Midseason report: Nebraska

Nebraska squandered its lone shot to make a positive statement on a national level on Sept. 14, blowing an 18-point lead to lose 41-21 at home to still-unbeaten UCLA.

The Huskers have handled business well since the loss to the Bruins, and coach Bo Pelini’s squad has done it without fourth-year starting quarterback Taylor Martinez. He’s missed the past three games with turf toe. In his place, freshman Tommy Armstrong and senior Ron Kellogg III filled in nicely, relying on a strong stable of backs and receivers to carry the load for a talented offensive unit.

Nebraska ranks eighth nationally in rushing yards per game at 284.8, and it’s averaging nearly 500 yards of offense. Ameer Abdullah is the workhorse at I-back, and Quincy Enunwa has caught seven touchdowns among his 25 receptions.

Defensively, it’s been a wild ride from the start. Nebraska squandered a comfortable lead in the fourth quarter of the opener against Wyoming, holding on to win 37-34. The 38 consecutive points surrendered to UCLA ranked as the low point, though Pelini was equally upset with the first quarter a week later against South Dakota State.

The Huskers have bounced back well in Big Ten play, in particular last week at Purdue in a 44-7 victory. Nebraska nearly pitched a shutout and held the Boilermakers to 216 yards. Defenders Ciante Evans at cornerback, defensive end Jason Ankrah, and linebacker David Santos have emerged of late, while defensive end Randy Gregory and cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste have been solid from the start.

Offensive MVP: Adbullah, the junior I-back, has followed up his 1,100-yard season with a better campaign. He’s rushed for 816 yards, second in the Big Ten and sixth nationally, averaging 7.2 yards per carry. And he’s caught 14 passes for 137 yards.

Defensive MVP: Gregory, the sophomore newcomer out of Arizona Western Community College, burst on to the scene as a feared pass rusher and play-maker on the defensive line. His strong play helped spark the defensive improvement of the past two weeks. Gregory enters the second half with a team-high eight tackles for loss. More of the same is necessary in November, when the schedule turns difficult.