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Five Steps to Salvage Nebraska’s Football Season

After a disastrous first two games, what can Nebraska do to turn things around?

Nebraska v Colorado
Nebraska head coach Matt Rhule looks on from the sideline in the fourth quarter against the Colorado Buffaloes at Folsom Field on September 9, 2023 in Boulder, Colorado.
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

First of all, let’s just stop with the talk about firing Matt Rhule.

You want to fire a coach after two losses? Against ranked opponents?

Get real.

With that said, this team just can’t get out of its own way, but here are some things this Husker team can do to help right the ship. At this point, I’m not even really looking for wins. I would be happier to just see improvements in play, development of players and the coaches showing the ability to make the tough decisions when they’re needed — even if that means admitting they were wrong.

So, here are five things that Matt Rhule and this Husker staff should do if they want to make this a positive season they can build on.

1. New Quarterback Needed

Nebraska needs to move on from Jeff Sims at QB. The guy may be talented, but he just turns the ball over too much. It was an issue at Georgia Tech and it’s been a major problem in his two games under center for Nebraska.

Sims has turned the ball over six times in two games with four interceptions and two fumbles lost when he just didn’t control the snaps. Then he almost caused a couple more turnover against Colorado when he signaled for the snap too early and it hit the motion man, and when he botched a hand-off on a run play. The carelessness that he’s demonstrated so far this year just can’t happen. It’s time to move on and give someone else a shot.

That leaves either Heinrich Haarberg or Chubba Purdy as options. Haarberg did throw a touchdown late in the game against Colorado while Purdy got in for a play and threw an incomplete pass.

No matter the name under center, what this Husker team needs is a quarterback that will take care of the ball and make a few plays here and there as needed while leaning on the run game. With a lack of weapons out wide, this Husker offense doesn’t have the pieces to be wide open. It needs to stick to the basics and minimize mistakes if the Huskers want to notch any wins this year.

2. Run the Ball MORE

Nebraska is already running the ball at a 65% clip, but I’d argue it needs to be around 70% or higher to have success. With their penchant for turning the ball over, Nebraska would be well served to just turn and hand the ball off more.

The Huskers have two pretty good runners at the moment in Gabe Ervin Jr. and Rahmir Johnson. Ervin has 129 yards on the year while Johnson has 65. Both are averaging 5.4 yards per carry. They just need the ball more.

Nebraska has rushed for 403 yards in two games. With a solid defense this season, Nebraska needs to avoid repeatedly putting them in bad positions with turnovers and stalled drives.

3. More Two Tight End Sets

This team has obviously struggled in the passing game this year, and all the blame surely doesn’t belong to Sims. The offensive line has struggled to protect the quarterback and the wide receivers have struggled at times to get open and make plays.

With the run game a focus, Nebraska should put its stable of tight ends to use both as additional blockers and as pass catchers on short routes and up the middle of the field. Both Nate Boerkircher and Thomas Fidone II have loads of potential. At 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, Boerkircher has the size to be both. As does the freshman Fidone who’s 6-6, 250 pounds. The former top TE recruit, Fidone flashed against Colorado while playing with Haarberg under center, catching his first career touchdown at the end of the game.

4. Let the Defense Fly

Nebraska had eight sacks against Colorado, showing that this Husker front has some real potential.

Both Nick Henrich and Cameron Lenhardt notched two sacks against the Buffs. Nebraska has 11 sacks on the year, led by Luke Reimer’s 2.5. A true freshman who was a four-star edge rusher, Lenhardt has shown he’s ready to be a big piece of this team. While playing extra snaps during Ty Robinson’s first-half suspension, Lenhardt showed serious talent and potential.

With that said, this defense has only taken the ball away twice — one interception and one fumble. If Nebraska wants to start winning, it needs to take the ball away more than that. The pressure helps in that regard, but the defensive backs need to start getting their hands on the ball too.

5. Avoid the Drama

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I will never understand why some sports figures and athletes take such offense to trash talk. It’s a confidence game and trash talk is as old as sports themselves.

Yet there seems to be some people in this world who just need the drama to operate — even if that drama is manufactured. All the power to them, but if that’s what you need to get motivated, I question why you’re playing in the first place.

So while these Huskers are trying to find their footing, I suggest just keeping their heads down and going to work to build a foundation that future teams can be built on.