Guess what? Nebraska lost yet another game by single digits...just like all but one of the Huskers 13 losses over the last two seasons. Other than getting demolished by Oklahoma (in Mickey Joseph’s first game as interim coach), the “changes in voice” haven’t actually made a significant difference in this program. To make it crystal clear:
All the talk that Mickey Joseph has this team believing in itself and is playing harder and better than under Scott Frost is just wishful thinking. You know what changed for Nebraska to go 2-2 under Mickey Joseph? The schedule.
Last season, Nebraska played Ohio State and Michigan State from the East Division; this season, they are replaced by Indiana and Rutgers. Two teams that played in New Years’ Six bowls replaced by two of the East Division’s bottom dwellers. Oh, and those games against the Buckeyes and Spartans? Single digit losses as well.
That was the “progress” some thought they saw the previous two weeks. Purdue shattered all those delusions racing out to a 27-10 lead, which despite Trey Palmer’s record-setting heroic efforts, never really was in danger of losing the game. Purdue’s win probability stayed above 80% nearly the entire game. (For comparison sake, in last year’s game in Lincoln, Nebraska actually had a higher win probability against Purdue for most of the game.)
Mickey Joseph hasn’t made Nebraska worse, to be sure. Other than the Oklahoma blowout loss, his teams have played much like Scott Frost’s have the last few years. Flashes of amazing offense and inconsistent defense. Like Joseph, interim defensive coordinator Bill Busch has benefited more from the schedule-makers than his actual schemes. Purdue racked up 38 first downs and 608 yards against the Big Red; the last defensive coordinator to get torched like that got fired. And there’s no need to fire anybody else midseason; there aren’t enough interns, analysts and graduate assistants available to keep churning the staff.
I get why people WANT to believe in Mickey; he’s a former Husker and a great recruiter. He could be one heck of an asset to the next Nebraska head coach, and hopefully, both will be interested in that next season. In the meantime, fans need to stop poisoning that process by clinging to the hope that “both” can somehow be the same guy.
Nebraska football is not a starter job, though to be fair, over the last 50 years, Nebraska has had better success with promoting assistants than going outside the program. Some boosters wanted to run off Tom Osborne in the mid 1970s (remember, he almost left for Colorado!), while both Frank Solich and Bo Pelini were fired after six seasons. But with the complexities of fan expectations, the transfer portal, Name-Image-Licensing and everything else in college football, Nebraska needs to find an experienced head coach who can hit the ground running and immediately know how to take advantage of the resources available at Nebraska.
Looking around at big-time programs, you see several that are struggling mightily after filling vacancies with touted assistants. Marcus Freeman and Notre Dame found ways to lose to Marshall and Stanford, while Brent Venables and Oklahoma went into a freefall after crushing Nebraska. So let’s be careful with advocating anybody who isn’t fully prepared to take over a program like Nebraska.
Nebraska is NOT a starter job.
With that, it’s on with the report card; as always, your feedback is welcome in the comments.
QB: Casey Thompson played pretty well, considering the lack of protection he was receiving much of the evening. Yes, there were two ghastly interceptions, but Trey Palmer doesn’t get his name in the record books without his quarterback getting him the ball. Grade: B
I-Back: Anthony Grant was mostly ineffective, though I put most of that on the offensive line’s lack of push. I do wonder if Ajay Allen couldn’t have found a way to generate a bit more yards after contact if he were available. Grade: D+
WR: Hello, Big Ten offensive player of the week Trey Palmer. When he’s on the field, he’s almost assuredly the best player on the field against every opponent that doesn’t rhyme with Fichigan. Purdue had nobody who could cover him, and I suspect that only the Weasels, Squawkeyes and Badgers can try to match up with him. Palmer’s 297 yards of offense was huge, but let’s also recognize that only 179 yards of offense came from the rest of the skill players...and 106 of that came from three plays by Oliver Martin, Travis Vokolek and a scramble by Thompson. So outside of those 16 plays, Nebraska netted 76 yards on 36 plays. Yuck. Grade: A++ for Palmer.
OL: I thought the offensive line looked a bit better this week...but “a bit better” is a kinder way of saying “less awful”. Tackle play is still mostly awful and you can’t simply move everybody to guard. SOMEONE has to play on the edge and attempt to keep Casey Thompson out of the hospital. Grade: D-
DL: I was surprised how well Nebraska was able to pressure Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell by rushing just three linemen. But sending more people didn’t help at all, and when you allow Purdue’s running backs to gash you for 219 yards...it’s not good at all. Especially with Illinois and Minnesota up next. Grade: D-
LB: When Nick Heinrich went down, it left a huge hole in the middle of a linebacker corps that was already missing Luke Reimer. Needless to say, “next man up” left a lot to be desired. Grade: F
Secondary: Malcolm Hartzog keeps finding himself in the right place at the right time; he looked like O’Connell’s intended receiver on that throw into the end zone. But after that, it was hard to find much positive in the secondary. Grade: D-
Special teams: This might have been Nebraska’s best special teams performance in years: a blocked punt, three-for-three on field goals, and a 32 yard kickoff return are all above average. A good day for an aspect of Nebraska’s football program that has been an issue. Grade: A-
Overall: D+ Trey Palmer helped keep it close, but Nebraska needs far more on both sides of the ball. A Purdue shanked extra point and missed 41 yard field goal made the final score a lot closer than it really was.
How would you grade the Huskers performance against Purdue?
This poll is closed
A - Trey Palmer just needed another chance
B - But for some bad defense, this should have been a Husker win
C - Couldn’t stop Purdue...though Purdue couldn’t stop Palmer
D - Disappointed that a record-breaking performance by Trey Palmer was for naught.
F - Failed to win, yet again.