Huskers head coach Matt Rhule and the Nebraska Cornhuskers can now breathe easy. With a 20-7 win over Illinois, the team can look ahead to the Northwestern Wildcats and head coach David Braun. But to truly analyze this matchup ahead, let’s look at what Huskers Coach Rhule said on Tuesday in Nebraska’s bye week presser.
Who Will Step Up?
Who will step up in Garrett McGuire‘s room with Marcus Washington out? As the second most experienced wide receiver on Nebraska’s roster, Washington had eight catches for 176 yards this season. But now that he has suffered an ACL injury in the Illinois matchup, Huskers wide receiver coach McGuire has very few options left to work with. According to Rhule’s press conference on Tuesday, this is a tough pill for him to swallow because Washington “just had a tough go of things.” But luckily, Billy Kemp can help fill his shoes. As one of the many dependable options for the Cornhuskers, Kemp’s 20 receptions for 219 yards and a touchdown provide a good spark to the Huskers offense. Omaha wide receiver Alex Bullock has also been solid as well. In four games for the Big Red, he has become an effective target for quarterback Heinrich Haarberg with his seven receptions for 119 yards. Freshman wide receiver Malachi Coleman began his Husker career with a five-yard pass from quarterback Heinrich Haarberg. This puts him in a good spot, but he just has to continue his development in Nebraska’s bye week as well as in the Northwestern matchup next week.
Tony White’s Defense
Despite the Blackshirt’s bad performance against Jim Harbaugh‘s Michigan Wolverines, Tony White’s 3-3-5 defense has worked wonders this season. Against Illinois, the Blackshirts limited Illinois running back Reggie Love III to just nine yards on seven carries. And freshman backup Kaden Feagin didn’t fare much better, as he only mustered 15 yards on five carries. The only bright spot on the night for Bret Bielema’s squad? Sophomore Illini quarterback Luke Altmeyer. He passed for 289 yards and connected with junior wide receiver Isaiah Williams on big chunk plays down the field. Pat Bryant also contributed by beating defensive back Quinton Newsome in coverage to score a 46-yard touchdown. Because of this, the Huskers’ defense should be proud of the way that they corralled the Illinois offense. According to Inside Nebraska, Rhule said on Tuesday that this is because the players are “playing with swagger that’s earned.” The only glaring issue with the defense? Rhule needs the Huskers to have more “than six turnovers in six games.”
Anthony Grant and Protecting The Football
With both Gabe Ervin and Rahmir Johnson dealing with season-ending injuries, Anthony Grant has become Nebraska’s starter at the running back position. And he’s done more than enough to take advantage of the opportunity. However, he has a lot to learn about protecting the ball. On the season, he’s amassed 280 yards and three touchdowns on just 64 carries. But he has issues protecting the football. In his two fumbles against Illinois and Minnesota, he ended up coughing up the ball late in the game. One of these led to a Golden Gopher score. And the other killed an otherwise solid Nebraska drive down Illinois’s home field. And as you might expect, Rhule was very unpleased with these two miscues during Nebraska’s bye week. According to Husker247, Rhule says that Grant just needs to “step up and simply cover the top of the football.” Because, if he doesn’t, Rhule was very grim on his chances to play consistent snaps in the NFL.
Much Needed Rest For Tristan Alvano
Does the bye week help Tristan Alvano? Throughout his high school career for the Omaha Westside, Alvano excelled as a placekicker. But during his senior year, he would cement his legendary status when he broke the record for most field goals in Nebraska high school history. According to the Huskers team website, he also played a key part in securing Westside’s championship chances when he hit a “45-yard game-winner as time expired” against the Gretna Dragons. But as a freshman at Nebraska, his leg hasn’t had the same success. In his first game against Minnesota, he put it through the uprights on his lone field goal attempt of the night. This was a good start to his career, but after this game, he went on to miss his last three attempts from deep. Granted, Alvano saw minor improvement in kicking his extra points in the Illinois game, but he still there is still room for him to improve from distance. Can special teams coordinator Ed Foley find a way to fix this part of Alvano’s game in time for the Northwestern matchup?