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Five things we learned in Arkansas State-Nebraska

It’s Oregon game week! Before we discuss the Ducks too much, let’s look back at a complicated win over the Arkansas State Red Wolves. There’s so much we could take away from this particular tilt, but here are five main points:

1.) Diaco Has Nowhere to Go But Up – You could be a fan upset with his defense’s performance against Arkansas State. You could also be one of the many media members who were left with a sour taste in their mouths due to his postgame absence. Whatever your place might be, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco hasn’t started off on the right foot as a game-day coordinator. He took a very high risk in running a base defense all evening — it almost blew up in his face.

While it didn’t, fans aren’t pleased with a close win over what many perceive to be a small-time school. Diaco has drawn the ire of many scribes for a lack of quotes following the game. Ultimately, many people were left wanting more. If Diaco’s gamble pays off and Nebraska clamps down on Oregon — resulting in an upset and another big win for Mike Riley — perhaps he’ll find forgiveness. The quotes will probably be pretty good either way, too.

2.) The Truth About Tanner Lee – No one can dispute that Nebraska has a legitimate NFL-style quarterback under center. Doesn’t he throw a pretty ball? There’s a reason he won the starter’s role. Whether or not he wins the Heisman and leads the Huskers to a win over Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game remains to be seen, of course.

Hyperbole aside, Lee was personally responsible for 12 of the Huskers’ 43 points against ASU and provides a passing threat which forces the opposing defense to account for it. Overall, he was more than capable of doing what was asked of him, which kept the upset-minded Red Wolves an arm’s length away from a win. Any high ceiling attributed to Nebraska must have Lee as part of the equation.

3.) Nebraska Has a Lead I-Back if it Wants One – There was no clear-cut No. 1 running back in spring or fall camp — each had their own strengths and weaknesses. Still, it’s only somewhat surprising that Tre Bryant had a career night against ASU considering he is the closest the Huskers have to a complete back. Mikale Wilbon is great out of the backfield, Devine Ozigbo is a notable bruiser, and we have still yet to see what Jaylin Bradley can do, but Bryant made a statement on Saturday. He is legit.

Can he be counted on to carry the ball 31 times? That sure would be great, but depending on the opponent, he may not get the chance. All four backs have a place in this system. It’s a plus for Riley to be able to name Bryant the starter and know he has considerable talent waiting in the wings. That said, if Bryant continues to develop his game, the number of “-OR-“s on the depth chart could eventually diminish by one.

4.) Special Teams are Starting to be Special Again – J.D. Spielman returned a kickoff for a touchdown: Yay! The punt return team featured an injured Stanley Morgan coughing up the football: Boo! Caleb Lightbourn is booming punts and placing them inside the 15-yard line: Yay! Nebraska looked absolutely befuddled on a potentially game-changing onside kick: Boo! Drew Brown is still around: Yay! When the opponent’s punt returner has the ball, Yackety Sax starts playing: Boo!

Suffice it to say, Nebraska has as many positives as negatives on special teams. While that’s a problem in and of itself, identifying where the problems begin may be less difficult than usual. Yes, Scott Booker technically has the unit’s responsibility on his business card, but it’s a team-wide effort. Diaco’s coaching of Lightbourn is a notable example.

Finding the person in charge of returns and the hands team will illuminate where flaws originate. If it all points back to one person — it could be Booker — we’re back to square one.

On the plus side, for all the silliness that was presented on Saturday night, there was just as much to be excited about.

5.) There’s Still Plenty of Confusion – Is Nebraska a 10-win team? Was the decision to switch to the 3-4 the right call? There are plenty of hot takes about both questions, but in truth, neither has an honest answer. Both of them do contain the eventual result, though. Naturally, Nebraska can’t have a shootout with every team it faces or the Huskers will lose games they shouldn’t. A few unfortunate bounces of the ball mean the Big Red will stare upsets in the face.

Whatever Diaco can honestly put on the field — with enough confidence to say, “This is my defense in all of its glory” — MUST be better than the saltine-bland effort against Arkansas State. The Blackshirts can do better… and let’s be real: They have to.

To comment or keep up with the author, follow Brandon on twitter at @eightlaces

A member of the Football Writers Association of America, Brandon has spent over a decade reporting on and researching college football, both the sport itself and recruiting.



  1. Jim

    09/04/2017 at 1:45 pm

    I think 3-4 is the choice against new offenses so started and no looking back! They have a shot and we’ll see. As far as Arkansas State, they may have or not played their best ever game and if not they’ll break out using this game as a springboard, take nothing away from them for playing well.

    And, it’s a needed W!

  2. Alex Perry

    09/06/2017 at 1:13 am

    Great article and well spoken.

    • Brandon Cavanaugh

      09/06/2017 at 7:33 am

      Thanks Alex!

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