Guenther: Too early to judge these Huskers

2013-09-04T23:00:00Z 2013-11-07T20:40:32Z Guenther: Too early to judge these HuskersBy Dylan Guenther / dguenther@columbustelegram.com Columbus Telegram

Nebraska squeezed by with a season-opening 37-34 win against Wyoming to kick off 2013.

Ya, the same Wyoming team that went 4-8 a year ago just took the 22nd-ranked Huskers down to the final seconds at the newly-revamped Memorial Stadium.

Time to throw in the towel on the season, Right?

Wrong.

There have been a lot of knee-jerk reactions to Wyoming hanging 602 yards on Nebraska -- many Husker fans have already hit the panic button.

The game was ugly, there's no disputing that, but it was a win. And what ever happened to giving this young defense time to grow?

Nine players saw their first college game action for the Huskers in the front seven alone. That's including junior college transfer Randy Gregory, redshirt freshmen and true freshmen.

There's a lot of unknowns up front, that much is certain, but there is also plenty of promise.

Freshmen Nate Gerry and Josh Banderas saw plenty of time at linebacker and showed flashes of their immense potential. Fellow freshmen Maliek Collins and Kevin Maurice played at defensive tackle. Redshirt freshmen Vincent Valentine, Greg McMullen and Avery Moss played on the defensive line as well, with Moss and Valentine earning starts.

This young Husker defense is talented, but it's bound to take its lumps. I just believe it's unfair to judge them as a unit after one game where players were being rotated in and out so often. The Nebraska coaches were trying to get all the young guys meaningful snaps to see what they have when the lights turn on. That strategy may hurt the Huskers in the short term, but look for it to pay off when November rolls around.

Offensively, the Huskers were impressive at times against Wyoming, but the game plan was noticeably watered down. Nebraska ended the game with 63 run plays, or 74 percent of its 85 total snaps. The Huskers accumulated an impressive 375 yards rushing as a team and had two players -- Ameer Abdullah (114 yards) and Imani Cross (105) -- go over the century mark. Taylor Martinez chipped in for 80 yards, and NU unveiled its newest backfield weapon when freshman Terrell Newby rushed for 76 yards on 15 carries. What's more telling of Newby's talent is that he was trusted to essentially carry the load for the majority of the fourth quarter -- with Abdullah averaging 6 yards per carry and Cross averaged a ridiculous 8.1 yards per carry.

However, the team's rushing total may mask some problems with the Husker ground game. What was bothersome wasn't the running backs. It was the offensive line's inability to wear down the Wyoming front seven as the game progressed. This group up front with four seniors and a junior starting has been touted as the best Bo Pelini has had at his disposal, but they didn't look all that dominant Saturday night.

Where was the dominance? Nebraska's offensive line should have buried Wyoming's defensive line all night. I know the three-man front gave the Huskers initial troubles, but such a seasoned bunch should be able to instil its will on a mid-level Mountain West team no matter what scheme it runs.

Through the air, the Huskers showed skill and precision at times. Kenny Bell was his consistent self, grabbing seven passes for 57 yards. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound junior is one of the most physical players on the team, whether he is stiff arming a defender to get extra yards after the catch, blocking on the perimeter or taking down punt returners as a gunner on the punt coverage unit.

What stood out in the passing game was that Quincy Enunwa and Jamal Turner were able to find the end zone, proving that Nebraska has no shortage of red zone targets. Enunwa may already be Martinez's favorite target near the end zone, as the senior hauled in two short touchdowns. One was on an impressive catch near the corner that was initially ruled an incompletion, and the other was a short slant where Enunwa used his big frame to box out defenders while hauling in the pass.

It was an impressive night for the wide receivers as a whole, but it would help Nebraska immensely to get more production from its tight ends.

The Huskers get one more "tune-up game" against Southern Miss Saturday before No. 18 UCLA rolls into Lincoln.

Southern Miss is riding a 13-game losing streak that started a year ago in Memorial Stadium, but the Golden Eagles showed promising signs in their season opener.

Southern Miss found its starting quarterback in Cal transfer Allan Bridgford, who passed for 377 yards and a touchdown in the Eagles' 22-15 loss to Texas State. He also threw two interceptions, as turnovers were the Golden Eagles' downfall.

The Golden Eagles turned the ball over six times against Texas State, so expect the Husker secondary to make strides against a less-experienced quarterback than Wyoming's Brett Smith, who put up 383 yards and four scores on Nebraska through the air.

Again, this team is far from a finished product, something that's been well-documented.

I don't know about you, but I'm going to wait until after the UCLA game to make any type of determination on the 2013 Blackshirts.

Dylan Guenther is the sports editor for The Columbus Telegram. Contact him at dguenther@columbustelegram.com with questions, comments and story ideas. Or follow the Telegram Sports Staff on Twitter at CTelegramSports.

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