Chris Avery

What happened?

Even with a bye week to dull the pain, that’s really all I can ask. Too many times over the years, Nebraska throws down a serious clunker that almost defies all logic. This one against the Gophers was definitely one for the books.

Why did Nebraska look so uninterested? It surely wasn’t the cold weather, because all the players live in Nebraska now. Why did Nebraska look so uninspired? It surely wasn’t because they were out of the Big Ten West division race beforehand. Why did Nebraska look so weak and lackadaisical? It’s definitely not because of the new strength staff that seemingly knows what it’s doing.

So what was it? Well, it’s the compounding issues that have plagued the Huskers for years. Even with improvements here and there, there’s no question that they are still stuck in the mud without a winning mentality across the board, lack of focus at crucial times, severe lack of depth and playmakers, and the pure toughness it takes to punch back before things get rough.

These are the types of performances that Scott Frost was brought here to end. But the deficiencies are so great, that it’s going to take longer than anticipated.

After decent play from Noah Vedral, and then an injury that sidelined him as well, Andrew Bunch was thrown into the fire. He’s a competitive guy, but without quality, starter reps in practice throughout the week (due to his rank on the depth chart), he was definitely playing behind the chains. Bunch played OK, but Frost said they had to reach into “Day 1 install” stuff for play calls. Tough deal. And it’s pretty obvious they are saving freshman speedster Luke McCaffrey for later.

If this game doesn’t quiet the Adrian Martinez haters, I’m not sure what will.

It’s pretty obvious that this team’s struggles are not solely based on what quarterback trots out there.

The absolute cause for concern is the offensive line. I don’t care how basic a team gets to try to make plays, if you’re repeatedly getting your behind kicked at the line of scrimmage, nothing, and I mean nothing, will work. The issue with the line goes back several coaches. It takes time to develop something special and keep it consistently plugging away. But within the lack of depth on the offensive line is the tremendous lack of tough, physical football. They don’t maul anyone. They don’t push the pile. There’s no nastiness. And they usually end up watching our ball carriers take a beating behind the line of scrimmage. This current line is incredibly young and still developing, but things have to change soon. As noted before, Frost has recruited some mammoth freshman linemen, but do you want to throw them in the fray so soon, knowing that they probably aren’t ready? The coaches have to take advantage of the four-game redshirt rule with these guys. You recruited 6-foot-9 Bryce Benhart to be a staple at Nebraska. Let’s see what he can do. Because I know everyone is sick and tired of seeing the opponent’s defensive line take control upfront like it’s no big deal. I mean, have you ever seen our quarterbacks and running backs harassed in the backfield so quickly and so often? Brutal.

To add more fuel to the fire, Minnesota routinely rushed only three or four defensive linemen at a time. And guess what? The Gophers got pressure and blew through NU’s five linemen every single time! This isn’t a talent issue that we saw against Minnesota. This is a toughness and attitude issue. But when this is happening, good luck to the offense running or throwing.

From the first whistle, Minnesota was more confident, more physical and the game seemed as though it meant more. Where is the Huskers’ fire and competitive mentality? The Gophers know who they are — a team that will play smashmouth football and be physical doing so. It’s not like they are stacked with talent. They are not, but against Nebraska, it might as well have been Alabama. They brought the drama, the Huskers received.

Before the game, Minnesota was 139th in rushing yards per game, 109th in passing yards per game and 125th in total yards per game. It squeaked out wins over teams like South Dakota State, Fresno State and Georgia Southern, yet against Nebraska, the Gophers looked like national champs. Coming into the game, the Gophers averaged just 2.2 yards per carry! But at one point in the game, they were at an astonishing 11.8 per carry. Now, at some point, someone on defense has to get tired of being slapped around like that. But no one punched back. And that’s what is so sad to see. These guys care, right? I know the majority has to.

— Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting. If this doesn’t open your eyes to the fact the Huskers need better recruiting of wide receivers and offensive linemen, then nothing will. Depth is an issue at every spot, but they have to load up.

— Taking Wan’Dale Robinson and JD Spielman out of the equation, Nebraska has ZERO wide receivers who can get open and create separation. You simply can’t scheme for or send every player in motion pre-snap to create space. You have to win man-to-man battles. There’s simply not enough weapons, and not enough time to throw to them.

— One flicker of a bright spot was getting wide receiver Kade Warner back. He’s been injured and finally got some playing time, immediately catching three passes. He’ll never burn past you or outjump you, but he’s always been reliable with his hands and knowing where to be on his routes.

— On the other hand, just like with Mike Williams the previous week, Jaron Woodyard finally gets some playing time at wide receiver after riding the bench, but he immediately gets called for a false start, negating a positive offensive play. You just can’t have that. And speaking of back-breaking penalties, the block in the back by Kanawai Noa was dang well worth almost 50 yards. Robinson had an unbelievable run into the red zone that was nullified because of it. Once again, the Huskers would stifle their own momentum.

— The play selection for Mo Washington and Dedrick Mills was very questionable. It’s almost as though they should’ve been swapped out for the respective plays. You had Washington trying to plow up the middle, yet had Mills out in space more often than not. Just not sure about it, unless it was just trying to break some tendencies.

— Well, the bye week definitely came at a good time to heal some injuries, and maybe even affords the team time for some good soul-searching. Who do you want to be? How hard are you going to fight for it? Nothing easier is coming.

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