10 things we learned after Wyoming

Nebraska's much anticipated season opener was a dud, but this isn't your daddy's college football program anymore.

The No. 18 Huskers survived a scare in a 37-34 win over Wyoming — but, in the end, it's 1-0. NU didn't play up to its standards yet still won. I'm sure there were a few teams — ahem, Kansas State and Oregon State — that would like that record right now.

It's also just one game, so it's hard to make accurate projections. We have to examine what we saw, which was plenty in this debut.

Here are 10 things we learned about Nebraska after week one:
1. SPECIAL TEAMS ARE IN GOOD HANDS: The post-Brett Maher era began on Saturday as three new faces emerged in the Huskers special teams corps. The standout was Grand Island native Sam Foltz at punter. In person, he looked to be a better punter than Maher, especially with his ability to put hang-time on his kicks. He had five punts for an average of 45.6 yards, including a long of 56 yards.
Kicker Pat Smith — a Western Illinois transfer — handled all the field goal and extra point opportunities. He had a 24-yard field goal in the first quarter, but missed an extra point in the fourth quarter. He battled for the spot this fall with returning kicker Mauro Bondi, who handled the kickoff duties and finished with four touchbacks. Expect that competition to stay open for the time being.
Maybe the most important debut was that of freshman long snapper Gabriel Miller. Simply put, he made no mistakes. A quiet debut is an excellent debut for long snappers.

2. THE OFFENSIVE LINE ISN'T AS BAD AS YOU THINK: I think one of the more scrutinized units at Nebraska is the offensive line. And, sometimes, I think the finger is pointed at them for mistakes. I really liked what I saw against the Cowboys.

This is a stat that should never be ignored: the pipeline allowed no sacks. That's big. On top of that, the offense tallied 530 yards and had four rushers with 76 or more yards of rushing.
Wyoming didn't have a great defensive line, but I'll remain optimistic with the line. It was good to see Taylor Martinez have a pocket to work with.

3. STANLEY JEAN-BAPTISTE IS NU'S BEST DEFENDER: With so many new players making an appearance for the Blackshirts in game one, many fans and pundits placed nickel/corner Ciante Evans at the top of the list for best Husker defenders.
Rightfully so, as Evans had a good opener. But cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste stole the show against the Cowboys. He finished with four tackles and a key interception at the goal line, which he returned for 42 yards.
"I feel a lot more comfortable knowing the defense and knowing the schemes that we have against other teams and what I have to do to help my covers," he said. "I feel pretty good."

4. THE DEFENSE WILL IMPROVE: Yes, there are concerns. Big concerns. But, first, why can't Husker fans just give a little credit to Wyoming? Quarterback Brett Smith was outstanding. His presence in the pocket, to me, was excellent. And he had moxie — that's a good adjective for a quarterback. Also, head coach Dave Christensen — a former Missouri assistant — seemed to know what Pelini's defense would bring and correctly game-planned around it.
Up next for the Blackshirts is cellar-dweller Southern Miss — a team that hasn't won a game since 2011 and lost its season opener to Texas State, 22-15. Nebraska should improve from week one to week two with an easy opponent.

5. PAPUCHIS UNVEILS AGGRESSIVE SCHEME: One thing about the defense is it's slightly new look, especially on the defensive line. With the addition of pass rusher Randy Gregory, Nebraska was implementing a 4-2-5 look with three down defensive lineup and one standup defensive end. Gregory is built for that role.
You have to like that NU is changing things up to get more pressure on the quarterback, but defensive coordinator John Papuchis might have been a little aggressive. What I saw was a defensive line not playing in their quadrants — that is, they were working too far up the field on not keeping on the outside of Smith's shoulder. That allowed Smith to move around in the pocket and tuck it away for a scramble. NU will have to shore that up.

6. APPARENTLY, GREGORY TACKLED TOO HARD: Saturday night's game featured an absolute blown call from the referees. I'm never a guy who places blame on the refs — you don't know how difficult their job is. But I'm also a guy who doesn't tolerate when the refs make up a call out of thin air, and that's what they seemed to on Gregory's sack in the third quarter.
On a key third down, Gregory showed what he could do and hunted down Smith and threw him to the turf. But the referees called the NU defender on roughing the passer. That is inexcusable, considering that the quarterback actually needs to have passed the ball before roughing the passer is even an eligible penalty.
"Honestly, I've been playing since I was 7n years old. I've never heard of roughing the passer when I actually sack the quarterback," Gregory said. "I think I was celebrating after it and I was surprised."
If tackling the quarterback too hard on a sack is warrant for a flag, wouldn't Ndamukong Suh have been the most penalized player in college football?

7. DEPTH, AND MORE DEPTH: I don't think I saw one Husker down with cramps on a hot and sticky opening night at Memorial Stadium. That's something that's a very positive sign. One, it shows the team did its work in the weight room. Secondly, it showed that this team has enough depth that it could play a big role in games later this season.
Whether it was the running backs, offensive line or defensive line, we saw a lot of rotation. That's something, I think, is invaluable. With the speed of the game now, you have to be able to put fresh guys out on the field. NU showed it can do that, and I just have a feeling that there will be a time this season where we'll be very thankful.

8. HELLO, TERRELL NEWBY: The freshman running back was given his opportunity and showed promise for the Huskers. He played in tight moments during the second half and finished with 15 rushes for 76 yards.
The running backs as a unit were very solid. Bell cow Ameer Abdullah tallied a team-high 125 yards — most of which came on a key 62-yard run that set up a touchdown in the second quarter.
New-look Imani Cross had 105 yards and two scores. He no longer is that goal line guy that we saw during his freshman campaign.

9. KENNY BELL ISN'T JUST A GOOD RECEIVER: The 'Fro may be the most entertaining Husker to watch on the field. He's pursuing a goal of becoming Nebraska's first wideout to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in a season, and he finished with 7 catches for 57 yards on a night where the Husker offense was fairly conservative.
It was his special teams play that stood out the most. He's a gunner on the punt team and just absolutely lit-up a Wyoming returner. He also gives NU the ability to pin opponents deep since he's fast enough to get down the field and help down the punt. He also finished with 72 return yards.

10. THE EAST STADIUM ADDITION IS MAMMOTH: The fanfair for the season opener had plenty of focus on the new addition to the East side of Memorial Stadium. From my view in the press box, it looked big. But once I headed down towards the sideline, the new facade was overwhelming.
From field level, that top level of the new addition is literally staring right down at you. It's claustrophobic, and I hate that feeling. I think Husker opponents will get that feeling, too. I think that's the point.

To read more, see Tuesday's Hastings Tribune or the Tribune e-edition.>>>

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