Well, it started out pretty fun, didn’t it? How about that ode to the past when Nebraska came out in the I-formation for the first play of the game? That was definitely a tip of the hat by Scott Frost to the fans. The play itself resulted in only a short gain by all-purpose player Wan’Dale Robinson, but a cool gesture nonetheless.
Unfortunately, that was about where the fun ended for the Nebraska offense on Saturday. It was clunky and terrible, nothing at all what fans and coaches were expecting. Frost mentioned that this was one of the most anemic offensive performances that he’s ever been a part of as a coach, and also, how bad they practiced early on in the week. If this doesn’t work as a wake-up call for the team to get its bearings straight, this season won’t turn out to be as positive as most are hoping. But, hey, 1-0. Let’s go.
Where do we even start with this? How about how it was blatantly obvious that Nebraska was playing a vanilla scheme in the hopes that it wouldn’t backfire against a team like South Alabama. Well, here’s some bad news — it almost did. Like it or not, Nebraska is not good enough to roll over any team without giving its all. You didn’t see Adrian Martinez run at all, you didn’t see misdirection, you didn’t see any shots downfield. Speedy freshman Robinson seemed to be the only player who had some plays directly drawn up for him. Frost said that they went into the game with a small playbook, probably to hold some things back before this week. But, the thing is, Nebraska needs to be able to create some positive mojo to get the tempo humming. Plus, it’s not like better teams don’t have any film on Frost’s offense.
But let’s face it, 49 plays before the half with only 14 points to show for it is pedestrian at best. And finishing with only 276 yards, and serving up two turnovers? Yeah, that’s not going to cut it.
Tempo tempo tempo
A successful Husker offense needs to create tempo to get the defense on its heels. One way to do that is to have good success on early downs, creating pace and rhythm. Well, Nebraska was pretty poor against the Jaguars. At about 4 yards per play on offense, and even worse on second downs, Nebraska was far too often playing behind the chains. Add to the fact that Martinez probably played the worst game of his short career. For some reason, he seemed hesitant, and definitely not making the plays we are accustomed to. He definitely didn’t use his feet like usual. But was he told not to scramble as much by the coaches? Maybe? What was even more unusual was the fact that he was so inaccurate on his intermediate throws. Martinez also struggled to find his open receivers and check-downs. It was odd to say the least.
OK, so I am giving Martinez a hard time, but it all starts up front, right? Good teams have a strong offensive line. What Nebraska has is a very inexperienced group (besides the tackles) that is going to show some major growing pains along the way. South Alabama did have some size on the defensive line with its 3-4 defense. But, come on. You should never see a team like the Jaguars dominate the lines of scrimmage as they did. Not only were they stout and plugged up the middle giving NU nowhere to rush the ball, they busted through into the backfield giving Martinez a lot harder time than he was expecting.
Now let’s get to the center position. Cameron Jurgens has never played center before. He’s also been hurt the majority of the past few seasons, dating back to high school. He also missed most of fall camp before being named the starter. Yes, he’s getting major props from the coaching staff on his potential, but we had to expect this kind of performance in his first time, right? At least a little? Nebraska’s line from the guard-center-guard positions was getting mauled and routinely pushed out of the way. Even though they’re some tough dudes, two of those guys are brand new, and a third has never been a full-time starter. You better believe Colorado is looking at that and licking its chops. Without a doubt, the Buffaloes are even better than the Jaguars on the defensive line.
The snaps. Oh, boy, the bad snaps by Jurgens were extremely destructive to an offense built on timing, fakes, speed and accuracy. Not that he had a few errant snaps, he was airmailing those footballs on nearly every play. Martinez wasn’t having a good day at all personally, but add to the fact he had to be concerned with every snap, it was a recipe for disaster. There’s no question that this has to be rectified by next week.
Kickers are people, too
Raise your hand if you thought not having kicker Barret Pickering was going to factor in this game? Yep, no one. It should never even had been a two-touchdown game. But that’s what happened, and Pickering’s injury became a much bigger deal than expected. Pickering became one of Nebraska’s most reliable weapons last year, and even though his walk-on replacement, Dylan Jorgensen, did an OK job, one important field goal was missed and several kickoffs hit short. Definitely something to keep an eye on moving forward.
You really can’t get much better than that. Five turnovers? Yeah, that’ll play. A much-maligned group of defenders really stepped up and won that game for Nebraska. Let’s take a moment to praise JoJo Domann’s instincts on the field and the fire he played with.
Talk about bringing a spark just when the team needed it. Give that guy a Blackshirt pronto.
And Eric Lee. He’s been around forever, moved positions, thought about leaving and been buried on the depth chart. But against South Alabama, he looked like a three-year starter. He stepped in for the injured Deontai Williams and played his heart out.
Even with how well the Blackshirts played on Saturday, a much larger test looms against the Buffaloes. If you think the Jaguars quarterback gave Nebraska some fits, well, up next is Steven Montez. Both of those guys are a strong build around 6-5, 225, but Montez comes with years of experience and a much stronger arm, and he is much more of a fiery competitor. It’s going to be quite the task for the Blackshirts.