Nebraska goes throwback in Foster Farms Bowl win
Final: Nebraska 37, UCLA 29
Key play: UCLA fumbles, misses field goal in fourth quarter
Ok, so that’s two plays. But the sequence was huge. UCLA was marching down the field, and in prime shape to erase Nebraska’s 16-point lead down 37-29. On third down, it appeared Rosen tried to change the call at the line of scrimmage, but the ball was snapped early, which led to him falling on the loose ball and eliminating the possibility of going for it on forth down. Then the Lou Groza Award winner, Ka’imi Fairbairn, missed a 46-yard field goal that would’ve made it a five-point game. Nebraska held on to its 8-point lead and ultimately held on to the game.
Telling stat: Nebraska outgains UCLA 208-1 in third quarter
Needless to say, that was the Huskers’ best quarter in the Mike Riley era. In every way, shape and form, Nebraska dominated like it hasn’t all year. At the line of scrimmage, the Huskers won the battle and exposed a banged-up defense. Tommy Armstrong made throws he hadn’t made all season, and more importantly, he didn’t make the key mistakes. His throw to Stanley Morgan Jr. was the highlight reel play of the game, which allowed the Huskers to take their first lead of the night. But more importantly, they got stop after stop on defense and allowed the rolling offense to stay in a groove. In all, it was a 30-0 run for the Huskers, which was similar to the 38-0 run UCLA went on against Nebraska in 2013.
-Josh Rosen threw more interceptions than Tommy Armstrong
Kudos if you took the odds on that one. Armstrong, if you’ll recall, had four interceptions in the regular-season finale against Iowa and wasn’t exactly in high favor with Husker fans. On Saturday, the game plan didn’t set Armstrong up for failure. He almost ran the ball (10) as much as he threw it (12). In every game this season, he threw the ball three times as much as he ran it. Credit the third-year starter for finally realizing that he can do some serious damage with his legs and avoid making dumb throws. Sure, he was going against a defense that was dealing with three injuries, but Armstrong was infinitely better than the quarterback we saw a month ago.
-Nate Gerry ejected for targeting
In a tie game, the Blackshirts leader was ejected on an extremely questionable targeting call. Given the fact that Nebraska lost Michael Rose-Ivey before that — he returned — and cornerback Jonathan Rose was kicked off the team, the Gerry loss could’ve been the final straw. Instead, it was a rallying cry. Joshua Kalu picked off Josh Rosen’s next pass and got the Huskers fired up heading into halftime. Instead of wilting without Gerry, Nebraska stiffened up and finally strung together stops. Who knew that a secondary that struggled like Nebraska’s in 2015 would pick that moment to step up?
What it means: Nebraska has a winning blueprint
It took until December, but Mike Riley and the Nebraska coaching staff finally figured out what this offense should look like. And go figure, it involved running the ball like the Nebraska teams of old. Amazing is the fact that the Huskers ran the ball 61 times and only threw it 19 times. In a game in which Nebraska fell behind two touchdowns early, it would’ve been awfully easy for Danny Langsdorf and Co. to scrap the game plan and start chucking. But they kept the ball on the ground and took over with the running game. Dare I say it was Iowa-esque? That’s repeatable, too. Nebraska will face better run defenses than the nation’s 88th-ranked unit, but that’s a model that Riley can have success with in the B1G West.