Nebraska Football: Midseason Awards for Players and Coaches
Nebraska football has reached the halfway mark of the 2013 season, although that seems hard to digest given how short the college football season always seems to be. This year in particular, with Nebraska’s schedule so back-loaded and a bye week coming right at the midpoint, there is a real feel of division between the first half and second half of the season.
So as we prepare for the “meat grinder” portion of Nebraska’s schedule, it might be helpful to take a step back and see who deserves some recognition for their first half performances.
All stats from cfbstats.com.
Offensive MVP: Ameer Abdullah
Even before the injury to Taylor Martinez, it became pretty evident that I-back Ameer Abdullah had grown into the role of a starting tailback for Nebraska. But with the injury to Martinez, Abdullah’s importance has shone through even more clearly. Take a look at his contributions to the squad this year.
% of Carries
% of Yards Rush
% of Rush TD
To me, the most standout number in that table is that Abdullah has only 37 percent of Nebraska's carries, but darn near half of Nebraska's total rushing yards. There are good arguments to be made for two or three players to take home defensive MVP for the first half of 2013, but for offensive MVP, the race really isn’t even close.
Defensive MVP: Randy Gregory
When Randy Gregory committed to Nebraska as a junior college transfer, he was hailed as the immediate-impact signing of the class. And he hasn’t disappointed, leading the team in sacks and quarterback hurries. Since the graduation of Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska has struggled with generating a pass rush without bringing additional pressure from the secondary, leaving the defense vulnerable to big plays. In his current form, Gregory looks to lead a resurgent Nebraska defensive line and help put right some of those problems.
Best Play: Kenny Bell’s One-Handed Touchdown Grab Against Illinois
This one wasn’t too difficult to decide. Against Illinois, Tommy Armstrong put a ball into the air that wide receiver Kenny Bell reached out and stabbed with one hand, pulling it into his body. To the amazement of the Illinois secondary (and, likely, his own) Bell dashed into the end zone for one of the most dazzling touchdown catches in Nebraska history.
Best Coach: Ron Brown, Running Backs Coach
This was a tough call between Brown and Rick Kaczenski, defensive line coach. But Brown gets the nod from me based on the improvements not only of Abdullah, but the strides made by backups Imani Cross and Terrell Newby. Not only are all the running backs playing well and making strides, but, at least at this part of the season, it appears that the fumbling issues that plagued Abdullah have been tamed.
Most Improved Player: Stanley Jean-Baptiste
Who would have thought that a wide receiver pressed into service in the defensive backfield in his sophomore year as an emergency would emerge as the star of the secondary? And yet that is clearly what has happened to Stanley Jean-Baptiste, now Nebraska’s best cornerback and likely a high pick in next year’s NFL draft. Jean-Baptiste had an interception in each of Nebraska’s first four (!) games, and has been a real touchstone for the Blackshirts as the younger members of the crew learn their trade.
Rookie of the Year: Terrell Newby
When freshman phenom recruits Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor arrived in Lincoln, many were worried that the same playing time issues that plagued Nebraska with talented young tailbacks would repeat themselves. No one wanted to see a repeat of the Aaron Green/Braylon Heard scenario where Nebraska lost the time and effort spent on talented players as they transferred.
So when Taylor redshirted, fans were somewhat relieved. And when Newby got playing time—a substantial amount, for a true freshman—fans were excited. Newby has showed the kind of flash he was advertised to have, averaging 5.8 yards per carry and having no fewer than five carries in any of Nebraska’s first six contests.
Surprise Star: Imani Cross
Last year, Imani Cross was slotted in as Nebraska’s short-yardage back, used for little more than a slightly-more-versatile fullback. Over the offseason, Cross worked to make himself more of an all-purpose back, and his work has paid off. Cross has demonstrated the ability to play on any down, at any distance, even scoring on a nice 720-degree spin move for his first touchdown of the 2013 season.
Having Cross as a short-yardage back was a useful tool for Nebraska. But having a short-yardage back that can be an all-purpose back as well? That is an incredible weapon.
Or, you could always use the Twitter machine to follow @patrickrunge.