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Six Reasons for Hope: Nebraska Football’s 2021 Season

It isn’t all dread around these parts. Here are six reasons that I have hope for the upcoming 2021 Nebraska football season.

Nebraska v Rutgers Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images

Last week I published my six reasons for dread. It was an uplifting article for sure. Well since I am all about being positive here are my six reasons for hope for this upcoming season.

Humbled Coaching Staff with Sense of Urgency

If this coaching staff hasn’t been humbled by this time (12-20 record) then there’s nothing we can do for them.

Fortunately I don’t think that is the case. Listening to interviews and post-practice comments it is pretty obvious that this coaching staff has taken more than a few glimpses in the mirror.

The most notable was a comment by offensive line coach Greg Austin. He noted that Frost made a change in the tempo of practice. Austin said, “He’s (Frost) allowed us to really emphasize finishing. It’s been really cool to see us playing until the end of the whistle with less emphasis on going fast. That’s a big adjustment. If you want to get more explosive plays, you’ve got to stick on blocks longer. You can’t stick on blocks if you’re tired as s___.”

I’ve said it multiple times here, that this staff had to make some adjustments in moving to the Big Ten. Things need to be cleaner and there is less margin for error in this conference.

The willingness to make changes, especially if going fast was a part of the identity, is notable to me.

Healthy and Leaner Version of Adrian Martinez

The past two seasons I would describe Martinez as bulky. It didn’t help that it looked like he had a brace for every joint on his body. I don’t know if he put on weight because he thought it might protect him from injuries or if it happened because he was barely healthy enough to play.

Enter this past spring game. It is true there was no tackling and they literally played two-hand-touch for the fist half. It is also true that Martinez looked thinner, lighter and two steps faster than he did in 2019 and 2020.

There have also been reports that he has had better velocity on his throws as well.

The concern as always is when, not if, he will get injured. Hopefully the offense will be able to run the ball with the running backs at an increased clip in 2021. Martinez lead the team in rushing in 2020 and that’s not what we want.

Several of the running backs mentioned the increased emphasis on the downhill running game. If that ends up being true then Nebraska shouldn’t have to run Adrian Martinez as much as it has in the past.

That would be a great thing and maybe he will stay healthy.

The Wide Receiver Room - Needs Taller Doors

We’ve already been down this road. Nebraska obviously has taken an affirmative step to get bigger at the wide receiver position.

JD Spielman and Wan’Dale Robinson, Nebraska most productive receivers, have both transferred to other schools.

Looking down the line at the current wide receivers every one of them are more comparable, physically, to Stanley Morgan than Spielman or Robinson.

You could say that it might end up being addition by subtraction. That isn’t disparaging toward Spielman and Robinson themselves but maybe Frost tried to force feed those guys in 2019 and especially to Robinson in 2020. Best to remind ourselves that Robinson didn’t score a touchdown until the final game of the season against Rutgers.

Robinson and Spielman likely could have fit better in the offense Frost was able to run at UCF. The coaching staff has learned that the UCF offense probably isn’t going to find it’s way to Lincoln so they needed to get bigger.

Which is what they have done at wide receiver. A taller receiver probably gives Martinez a little more margin for error on his throws. His huge tight ends should help as well.

Nebraska has gotten bigger at every position on offense and finally in 2021 we should see the fruit of that decision at wide receiver.

Cohesive Offensive Line - They Have Their Own Burrito

Credit to Muchachos for embracing NIL as the Nebraska offensive line has their own burrito. It’s $15.00 and it sounds delicious.

With that said the offensive line finished strong in 2020 and appeared to have embraced running the ball. It starts and ends with Cam Jurgens. His snapping issues appear to be a thing of the past. He is one of the best athletes on the team and reportedly has embraced the leadership role for the offensive line.

Bryce Benhart did a lot of growing last year and when Turner Cocoran gets healthy he will anchor the other side of the line. Until then Brant Banks will be filling in and I have a feeling he will be successful.

Ethan Piper and Matt Sichterman will take over the guard spots. It is a young group but an impressive group that will only get better as we go forward.

It all starts with Cam Jurgens who could be in for an all-conference type of season.

Renewed Focus on Special Teams

The special team’s unit for Nebraska has been historically bad. Hopefully, that is changing.

Reports out of camp make it sound like Coach Mike Dawson, who took over the special teams duties, has been some sort of revelation for the special teams unit. He has been bringing a new sense of excitement, fun and pride to special teams for this 2021 team which has obviously been missing in years past.

One thing that has changed is that Nebraska has been starting every practice with special team. It matters and they are going to make sure the players know it matters.

Continuing to build depth throughout the roster will also help on special teams.

Interesting to note that Defensive Backs Coach Travis Fisher told his players that they all need to get on a special teams unit one way or another.

Football is a game of inches. The poor special teams play over the past several seasons has lost this team games. Scott Frost’s record in one score games is not good and special teams is a big reason why.

We will see when the bullets start flying but the apparent renewed passion and focus on special teams gives me hope for this 2021 season.

Depth at All Three Levels on Defense

Get old and stay old.

That is something I have learned personally as a coach and as an observer of Nebraska football. If you have freshmen coming in to the Nebraska program and starting or playing a lot of snaps then you better hope it’s because they are special.

That has not been the case during Scott Frost’s tenure. If Nebraska has had freshmen come in and play it’s because there is nobody there to stop them. That has changed.

This is especially true on the defensive side of the. The defensive line, line backers and secondary are have gotten “old.”

A couple of examples: Mitch Sherman of The Athletic has Nick Henrich as a back-up at inside linebacker. He could start for a lot of teams and he is one of my picks to have a big season.

On the defensive line, Jordan Riley is a monster and he’s also on the two-deep. At defensive back, a former five-star transfer from Ohio State isn’t slated to start at this point. In the past it is likely that he would have been slotted to start from the beginning but the depth at defensive back has gotten deeper and deeper.