Far too often, the same column — or even the same conversation at the office — can be had after Saturday games of Nebraska football. I watch a lot of games each weekend, and the Huskers continue to be the most snakebit team I’ve ever seen. It’s excruciatingly puzzling how long the self-inflicted play has gone on. I mean, it goes back years and several coaching staffs. The mental gaffes, the lack of execution and focus, the poor defense on late downs and being good enough to win, yet allowing teams to just dominate one or more phases of the game with seemingly no answer in sight.
Plain and simple, with 31 points on the board while playing the second- and third-string quarterbacks, Nebraska should’ve won that game. Yet, here we are again, lamenting another one that got away and wondering just how it happened.
Truth is, Nebraska might be heading for a third straight four-win season. Can the Huskers bag another win or two? Maybe. But, as we see, no matter the opponent, Nebraska right now has to play nearly perfect in every phase for the entire game to win. And that’s not very likely, unfortunately. Just not there yet mentally or physically. I believe in a couple of years that will be different. But the foundation for what Scott Frost wants is still being laid, and it’s going to take time.
“Culture” was the buzzword again after the loss to the mighty Hoosiers. Frost told a story of how captain Darrion Daniels had to yell at some of the guys just to get up in the morning and get going on game day. It’s clear that not all of the guys truly understand that winning culture. Daniels has been a blessing as a transfer in regard to playing time and leadership. But he, and Frost, can only do so much. The players have to want to act like a winner. When a team can properly self-police, then you have something. But it seems as though the accountability right now is mostly with a few seniors, along with the majority of the younger guys that are relatively new. You can do everything you’re told, but until you make it a “team-first lifestyle,” so to speak, you’re not truly invested in Nebraska and Frost’s vision. Let’s hope in the next year or two, that winning culture will really take hold. Maybe a key cog in that will be young superstar Wan’dale Robinson, who after the game talked about this very subject, and how certain players haven’t bought in and aren’t accepting of what is being asked of them.
Until everyone is on the same page, and the roster holes get filled, the Jekyll-and-Hyde acts on the field will continue.
In the last game, Nebraska’s defense couldn’t stop the run game, but against Indiana, there were wide receivers running open all over the field. What is going on? Is it scheme? Players? Communication? Unfortunately, it’s probably a little bit of everything. Truth is, NU does not have the roster talent needed to play the 3-4 defense, especially the lack of playmakers at defensive line and linebacker. Nebraska was heavily after junior college linebackers with pass-rush ability before the season. Somehow, the Huskers struck out on all of them. It’s a glaring weakness. The Blackshirts have ZERO pass rush, and it allowed Indiana to do anything it wanted in the passing game on Saturday. Nebraska hasn’t been able to blitz much, either, because it’s a step slow doing that. And, when you can’t get to the quarterback, then your defensive backs are put in an even worse position. When was the last time you said to yourself, “Wow, look at that closing speed?” Well, besides a few guys like JoJo Domann or Cam Taylor-Britt, you haven’t! The closing speed and pass rush ability is borderline embarrassing for NU’s front seven to eight players.
But that’s where recruiting HAS to come in with some impact players.
Isn’t it so weird how the same defensive struggles also go back to former coaches Bob Diaco, Mark Banker, Kevin Cosgrove, John Papuchis/Carl Pelini? Now, Bo Pelini had some good defenses, but you get the idea. How is it possible that it has remained the same for so long? Snakebit, no doubt. Current defensive coordinator Eric Chinander is getting bashed, but we might have to hold out some judgment until there’s at least more pieces to the puzzle in a year or two.
— Third-down defense continues to be a joke. How do opponents make it look so easy when converting what should be difficult third-and-longs? Third down and 7? 10? 17? It doesn’t matter. The longer the yardage, it almost becomes easier than third-and-1. How it that possible? So frustrating and exhausting. I think IU gained something like 136 yards on third down on Saturday via the run and pass, while converting 9 of 15 conversions on third and fourth down. That is pathetic for the Blackshirts.
— Missed field goal, a 19-yard shanked punt and a kickoff out of bounds. These ridiculous special teams mistakes led to great field position for IU and points. Can’t win doing that. Somewhere Bruce Read is smiling.
— One player, maybe two were hurt, but not six! Six times when Nebraska was rolling with its up-tempo offense, a Hoosiers defender would take a dive with an “injury” and play would be stopped. At some point, the refs need to do something about that because that’s too much of a glaring coincidence.
— Noah Vedral and Luke McCaffrey played really well. It was fun to see at times what this offense is supposed to look like — quick, decisive, gashing. Although it was clear that McCaffrey isn’t the passer yet that Vedral or Adrian Martinez is, he commanded the offense and connected on the best screen pass we’ve seen here in years! (Which is also something to sarcastically laugh at and appreciate at the same time). The future is bright with the stable of quarterbacks, but let’s just hope they all get healthy.
— Dumb penalty award again goes to Mike Williams. Just like earlier in the season, his false start killed a positive drive. Again on Saturday, Robinson just picked up a crucial first down in the red zone, but Williams was flagged for not lining up correctly. The drive stalled, and Frost chewed him out on the sideline. Williams had a great catch earlier in the game, but his mistakes are directly aiding in losing games.