LINCOLN — Nebraska linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey was visibly upset after NU gave up its first score in the first half of the game Saturday against Wyoming in Lincoln.
Wyoming’s Tanner Gentry hauled in a touchdown catch between two defenders on a fourth-down pass from Josh Allen with seconds left to play in the first half.
Rose-Ivey gave his teammates in the secondary the business, swinging his arms and pulling off his helmet in disgust.
Up to that point in the game, Nebraska defenders had made play after play.
They forced three and outs, they put solid pressure on Allen, knocked down passes in the secondary.
In other words, it matters to defenders like Rose-Ivey that the unit makes more plays than it gives up this season.
The pass play made it 17-7 Nebraska at half, but clearly this unit has set the bar higher and hit pay dirt in the second half.
In the 52-17 win Saturday, the Nebraska defense forced six turnovers — five interceptions — turning a 7-point game after three quarters, into a blowout.
A shutout would have been huge, in fact it always is. You gotta love the fire.
You want this unit to hate giving up an inch, but realistically, this defense just needs to be good to give Nebraska hopes.
I’m not ready to declare the Nebraska defense back to championship form just yet, but you get the idea this unit is well on its way to being a top-50 caliber defense if it can clean up dumb penalties — more than 90 yards in Nebraska miscues and not all of them were called on the defense.
Things just feel different on the defensive side of the ball.
“The turnovers were huge,” Nebraska linebacker Josh Banderas said. “We probably have more turnovers already now than we did all of last year. It’s coming from guys are more knowledgeable of the defense. Last year, guys were just a couple of steps away.”
Yeah, we're talking wins over Fresno State and now Wyoming, but the case can be made that even a serviceable defense and a better-than-average offense can take this program somewhere.
I’d say that’s where Nebraska stands.
NU held a 24-17 lead after three quarters, which at first should seem alarming.
How quickly we forget during Nebraska’s 1994 national championship run NU had to fend off the Cowboys for a hard-fought 42-32 win.
So far, the biggest difference with this defense is that it appears to be more assignment-sound.
Wyoming hit NU on a reverse in the second half, but so far this unit shows good pursuit to the ball.
Nebraska will have to clean-up all the stupid personal-foul penalties. NU was flagged at least twice Saturday for hits out of bounds.
On offense, we know after two games Nebraska can run and pass.
Again, we saw the best and worst of Tommy Armstrong on Saturday.
He made great decisions in the passing game early, then not so good later on, throwing into triple coverage and into the arms of a Wyoming defensive back in the end zone in the first half.
Then, he hit some long balls in the second half on his way to a 377-yard day.
You get what you get with the senior and on Saturday he showed flashes of brilliance, hitting big plays against a young Wyoming secondary.
While much was made last week about Nebraska staying grounded with 51 rush attempts, there will be a similar debate this week leading up to the Oregon game.
That is, Nebraska didn’t stay committed to the run against Wyoming.
In fact, the Huskers didn’t come close to establishing a ground game.
But perhaps that had more to do with how vulnerable the Cowboy secondary is. Whatever the case, Nebraska abandoned the run.
Still have to ask: What exactly is Nebraska’s identity on offense?
Has the fullback again disappeared from the game plan?
The questions may become less important if Nebraska’s defense continues to get better, and NU exploits its talent at wide receiver.
Sure, there are some depth concerns on the defensive line even before starting tackle Mick Stoltenberg went down with an injury ahead of the Wyoming game.
What has become apparent, though, is how deep and talented Nebraska has become in the back seven.
We’ve seen the emergence of freshman corner Lamar Jackson early in the season and the solid play of corners Chris Jones and Joshua Kalu.
The safety spot looks as deep as it has been in a while with the return of Nate Gerry this week.
At linebacker, Nebraska is as deep, healthy and talented as it has been in the past five seasons.
Don’t look now, but so far Nebraska has yet to suffer massive breakdowns on defense although Wyoming made plays.
Often in 2015, Nebraska was a victim of bad luck, but much of it was the product of breakdowns in the secondary that led to big plays and close losses.
This week, the Blackshirts’ five big interceptions included two by Gerry and a pick-six by Kieron Williams that gave Nebraska a 24-10 lead near the end of the third quarter.
Ross Dzuris had a big scoop on lateral by Wyoming he returned to the Cowboy 1. It set up a Nebraska touchdown in the fourth quarter that made it 38-17.
So here we go, headed to a showdown with Uniform U.
Oregon will bring speed on offense, lots of mirror on its helmets and national name recognition that poses a big opportunity for Nebraska.
Forcing turnovers will be at a premium.