included Mauro Bondi, Pat Smith and Sam Foltz. Additionally, Kenny Bell did a nice job on kickoff returns, and the Huskers experienced none of the ball-handling problems in the return game that plagued them last season. Smith did miss a fourth-quarter extra point, however. It looked meaningless at the time but later loomed large as Wyoming got within three points in the final two minutes -- a reminder that every point matters.