There were a lot of things for Husker fans to get excited about early, even if the final result ended up looking like more-of-the-same. National media types may just note the final score and move on, but there were flashes to show that Nebraska is improved at many positions this season.
That being said, there were several positions that didn’t show improvement, and one in particular was practically classified “missing in action”. In some respect, the fact that Nebraska was as successful as it was should be encouraging I suspect that injuries and inexperience were the main reasons for that, so right now, I’m avoiding pressing the panic button. After all, in this year of COVID, fans need to be patient...and perhaps consider this bonus football or a quasi-spring training.
There’s going to be a lot of weirdness this season, and without breaking privacy rules, we probably will never know just how much COVID has affected Nebraska. This quote from Scott Frost last week certainly raised my eyebrows at the time:
“We’ve already had enough on our team that have either tested positive or have antibodies that I think we’ve gotten to a place where we’re a little bit less at risk.”
So I’m going to presume that many players have missed some training or practice, and that is affecting some of what we are seeing. My takeaway is that we should be pleased overall with the work-in-progress we saw, and try to remain even more patient as Frost and his staff continue to rebuild the program.
One thing that needs to get fixed was the delay of game penalty after Nebraska held Ohio State to a field goal in the second quarter. There’s no excuse for not getting that play in on time; the coaching staff knew they’d be facing a first-and-ten for a couple of minutes. Nebraska had seized momentum at that point, and squandered it right there. Instead of the Huskers marching down the field to tie the game or take the lead, Nebraska lost 15 yards on the drive and set up Ohio State’s last score of the first half. That was the point the game slipped away from the Huskers.
With that, we’re off to the position grades. As always, your feedback is welcome in the comments!
QB: I’d argue that Nebraska’s two best players both play quarterback at this time. That being said, only one of them can - and should be - the primary quarterback, and right now, that’s clearly Adrian Martinez. Martinez has the experience, but perhaps more importantly, Luke McCaffrey’s talents may be better suited for other positions. (Big brother Christian is one of the best running backs in the NFL, FWIW.) Go ahead and line McCaffrey up all over the field to take advantage of his talents. Doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t take some snaps at quarterback; in fact, he should, because it gives defensive coordinators yet one more thing to prepare for. Both quarterbacks ran the ball well, aside from two bad fumbles, and threw the ball well, despite having limited options to work with in the passing game. Those turnovers prevent me from giving them a grade higher than a B+
I-Back: I had higher expectations for Dedrick Mills role in this game, as I continue to believe that Mills has been underutilized in his time in Lincoln. I do love the wrinkle of running some Power-I with Mills at fullback and McCaffrey or Wan’Dale Robinson at I-back. I wonder how long until we see this morph into the wishbone with both of those dynamic players as halfbacks. Throw out Mills first carry, where he was kind of hung out to dry, and Mills had an OK day. I really think Mills needs to be a 15-20 carry back. Grade: C+
Receivers: One noticeable change in the offense is the increased use of the tight end in the passing game. Austin Allen has always been an intriguing player to me, and with it looking like Jack Stoll’s knee injury could be serious, could see an increased role. But outside of Wan’Dale Robinson, the receiver corps was notable by their absence. (Who else had to look up South Dakota transfer Levi Falck during the first half?) Wide receiver development has been a major issue at Nebraska dating back into the Riley era, and game one gives you the impression of further regression instead of development. Again, it’s just one game, but I have to wonder how long Nebraska can make this offense work without having a threat of throwing the ball 15-20 yards down field? Grade: D
Offensive Line: Nebraska’s offensive line held up very well against a talent-loaded offensive line aside from two holding calls. I especially like seeing youngsters like Ethan Pieper and Tyler Corcoran getting some snaps. Grade: B+
Defensive Line: Send three guys to the NFL and get better? Seems improbable, if not impossible...but it may be happening. Next week against Wisconsin should be the acid test on that, but this week, Nebraska’s front played very well. Sophomore Casey Rogers is one of those players I want to keep an eye on; he had four tackles and seemed to be disruptive. Grade: B+
Linebackers: Will Honas played awfully well with a couple of sacks of Justin Fields. JoJo Domann was good as well, especially blowing up that third down run just before halftime. Too bad the offense squandered that momentum. Caleb Tannor also seems to have turned a corner with his game. Grade: B
Secondary: Ohio State has the best receivers Nebraska will face this season, but even so, Nebraska’s secondary wasn’t really up to the task. Dicaprio Bootle’s breakup in the endzone was a notable exception. Cam Taylor-Britt’s targeting ejection was a unnecessary mistake, and will hurt NU next week against Wisconsin. Deontai Williams ejection needs a second review at a higher level because Williams clearly did not hit Jaxon Smith-Njigba in the shoulder or higher. Grade: D
Overall: C+ Nebraska fans probably got their hopes up in the first half, but let’s not forget that this Ohio State will be a favorite to make the College Football Playoff. Fix more of the “bleah” and build on the good things that happened.
How would you grade the Huskers for their loss to Ohio State?
This poll is closed
B - Better than we feared
C - Some good, some bad
D - Didn’t compete well in the second half
F - Failed yet again
Elsewhere in College Football
Michigan State: F “Sparty NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”
Minnesota: D- The Goofers may have been down a few players, but last night, it looks like fate is demanding payback for the 2019 season.
Wisconsin: A Not sure how ready Illinois was, but it sure looks like Graham Mertz is about to Wally Pipp Jack Coan.