Nebraska football: Comeback against Rutgers draws rave reviews, stokes blistering criticism of Scarlet Knights

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Nebraska has seen more than its fair share of brutal moments this season, all of which makes Friday night’s 14-13 win at Rutgers all the more satisfying for the Cornhuskers and their fans. Interim coach Mickey Joseph and the Cornhuskers absorbed multiple early shots from the Scarlet Knights, rallying in the second half thanks to an excellent defensive effort en route to their second-straight win in Big Ten play.

Like usual, Nebraska hurt itself — turnovers, penalties, you name it. And former Cornhuskers backup quarterback Noah Vedral lit up Nebraska’s defense early while leading coach Greg Schiano’s team to a 13-0 halftime lead. But Nebraska regrouped and came out of the break with a different energy and level of execution on both sides of the ball. The Huskers showed real mental toughness.

A loss would have made Nebraska’s path to bowl eligibility even tougher, but now Joseph and his crew have a fighting chance at 3-3 overall. If the Huskers continue to show growth, their Big Ten West Division schedule will provide some opportunities.

The surprising nature of the second half and how it played out generated significant reaction across the board from the college football world. Here is a look at some of it.

A clean game, this was not. The teams combined to commit five turnovers, including a game-sealing interception on the Scarlet Knights’ final drive. But Nebraska has been on the losing end of these kinds of games countless times since Scott Frost took over — could the Huskers finally be moving past that now with Joseph in charge as the interim coach?

Nebraska indeed finished this game strong. Rutgers led 13-0 at halftime, and the Huskers returned the favor with a 14 unanswered in the second half. The defense clamped down, picking off three passes after intermission. Meanwhile, the offense did enough to make up for the early struggles. A decent Big Red contingent in New Jersey looked on as the Huskers actually came away with a galvanizing win on the road — when is the last time that happened?

An amazing stat here, as Nebraska indeed sits atop the Big Ten West standings — and that’s with a loss to likely the division’s worst team, Northwestern. Could the Huskers somehow make a miracle run to the conference title game in Indianapolis? That remains unlikely based on how Minnesota and Illinois have been playing, but Nebraska clearly has an opening to start winning some games and push for the postseason.

Under Frost, Nebraska was notorious for blowing leads and choking in close games. The opposite happened Friday. Rutgers had Nebraska stopped late with plenty of time left before an unnecessary roughness penalty handed the Huskers a first down, allowing them to further drain the clock. The Scarlet Knights got the ball back but did not have much of a shot to do anything with it considering they were out of timeouts. They never threatened at the end.

Nebraska running back Anthony Grant provided the highlight of the night, trucking Rutgers defensive back Desmond Igbinosun at the end of a run on the sideline. Igbinosun was shaken up on the play; Grant, meanwhile, continued to assert himself as one of the Big Ten’s more talented running backs. Amid a tough season for the Huskers, Grant has been a clear bright spot. Despite a down game overall for Grant as he found little room to run, he remains on pace to rush for well over 1,000 yards this year.

For once, Nebraska wasn’t the team choking the game away. But for as well as the Huskers played in the second half, there is little doubt that a lot of the “credit” for this win goes to Rutgers for making myriad errors after halftime.

Offensively, Rutgers cycled between Vedral and Evan Simon to little effect — both went 6-for-15 through the air, although Simon threw three interceptions while Vedral did not commit a turnover. Nebraska’s defense showed that it can be a legitimate force in the Big Ten West, which features a number of poor offenses such as Iowa. Some of Rutgers’ struggles came as a result of strong play by the Huskers.

Rutgers offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson will be feeling the heat after this one, as Nebraska made clear adjustments after halftime while the Scarlet Knights did not. It was not a masterclass performance by the hosts.

