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Did Husker Football Just Figure Out Blueprint For More Wins?

Obviously, a 35-11 win over Northern Illinois is nothing to brag too much about. Nebraska did what it was supposed to do against an over-matched opponent.

But it looks like they may have figured out the perfect blueprint to winning games as the team is currently built — don’t play Jeff Sims, play stellar defense, run the ball, pass it a little, limit turnovers, control the clock.

I don’t mean to brag, but you heard it here first.

Nebraska was forced to go with Heinrich Haarberg under center due to a high ankle sprain suffered by starter Jeff Sims late in the Colorado game. I believe that Haarberg should have been given the opportunity to start regardless of the injury. Sims simply turns the ball over too much, while Haarberg only committed one turnover when he was sacked near his own goal line (that one was more on the protection than on Haarberg). He went 14-for-24 for 158 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Haarberg also showed some real ability as a runner with 21 rushing attempts for 98 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown. Now, I don’t really like how much this coaching staff runs its quarterbacks, but Haarberg is BIG (6-5, 215 pounds) and FAST. If he can stay healthy, he’s will become more and more of a threat as he gains more experience and reps.

The real question now is whether he’s done enough to keep the job when Sims is ready. I would love to say that they’ll give Haarberg the job, but this staff seems more invested in Sims — much like many former Husker coaches have “stuck with their guy” even when it was abundantly clear they were hurting the team by coughing the ball up.

Another revelation these past couple games has been the play of freshman Thomas Fidone at tight end. The former top-TE recruit in the country, Fidone has scored a touchdown now in two straight games. Fidone caught his second score from his former roommate Haarberg in the second quarter on Saturday.

Defensively, this is one of the better units Nebraska has fielded in quite some time. Up front, Nebraska is both stuffing the run and getting after the quarterback. As we’ve seen, that kind of combination can be suffocating.

As a team, Nebraska has the third-most sacks in the country with 14 on the year. Impressively, those 14 sacks are spread out between 10 players, led by Luke Reimer’s 2.5.

Against the run, the Huskers are No. 3 in the country, giving up just 46.3 yards per game on the ground. They gave up just 26 yards against Northern Illinois. Leading the charge is junior defensive tackle Nash Hutmacher. A former top wrestling recruit, Hutmacher is surprisingly quick and explosive for being 6-4, 330 pounds.

The game Hutmacher had from his nose tackle position was dominant. It was the best individual defensive performance I’ve seen in awhile at Nebraska. “The Polar Bear” led the team with six tackles and had 2.5 tackles for loss, including a half of a sack. He was in the backfield all day. He’ll be tough to deal with for centers and guards across the Big Ten.

It’s not just Hutmacher that’s been making plays along the defensive line. Ty Robinson has been a big reason for Nebraska’s dominance against the run, while Freshman Cameron Lenhardt has two sacks.

At linebacker, Nebraska has seen solid play from a number of guys — Reimer has 12 tackles in addition to the team lead in sacks, Nick Henrich has added two sacks, Javin Wright has nine tackles and an interception, and John Bullock is tied for second on the team with 14 tackles while also making a few plays in coverage.

In the defensive backfield, Nebraska has seen a lot of contributors as well — Isaac Gifford leads the team with 16 tackles, Malcolm Hartzog has made some plays with his 14 tackles, Omar Brown has 14 tackles and a pick, and Quinton Newsome has a couple pass break-ups.

All this is to say that this defense is built for consistency. Rather than relying on one or two star players for the unit to hum, it really is a unit that’s solid top to bottom. Everyone does their job and the results have shown that it’s hard to move the ball when they do just that.

All in all, this past week was a step in the right direction. Nebraska got itself a win and executed the game plan needed to get more of them.

Now, let’s just hope this coaching staff does the right thing and gives the starting quarterback spot to Heinrich Haarberg.

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