Jeremiah Sirles (71) eyes a block that Ameer Abdullah can capitalize on against Illinois.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Crunching Blocks Help Husker Bombs Explode

By NU Athletic Communications

Randy York’s N-Sider

 Sitting in the expanded East Memorial Stadium, I saw something I don’t often see in my usual seats closer to field level. I saw some crunching blocks that paved a four-lane highway for Ameer Abdullah and his career-best 225-yard rushing day on just 20 carries. It’s an incredible sight when the offensive line recognizes a defensive alignment and makes an adjustment so efficiently that you see a 6-foot-6, 310-pound offensive left tackle, Jeremiah Sirles, running alongside Abdullah, a 5-foot-9, 190-pound I-back who’s just been shot out of a cannon. They literally occupy their own personal patch of real estate on Tom Osborne Field that affords them the luxury to survey jointly for roadblocks. Later, I see another two-man tandem all by themselves in the open field. The only difference is, this time Brent Qvale, a 6-foot-7, 315-pound offensive left tackle, is providing the personal escort, enabling Abdullah to decide simply which side of Memorial Stadium’s highway he wants to take.

On Abdullah’s 43-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter, two words floated quickly to mind … Mike Rozier. That’s the highest accolade you can get in Nebraska, and I wasn’t the only one with a flashback to a 1983 signature Heisman Trophy run against UCLA. I heard the same compliment on radio and then again later on national TV to introduce that electrifying highlight. Late in the third quarter, Kenny Bell teamed with Tommy Armstrong Jr. Activating the miniature pogo sticks inside his shoes, Bell reached skyward for Armstrong's lofted pass into traffic. His fully extended right arm and hand magnetically scooped and then pulled the ball down into the cradle of Bell's arm at the height of his vertical. After that piece of magic, it became simply a matter of weaving his way through four defenders for a 37-yard highlight reel TD of his own. Because it had to be one of college football's most spectacular plays Saturday, I couldn’t help but think if Abdulla’s run was Rozier-like, then Bell’s catch is shades of Jerry Rice.

Junior Playmakers Benefit from What’s Up Front

The beautiful part about both of those two junior playmakers is simply this: As gifted as they are, they see themselves as the ultimate benefactors from what’s happening up front. Nebraska fans may see Abdullah and Bell as five-star generals at running back and wide receiver, but both student-athletes know better. Generals are only as good as the infantry in front of them and Saturday the Huskers’ offensive line was versatile, tough, smart, disciplined and productive, clearing the way for 525 total yards that included 321 on the ground and 204 through the air.

"The O-Line, they were all in-sync. Their steps were great. Their splits were great,” Abdullah said. “The receivers don't get as much credit as they should blocking on the perimeter. They did an excellent job today as well as the fullbacks. Those are the guys who do all the dirty work. They never get their names put in the clippings. All you see is 225 from Ameer, but you never see the hard work that Andy Janovich and C.J. Zimmerer do. I just tip my hat off to those guys." The N-Sider does, too, so it’s time to go beyond the aforementioned Sirles, Qvale, Janovich and Zimmerer. Give it up for center Cole Pensick, guards Jake Cotton and Spencer Long, tackle Andrew Rodriquez and tight ends Jake Long and Cethan Carter, plus all the others who back up those guys on a game-by-game basis. They are all unsung heroes and, in essence, the heart and the soul behind the game’s biggest explosions.

Bell on Cotton’s Block: I Thought a Bomb Went Off

Bell delivered an absolute gem in mentioning the offensive line in his postgame interview. "Those guys love games like this because they know they don't have to pass set,” he said. “They get to run downhill and get after people, which they did. There was one point where I thought a bomb went off, and I looked and Jake Cotton had hit a MIKE linebacker. I was like 'Wow.' I asked the guy if he had a headache because I know I would've. It was a fun day to watch our offensive line." Indeed. Abdullah doesn’t hesitate to weigh in on what it’s like running behind an experienced offensive line, and the first word he uses is confidence. “I feel like our offensive line is a very strong bunch,” he said. “They know each other really well. They know where each other is going to be throughout plays. How we prepared was really the key. I feel like we can really run the ball with those guys."

Senior wide receiver Quincy Enunwa is one of those receivers who relish blocking on the perimeter to help the cause. He was hardly surprised by the moves Abdullah took out of a tool box that gets bigger every time he takes the field. “"He's a shifty back, and powerful at the same time … explosive,” Enunwa said. “You have to be on your toes because you never know which way he's going to go sometimes." Enunwa always sees a focused look on Abdullah’s face and Saturday, it was business as usual. Abdullah agrees. "It's always important to get a Big Ten win,” he said. “Starting off the conference, we wanted to set the tone. I knew we could run the ball against this team. Today we showed how good of a running team we can be, but I believe the sky is the limit. We can be much better."

Abdullah on Cotton’s Block: He Busted His Butt

Abdullah gives most of the credit for his Rozier-like run on his cutback play to the guys helped make it happen. "They did their best to bust down the field for me,” he said. “A lot of times in college football, the longer runs come from teammates blocking downfield. One person I remember in particular was Jake Cotton. I got the ball, outran one guy, and I looked upfield and saw Jake busting his butt downfield. He cut the guy off, and I just did the rest." Abdullah is so excited about the physicality of Nebraska’s offensive line and all the weapons that go with it, he told Armstrong that “We’re a dangerous duo.” It was just what a redshirt freshman quarterback needed to hear, and both know that when the people busting their behinds in front of them, they need to show their appreciation in the only meaningful way they can – give the same kind of all-out effort themselves.

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