- Mitch Sherman, College Football
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Nebraska survived a season opener in which it surrendered more than 600 yards to Wyoming, setting the tone for an unpredictable September. Since then, the Huskers endured a second-half beatdown against UCLA, a headline-grabbing controversy around coach Bo Pelini and a first-quarter embarrassment against FCS-level South Dakota State. Just another 3-1 start in Lincoln.
Here's a look back at the nonconference season:
Best game: The Huskers have yet to play a complete game -- far from it. Their most dominant performance came on Sept. 7 against Southern Miss, a 56-13 win. Yes, the Golden Eagles have now lost 15 straight games, but this trip to Memorial Stadium marked their largest margin of defeat during the streak. Nebraska started strong and finished Southern Miss with four interceptions, including pick-six grabs by cornerbacks Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans. Quarterback Taylor Martinez and I-back Ameer Abdullah were solid. The defense allowed fewer than 300 yards. Really, though, this game was memorable for Nebraska because it lacked the drama present around every other turn.
Best player: With apologies to offensive guard Spencer Long, Jean-Baptiste and defensive end Randy Gregory, Quincy Enunwa gets the nod. The senior co-captain has played like a grown man at wide receiver. He’s the least flashy of a top group at his position that includes Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner, but Enunwa does everything well -- and with devastating force. He’s caught five touchdown passes. One more and he’ll triple his career total from before the season. More than that, he blocks on the perimeter like a tight end, and he’s developed a knack to provide the drive-extending reception.
Best performance: Give it to redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong for his show-stopping display last week in his first career start. In place of the injured Martinez, Armstrong calmly led four touchdown drives on five possessions as Nebraska rolled up 300 yards passing and rushing for the first time in school history. He completed 12 of 15 passes for 169 touchdowns. He threw with precision on short and deep routes. He ran well. He made good decisions. Most notably, he brought a presence to the position that offers a promise for the future. For now, Armstrong heads back to the bench behind Martinez. His time will come, though.
Best surprise: Jean-Baptiste was playing receiver two years ago. He moved to defense in time to snag a key interception in the Huskers’ 2011 comeback win over Ohio State. The senior from Miami started five games last year, but it wasn’t until this fall that he realized the potential wrapped into his 6-foot-3, 220-pound body. So far this season, he’s intercepted a pass in every game. Jean-Baptiste has shown excellent anticipation, jumping routes and reading quarterbacks. He’s aggressive, playing with confidence and building a resume likely to bolster his NFL prospects.
Biggest disappointment: Nebraska has fumbled 11 times, more than all but three teams nationally. It’s a big concern after the offseason focus on ball security. But even that pales in comparison to the disappointment that is the defense. The Blackshirts rank 106th nationally in total defense, 109th in yards allowed per play and 119th in opponent plays of 10 yards or longer. The Huskers’ youth explains some of the trouble, but they’re also struggling to find consistent effort and energy. This defense lacks the attitude that mark classic Pelini-directed units.
Nebraska survived a season opener in which it surrendered more than 600 yards to Wyoming, setting the tone for an unpredictable September. Since then, the Huskers endured a second-half beatdown against UCLA, a headline-grabbing controversy around coach Bo Pelini and a first-quarter embarrassment against FCS-level South Dakota State.