Quarterback play is as good of a harbinger of success at the FBS level as that of any position, and Nebraska had the best quarterback by far on Friday. Casey Thompson did not play a perfect game by any means, but he moved the ball. Thompson completed 24 of 36 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns with a pair of interceptions, easily out-dueling his counterparts from Rutgers. That quarterback rotation by Schiano absolutely did not work.

Weekly rankings notes: Four P5 line commits rise to 4-star status

 

247Sports provides its weekly rankings notes rundown as the next 2023 Top247 release looms. Friday’s 11-player batch of rankings updates features a quartet of new 247Sports four-star prospects in the senior class, which accounts for the vast majority of the notes listed below.

A Clemson-bound defensive lineman joins offensive line commitments for Texas A&M, Penn State, and Minnesota in the group of new four-star prospects. We also provide some more committed names to know in the 2023 class — including a few players who could become increasingly popular targets as the Early Signing Period approaches — and an emerging 2024 tight end out west. Here’s this week’s rankings notes breakdown, starting with the aforementioned Clemson-bound defensive line standout.

STEPHIYLAN GREEN, 2023 DL – CLEMSON COMMIT

Rome (Ga.) High School defensive lineman Stephiylan Green continues his ascension and rises to four-star 90 status on 247Sports thanks to what he has shown on the field so far this season. A dearth of verified information has caused the 247Sports national team to approach Green’s evaluation with caution, but believed to be in the 6-foot-4, 270-pound range, Green wears his mass well and still owns ample space to add more. He’s shown impressive first-step explosion and broad pursuit range relative to size and role. Green can fit myriad looks and his functional athleticism makes him a terror up front. He flashed that athleticism this past week, when he snagged a deflected ball out of mid-air and sprinted 26 yards for an INT touchdown in a 70-0 rout of Woodstock (Ga.).

“Don’t appear to be any issues with size or athleticism on tape,” said Cooper Petagna, 247Sports national analyst. “He can play multiple positions, explosive first step. Disruptive player.”

COLTON THOMASSON, 2023 OT – TEXAS A&M COMMIT

Rising originally from an 87 to an 88 rating on 247Sports, Texas A&M-bound offensive tackle Colton Thomasson jumps to a four-star 90 grade with his steady improvement over the course of the last 18-24 months. Verified twice in the spring between 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-8 — a rarity for a high school lineman to legitimately reach that height — the Spring Branch (Texas) Smithson Valley prospect has gradually improved offseason combine testing year-over-year and his movement ability and body control reflect that on the field.

Furthermore, Thomasson has reshaped his body and done immense work to get in terrific condition. He wears 325 to 330 pounds quite well after dropping significant weight over the last two years. Thomasson adds a strong athletic profile with shot put (43-0 3/4) and discus (151-3) experience to supplement what he’s achieved on the field and in the offseason. His physical specs provide simultaneous high-floor competency and long-term developmental potential.

ANTHONY DONKOH, 2023 IOL – PENN STATE COMMIT

Another talented senior offensive lineman rising from an 88 rating to a four-star 90 on 247Sports is Anthony Donkoh, a potentially position-versatile prospect committed to Penn State. Donkoh’s verified spring measurements put him close to 6-foot-5 and 280 pounds, in addition to a near-7-foot wingspan. Donkoh could certainly stick at tackle given that length, but his long-term potential may be even higher inside, where the 247Sports national team projects him as a four-star at this point in his development.

On top of those points, Donkoh is quite young as he will not turn 18 until July leading into his freshman year of college. He also has played extensive two-way snaps, another valuable box checked by the Aldie (Va.) Lightridge standout. Donkoh provides disruptive front-line strength at defensive tackle and corresponding heavy-handed blocking ability on offense, both of which he’s shown repeatedly so far this fall.

GREG JOHNSON, 2023 IOL – MINNESOTA COMMIT

“Minnesota commit Greg Johnson rises to a four-star 90 rating on 247Sports,” said Allen Trieu, 247Sports national analyst (Midwest). “The Prior Lake (Minn.) offensive lineman impressed us at the Gophers’ camp in the offseason as well as in offseason workouts, then has carried that over into the season. He is a finisher on film, but how he gets to that point — with leverage, ability to bend, and tenacity — makes us confident in his future for the Gophers.”

