You have to admit that Nebraska looked like it was waiving the white flag on the season early against Rutgers with four first quarter fumbles, losing two of them. Let’s get back on the plane and go home. Enough of this totally crappy year.
But Nebraska didn’t head to the airport at halftime; the Huskers came back to a frozen football field in Jersey and made a statement. Three touchdown drives of 90, 96 and 92 plays showed us a taste of what Scott Frost has been trying to implement at Nebraska. It was why Nebraska pushed so hard to play football in this pandemic year. And finally, in game eight, there it was
Is that it for the year? For most of this week, I thought that if Nebraska got a chance to go to a bowl game, they’d grab the opportunity and sprint to a (hopefully) warmer climate for a prize that has eluded this program since 2016. But then on Thursday, Frost sounded rather uncommitted to another game, and that’s a tone that stretched into his postgame comments. At first, I didn’t get it. The “we just want to play football” mindset has been a source of ridicule for idiots in the media as well as the social media teams at Illinois and Minnesota, who sarcastically thanked Nebraska on Twitter for “bringing back B1G football” (and then tried to delete the evidence of their jackholery). Time to put our money where our mouth is, and take the next step.
But nine months of this pandemic has taken it’s toll. In normal years, a bowl game might mean an extra 15 practices and a chance to get youngsters more development. But this year, with the regular season stretching nearly to Christmas, a bowl game could be as soon as next weekend. That’s maybe five or six extra practices, and with most of the perks of a bowl game eliminated. And players who haven’t been able to see their families since the spring wouldn’t be able to spend the holidays with them.
So I get it. And considering that Nebraska dropped turds the week after beating Penn State and Purdue earlier this season, maybe you want to let that second half domination be your last memory of 2020. I get that. And let’s be honest here - most bowls will want a better team than a five-loss Nebraska team.
But I’m also hoping these guys will want another chance to show that they can build on success. Most bowl games will allow their families to attend, so it’s a chance to play for them. Call me a masochist, but I’d love to see one more Nebraska football game in 2020. The pandemic short-changed us four games and kept fans out of the stadium; I’ll gladly enjoy one more game like I enjoyed other sports when they finally returned this summer.
So it’s onto the report card, and as always, your feedback is welcome in the comments.
QB: How the heck do I grade Adrian Martinez in this game? 90% of the time, he was superb. He completed over 85% of his passes for 255 yards to ten (!!!) different receivers. He ran for 157 yards and two touchdowns, averaging nearly seven yards a carry. That’s a solid A to A+ grade.
He also lost two fumbles and threw two interceptions. Nebraska going minus-3 in turnovers was the difference between this game being a 49-10 blowout and a game still in question in the fourth quarter. Some of that can be blamed on the frigid cold, but that’s also what Adrian Martinez brings to the table. Since returning to the starting job, he’s been closer to the guy we thought he was as a freshman, but we still have the mistakes we thought we’d be past by now. Count me as a guy who still believe that despite the warts in his game, Adrian Martinez is still Nebraska’s best quarterback that we’ve seen on the field. Jon suggested I grade him “inconclusive”, but I’m not sure I can say that. We’ve seen enough to know what he is. Fans are hard on Nebraska quarterbacks. Scott Frost was booed. Some people still don’t believe Eric Crouch should have been the starter at Nebraska. Many still ridicule Taylor Martinez, and quite a few don’t appreciate Tommy Armstrong’s heart. The downs of this game drop his grade, but I’ll mark it as a B.
I-Back: Dedrick Mills has been woefully underused in his time at Nebraska. When he’s touched the ball 20 or more times, he’s delivered throughout his career. I get why he might want to move on after a big game like this, but I suspect that the NFL will want to see more from him than a few games. You don’t get many chances with the NFL, so my perspective is that you want to take advantage of every opportunity to develop and prove yourself before jumping to the league, until you have nothing more to prove. And I think Mills could sure use a chance to show more consistent performance. This one was a great performance as he rolled over undersized Rutgers’ defenders all evening long. And over time, it was Rutgers’ waiving the white flag of surrender. If that’s the end of Mills’ career at Nebraska, I’ll remember his 236 yards fondly. Grade: A+
Wan’Dale: 160 pounds of heart, muscle and guts. He takes a lickin’...and bounces right back up. Robinson probably was handed the ball too much in the backfield, but his presence back there also sparked enough of a distraction to spring Mills and Martinez for some nice gains. And what a catch on that 38 yard completion of the rainbow on third down. An impressive 103 yard performance by #1. Grade: A
Wide Receivers: I think Nebraska’s tight ends had their best game since perhaps the days of Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton. Jack Stoll’s 23 yard catch down the middle was a thing of beauty. I do wish we would have seen more throws to receivers downfield, like Alante Brown’s 22 yard catch...but under the conditions, it’s probably OK. Grade: A-
Offensive Line: Putting that kind of rushing performance on the board starting three freshmen offensive linemen is pretty solid. But there also were four penalties on the line to take issue with. Protection wasn’t great either, with three sacks and ten tackles for loss by Rutgers. Rutgers has been aggressive with their defense all season, setting themselves up for a boom or bust performance. Tyler Corcoran did fine in his first game action; he’s another reason why I’d like to see Nebraska in a bowl game. Grade: B-
Defensive Line: While the defensive line didn’t put up the numbers like they did the week before, the line did it’s job clogging the middle. Grade: B
Linebackers: Nick Henrich jumped right into the fray to replace Luke Reimer on the inside, and put up 12 tackles to lead the Big Red. The presumed combination of Henrich and Reimer on the inside next year looks like it’ll be solid. Garrett Nelson and Pheldarius Payne had a big games on the outside as well; each had five tackles. The big bust? Letting Bo Melton get away down field on Jojo Domann; not sure that wasn’t a bad alignment, though. Grade: A-
Secondary: Cam Taylor-Britt had two highlight reel plays: a four yard tackle for a loss where he shed a block on a screen pass and drilled Bo Melton, then skying for an interception in the fourth quarter to snuff out Rutgers last shot to tie the game. Is Taylor-Britt thinking about jumping to the NFL? I think he has the talent to play at that level someday, but he’s not there yet. Like Mills, I think he’s better suited to play one more season in Lincoln. Without much of a passing threat from Rutgers and Nebraska’s front seven cleaning up Rutgers ground game, the secondary wasn’t particularly challenged. Grade: A-
Special Teams: The highlight of the game was Adrian Martinez’s pooch punt. Kickoffs were a disaster, with Rutgers getting a touchdown and 192 yards in returns. The Knights also converted a fake punt on fourth and 14. Time to finish burning down this part of the game and start over from scratch. Grade: F
Overall: B- Don’t turn the ball over and merely be mediocre on special teams, and this might have been an “A” performance.
How would you grade the Huskers performance against Rutgers?
This poll is closed
A - Amazing second half
B - Bunch of turnovers spoiled an otherwise impressive performance
C - Can’t we stop shooting ourselves in the foot??
D - Don’t believe it took until the fourth quarter to put Rutgers away.
Elsewhere in College Football
Notre Dame - D- The Irish are new to this whole championship game concept, but if they ever find themselves in that position again, worry about this week’s game rather than whether mom and dad can go to the bowl game.
Iowa State: B- Close, but no cigar.
Wisconsin: C- From looking like a CFP contender at the start of the season to limping to the finish.