Final take: Nebraska was far from perfect in a 21-point win over North Dakota on Saturday

On3 imageby:Sean Callahan09/03/22


Nebraska head coach Scott Frost was brutally honest about his team’s play on Saturday. His football team has a long way to go.

I think it’s safe to say very few people felt great about the Huskers’ 38-17 win over North Dakota. The game was tied with 2:30 left in the third quarter before running back Anthony Grant broke things open with a 46-yard touchdown. That led to a 21-point scoring barrage to finish the game against the undermanned Fighting Hawks.

“As a head coach you have to balance telling them they’re a great team and to keep the confidence up with being honest with them and making sure we’re continuing to get better,” Frost said following his team’s win. “This team can be a great team. It’s not right now. And that was my message to them. So that puts us in a perfect position to have the potential to be good but know that we have a lot of work to do and a lot of things to fix.”

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Questions arise on if Frost called plays in the second half

Here’s what we know right now: Nebraska’s offense looked completely different in the second half. We saw Frost holding a play sheet the entire time.

There was a stronger commitment to the run game, and we saw quarterback Casey Thompson even run the option on the first drive out of the locker room. This felt like Frost’s influence.

Last week in Ireland Frost had that same play sheet in his back pocket for most of the game. Frost wanted no part of the discussion on if he called plays over offensive coordinator Mark Whipple in the second half.

“I’m not ever going to get into that,” Frost said. “All I’ll say is we have a lot of smart people on the staff, and the more we can cooperate the better we can be.”

At this point does it matter if Frost took over some of the play-calling duties in the second half? I think the biggest takeaway has to be the way the running game found its way late in the game.

Grant and freshman running back Ajay Allen combined for 34 carries, 247 yards and three touchdowns. That was the best we’ve seen a pair of Husker running backs look arguably since Ameer Abdullah was at Nebraska.

Yes, I know this was North Dakota. However, there is still something the Huskers can build from the way they closed out this game.

This was a team coming off an eight-hour plane ride from Ireland. According to Frost, they had multiple guys battling “bugs” on the team this week.

The bottom line is they got through this game. Nobody ever thought it was going to be easy coming back from Ireland the way they did. Now they can get back on a normal clock this week with another home against Georgia Southern. Survive and advance. On to the breakdown…

What I saw on Saturday

***At halftime I’m told the locker room was extremely quiet. One of the guys that got up evidently and talked was nickel Isaac Gifford. He may not be a captain, but he appears to be a leader on this team behind the scenes.

***Freshman Ernest Hausmann got the start at inside linebacker on Saturday. Nick Henrich was not dressed and his right hand was in a pretty heavy cast. Will he be full-go by Oklahoma?

***Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Henry Lutovsky stepped in at right guard for Broc Bando and things clicked with him in the game.

***For the second game in a row, running back Rahmir Johnson did not get an offensive touch. Frost said after the game they have to try to get him more involved in the offense. However, it’s hard to be too critical considering how Grant and Allen ran the football.

***I think Nebraska’s defense needs to be more aggressive in obvious passing situations. We saw North Dakota pick up first downs on third-and-long a few times when NU chose only to rush three and drop back into a zone. The pressure did not get home and they found open guys in the zone.

***On NU’s opening drive in the second half, Nebraska had Thompson come out running more of an option play we would see quarterback Adrian Martinez run a year ago.

***It’s hard to believe the Huskers only ran 24 plays in the first half. The Fighting Hawks had one drive alone in the first half that went for 16 plays. They won the time of possession 36 minutes to 24. Garrett Nelson’s strip-sack and Grant’s 46-yard TD run turned this football game around.

Also, don’t discount the 35-yard catch by wide receiver Trey Palmer on third-and-14 that helped extend the lead to 14 points.

***Nebraska outgained North Dakota 254 to 83 on first down. The Huskers had 154 rushing yards on 21 carries on first down. NU also went a perfect 4-for-4 on third-and-shorts, which are plays 4 yards or less in terms of down and distance.

The final grade out

GradeHOL Take
Rushing offenseAThis is what won the game for Nebraska. Anthony Grant was the best player on the football field. The Huskers had 271 sack-adjusted rush yards and averaged 7.1 yards per carry. NU had 10 runs go for 10+ yards.
Passing offense CCasey Thompson had a costly pick that let North Dakota into the game. He also fumbled on a sack where the offensive line let things blow up. He finished 14-of-21 for 193 yards.
Rushing defense D+North Dakota had 186 sack-adjusted rush yards averaging 6 yards per carry. Nebraska also gave up a 63-yard run to Isaiah Smith, which was the longest play of the game. This phase of the game played a big part in UND holding the football for 36 minutes and controlling the time of possession.
Passing defense BGarrett Nelson got a big strip sack that helped turn the game around. North Dakota only had three pass plays longer than 10 yards with the longest being 15.
Special teams B-Nebraska got another great game from punter Brian Buschini. The Huskers also partially blocked a punt on Saturday. However, Timmy Bleekrode missed a key first-half field goal and the return game was a non-factor.

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