Dateline: Somewhere high above SEC territory
First an admission... I only watched parts of the game live on my phone at Universal Studios Florida. We were making up a Spring Break 2020 trip as the tickets and airfare were going to be expiring. I did rewatch much of the game last night and this morning, but it didn’t really change my opinion that Nebraska’s first half performance was it’s worst since, well, the last time the Huskers traveled to Minneapolis. After the game, Gophers coach PJ Fleck said it was a battle between “culture and skill”, and Fleck’s boat-rowing culture emerged victorious once again.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Nebraska was the most talented team on the field; in fact, I’m pretty sure Fleck concedes that point as well. But Fleck has built something that Scott Frost has been unable to do, and that’s build a winning culture. For much of the past month, the talk was that Nebraska was “so close” to knocking off several highly ranked undefeated football teams. So what happened when the Huskers took the field against a team that wasn’t so?
Couldn’t block. Couldn’t tackle. Couldn’t cover. Couldn’t run or pass.
The Huskers allowed Tanner Morgan to play like Tom Brady, and how could he not? He wasn’t under any pressure all day, and in the first half, his receivers were pretty much wide open. Sure, the defense played much better in the second and gave Nebraska’s offense several chances to take control of the game.
But they didn’t. There’s that culture thing. Or is it knowing how to win. All sorts of euphemisms that could be used here, but the bottom line is that Nebraska lost a game they should have won, and to be brutally honest, should have won fairly convincingly.
Many will try to make this game a referendum on Scott Frost; I won’t because at this time, it’s just unnecessary noise.
With that, it’s on to this week’s report card. As always, your feedback is welcome in the comments.
QB: Adrian Martinez was off in this game. Perhaps he was injured, if you believe the rumors. But he didn’t have any turnovers, but the unnecessary safety he took with five minutes left in the game might as well have been one. From my perspective, I do believe based on his body positioning and where his feet were, Martinez crossed the plane of the goal line in the third quarter. Grade: D+
I-Back: Rahmir Johnson was having a good day, up until that helmet-to-helmet collision in the third quarter. Should that have been reviewed for targeting? Jacquez Yant’s stumble thanks to the turf monster on that 4th and three inches play should haunt him throughout the bye week. Sevion Morrison looked more consistent than Yant in the fourth quarter. Grade: C-
WR: Austin Allen was the star of the game for Nebraska with 121 yards receiving. Zavier Betts showed a couple of flashes as well. Not sure what the trick play was supposed to be with Oliver Martin, though. But the bottom line for me was that the receivers weren’t in sync with Martinez in this game, and frequently, that’s because the receivers weren’t running the right routes. Grade: C-
OL: Nebraska’s young offensive line got owned in this game, especially the right side of the line. I dare say that if Nebraska had Minnesota’s offensive line, the Big Red would have won by three touchdowns... Certainly, Adrian Martinez wouldn’t have needed to heave the ball out of bounds from the end zone with better protection. Grade: F
DL: Nebraska tried to use just two defensive linemen and five linebackers early on, and Minnesota gouged the Huskers. The defense played a little better when that scheme was abandoned. Grade: F
LB: Missed tackles and a lack of pressure on Tanner Morgan got this game started on the wrong note. In fairness, the Blackshirts held Minnesota to just 67 yards in the first 25 minutes of the second half, though when Minnesota committed to full power at the end, it was game-over for Nebraska. Grade: F
Secondary: Cam Taylor-Britt single handedly bought time for Nebraska’s offense to get things figured out in the second half. But wide open receivers makes it difficult to give a good grade here. Grade: C-
Special Teams: William Przystup punted very well, averaging over 48 yards per punt. Kick coverage was good as well, though you’d like to see that punt just before halftime get downed before going into the end zone. But Connor Culp’s kicking woes are back. How he nails a 50 yard field goal and then misfires so badly on a shorter field goal and PATs is a mystery. (I had the sound turned off to avoid listening to Brian Custer, who turned his awful Fox college announcing work into a gig with ESPN. But did he mishit a second PAT attempt in the second half?) Grade: D-
Overall: F I do believe that Nebraska is close...really close, in fact, to being a really good team. What’s missing? Two things: First, Nebraska needs to be more physical up front on both lines. Protect better, block better, and pressure the quarterback without having to blitz. The second is an intangible: For all of the speed and skills this team has, they don’t know what it takes to win at this level. Losing seasons in five of the six post-Pelini years means the institutional knowledge on what it takes to win is long gone. Even Frost’s staff has an issue; at Central Florida and Nebraska, they’ve combined for only one (albeit magical) winning season going on six seasons.
I bring this up because while we laugh about Ferentz-ball, that’s how teams win the Big Ten’s west division. Iowa, Northwestern, Minnesota and Wisconsin know what they are doing and more important, they do all of the little things to make sure it works. I love the creativity of what Scott Frost and Matt Lubick are trying to accomplish with this offense, but because this offense hasn’t mastered the fundamentals first, the Huskers are like the 17 year old kid that gets to drive his parent’s sports car instead of the old Toyota Corolla. Once again, the Huskers wound up in the ditch again.
This isn’t hopeless; we HAVE seen tremendous improvement this season on offense with fewer turnovers. But now Nebraska needs to be able to match the physical power that Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota bring. And let’s talk about Iowa a bit. I think everybody needs to pause and admit that the idea of voting Iowa #2 in the nation with THAT offense was absurd. There was a large amount of groupthink going on with that vote, because (a) the Hawkeyes defense is very good and (b) Kirk Ferentz has earned a lot of respect for what he’s done in his career. And a Nebraska blogger isn’t in a great position to chirp about Iowa right now, because the Huskers keep spinning out on a week to week basis.
How does Nebraska stop losing control of the car week after week? That’s a question that can’t really be answered mid-season. But certainly everyone inside that football program in Lincoln is contemplating that answer.
How would you grade the Huskers performance against Minnesota?
This poll is closed
A - Ahhm a Gopher fan
B - But I’m an Iowa fan
C - Could have gone a lot better in the first half, but the second half gave Husker fans hope
D - Didn’t play well in the first half.
F - Insert your favorite "F" term here.