There’s nothing wrong with a little feel-good story that comes along with a win by the Big Red. Air Force transfer, walk-on defensive back, Norfolk native and whatever else you want to use to describe him — Lane McCallum — delivered just that.
Before the season started, there was one position on the team that you didn’t have to worry about. Veteran kicker Barrett Pickering was returning and ready to add to his successful career kicking field goals. He had it on lockdown, and that part of special teams was really going to help the confidence of Nebraska’s offense by having “three in the bag.” But, as fate had it, that scenario was far from the case, as Pickering continues to battle whatever leg injury he has.
Fast forward to the story and situation everyone is now familiar with. It hasn’t always been pretty (and who could blame him?), but McCallum has literally shown his willingness to step up in any way that he can help the team. To take on that kind of responsibility when he figured his kicking days were behind him? Man, that’s confidence. And it’s so fun to watch. When the game-winning kick made it through the uprights, 100% of Northeast Nebraska, and everyone who knows McCallum’s family, cheered just a little louder.
When you hear talk about the “pride of Nebraska,” I would say this was a really good example of that.
With a team that is struggling on offense, the Huskers are probably going to need McCallum and the field goal unit several more times. Hit or miss, we all know he’ll put his best foot forward.
You have to ask yourself, how in the world did McCallum’s kick even make it past the line of scrimmage? He knew it was low from the start, and Northwestern defenders had some large paws up in the air to deflect the ball. Watching it live on TV, it definitely looked as though it got blocked, until it squeaked by and fans cheered. Watch it again, though, a defender’s hand was so, so close to blocking it. A game of inches (or less) indeed.
— Where would Nebraska’s defensive line be without big ol’ nose tackle Darrion Daniels? There hasn’t been much of a pass rush all season, but Daniels is a load in the middle. He’s routinely double-teamed and is hard to move at 320 pounds. Even though it was upsetting to see Nebraska’s penetration lacking against Northwestern’s offensive line, the Huskers at least stayed stout enough to control the running game. But with fellow defensive lineman Khalil Davis suspended, Daniels did a good job of manning the middle.
— Speaking of the defense, it responded well and held the Wildcats in check for most of the game. Giving up only 10 points is always something to be celebrated, but then again, Northwestern has literally the worst offense in the country. So when it did make decent yardage, it was frustrating knowing how bad the Wildcats are. When large chunks of yardage were made, it was usually on the pesky zone read. It fooled the Blackshirts once again as if they have never seen it. That baffles me since, you know, they practice against it every day with much better athletes. Freshman Garrett Nelson got absolutely owned on one zone read in particular. He’s not going to enjoy that film session. That guy doesn’t move slower than 100 mph out there on the field, and I’m sure he’ll get that assignment fixed.
— What is going on with the second-half doldrums? For as long as I can remember, the Huskers seem as if they are just waking up from a nap, instead of coming out with intensity and energy for the third quarter. Something has to change, and I don’t know if that’s more on the individual players themselves or up to some kind of coaches’ tactic they need to try. The halftime hangover cost Nebraska the game in Colorado and will again if not corrected.
— Even with the sleepy third quarter, Nebraska did hang in there just enough against a quality, physical defense. Some plays finally went its way down the stretch, and luckily it didn’t go to overtime. Nebraska has lost its last five overtime games, while Northwestern is 5-0.
— Same ol’, same ol’ with the offensive line. There’s hardly any push upfront, and pass-blocking is just as suspect. The guys are playing hard and are tough, but they just aren’t that good right now. True imposing physicality is lacking. And those snaps. Has anyone ever seen consistently bad snaps like this? It’s wild, man, and destroying plays before they even get a chance to start.
— Wan’Dale Robinson continues to be the human eraser. With the offensive line giving up penetration nearly every play, he keeps showing the ability to make a guy miss in the backfield and create something positive. He’s probably the MVP right now.
— Another game, another lack of anything thrown downfield. We’ve talked about who is going to be the next Stanley Morgan, and it looks as though the Huskers are still searching. The overall depth of this team is just so poor. We did see Miles Jones, Jaron Woodyard and Mike Williams all get some playing time. Now, the wide receiver rotation doesn’t make much sense, but we have a lot of guys with similar size and skills, and maybe that’s part of the problem. In Williams’ case, he looks like a dude. But when he finally got in on Saturday, he promptly got called for a false start. Maybe it’s just all mental for these guys?
— The injuries to Adrian Martinez and JD Spielman are a huge cause for concern. As far as quarterback goes, Noah Vedral did a heck of a job spelling the injured Martinez. But, as good as it looked, it was a small sample size. You can’t take much from it, except that he played quickly and looked decisive on the field. Kudos to him. Might need him again against Minnesota next week. At wide receiver, if Spielman is out, you might as well just sit the receivers down and start playing with more of the tight ends. If the wide receivers aren’t going to get separation and make plays — besides Spielman, of course — you might as well have players out there who are 6-foot-7 and 6-8 for jump balls. Why not, right?
— Minnesota has a better offensive line, running back, wide receivers and quarterback than what we saw against Northwestern. Nebraska has no choice but to be ready for smashmouth football. Believe it or not, the Gophers are 5-0 and favored against Nebraska.