Additionally, Johnson owns a strong athletic profile that includes encouraging numbers in the shot put and discus. He reached the 49-foot threshold twice in the discus in May-June, including a 49-11 1/4 personal best. That same day in late May, Johnson posted a 135-3 discus. Johnson could stick at tackle or move inside in the long term — the latter fitting his updated projection — with that versatility working in his favor developmentally.

ROGER SALEAPAGA, 2024 TE

“Roger Saleapaga, an impressive pass catcher from Orem (Utah), has had a terrific junior season up to this point, with four performances of at least 130 receiving yards through seven games. He checked in at a tick under 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds at the ESPN300 Elite Underclassmen Camp in Salt Lake City this past summer, showing really good burst and ability to separate from defenders to provide a wide catch window.

“Sources in the Beehive State tell us that his future will be at tight end considering his frame potential and physical upside. If that’s the case, Saleapeaga could have one of the highest ceilings among players at that position in the 2024 class out West. Saleapaga, who debuts as a high three-star 87 on 247Sports, has been a consistent goal-line nuisance with his ability to high-point the football and find pockets of space where he can use his length and athleticism to come up with possession. BYU, Oregon, Oregon State, Utah, and Washington have all offered after his torrid start.” — Blair Angulo, 247Sports national analyst (Mountain and West Coast)

HAYDEN CHRISTMAN, 2023 OT – LOUISIANA TECH COMMIT

What a gem for Louisiana Tech’s 2023 recruiting class in Tioga (La.) High School’s Hayden Christman, who debuts as a high three-star 87 on 247Sports. While his size is not verified, the offensive tackle prospect is believed to be in the 6-foot-6, 300-pound range with ample two-way snaps — even reps at punter — and an excellent multi-sport athletic profile thanks to shot put and discus prowess.

Christman won the Louisiana Class 4A state championship in the discus (162-4) in May, after posting a 172-6 1/2 at regionals in April. He also placed second in the Louisiana 4A shot put finals with a 50-1 1/4. Christman’s drive-blocking ability combines with his sheer size to often overwhelm overmatched defenders. He reaches target on schedule and his combination of frame, two-way snaps, and multi-sport athleticism give him ample long-term upside.

MARCELLIUS PULLIAM, 2023 LB

“With the Early Signing Period quickly approaching, more and more schools are going to be searching for front-seven defenders who can make an impact. And while much of the focus will be on pass rushers, some programs are going to need off-ball linebackers like Marcellius Pulliam. The senior out of Tyrone (Ga.) Sandy Creek isn’t the longest defender out there, but he’s thickly built and can run. More importantly, he has impressed over the past month or so, making a high number of stops in the box. Pulliam debuts in the 247Sports rankings with a grade of an 86. He has been linked primarily to Auburn — which is where he visited a few weeks ago — along with Miami and Kentucky.” — Andrew Ivins, 247Sports national analyst (Southeast)

DEDRICK LATULAS, 2023 WR – LOUISIANA TECH COMMIT

New Iberia (La.) Westgate’s Dedrick Latulas provides electric playmaking ability for one of Louisiana’s more talent-laden Class 4A programs. Around 5-foot-8, 155 pounds, Latulas hits big plays at multiple receiver spots, from the backfield, and in the return game. Latulas possesses a strong athletic profile; he placed second as a junior in the Louisiana 4A state triple jump finals with a personal best of 46 feet, 10 1/4 inches this past May. He was also a regional qualifier in the long jump (21-9 1/2) and 110-meter hurdles (15.76 seconds). Latulas, who debuts as a three-star 85 on 247Sports, will bring impressive functional athleticism supported by that multi-sport data to Louisiana Tech, which could use him in a variety of ways.