This week, Nebraska football coach Scott Frost basically said about his 3-1 team, “we are where we are.” And if that vague statement doesn't sum it up for you, then I don’t know what will. Nebraska football is, and will continue to be, a work in progress. Listen, Illinois is a bad team. Yes, the Illini have some quality players from successfully hitting the transfer market, but make no mistake, they will struggle all year long.
So why does Nebraska seem to play at the level of seemingly inferior opponents? Not only does Nebraska play against another team, but the Huskers consistently have to beat themselves, as well.
And it’s so incredibly painful to watch. “Team Schizophrenia” was a label placed on the team on Twitter during the game. With all due respect, it couldn’t be more perfect.
The offensive lulls, the critical turnovers, the penalties, the pathetic field position, the missed blocks and unfortunate kicking woes. We saw it all against the Fighting Illini. A lot of these errors are correctable, but, as Frost said, this is where the team is right now. It’s a team that fights and claws, but when it’s bad, it’s bad, and it makes it so difficult to crawl out of the hole it dug. Four turnovers. Four! You can’t win with that lackadaisical effort. And after just one penalty last week, Nebraska decides to throw a hanky party to the tune of 11 penalties for 119 yards. That’s ridiculous. An opponent only slightly better than Illinois will win every time if Nebraska keeps that up.
Now on the flip side of all the negative things the Huskers to do themselves is the determination and grit that the team showed in keeping things under control, in addition to gathering enough focus to make the comeback and finish the game as the winner. It wasn’t exactly textbook, but this team will take it any way it happens.
More thoughts ...
— How about that coming-out party for Wan’Dale Robinson? I’ve been practically screaming every week that he needs more touches. He is an absolute playmaker and can get loose from just about every offensive position. He is a surefire weapon, so Frost has to continue to use him as a running back, flanker, wide receiver and whatever else he can think of. The truth is, he might be the best all-around running back this team has. He can run inside zone, outside zone and traditional hand-off concepts. He’s got some toughness in his mighty-mite frame, but he’s also one of those special athletes who can juke and cut while going full speed. In his breakout performance, Robinson tallied 27 total touches (19 carries, 8 catches, 168 total yards and 3 touchdowns).
— Along with Robinson, Maurice Washington is Nebraska’s other closest-to-elite talent on the field. Both guys have the ability to turn a potential loss-of-yardage play into something extremely positive with their ridiculous athletic ability. Washington has demonstrated this time and again in his short career. But what also should be talked about is his toughness. His frame is slight at best, and he takes some serious shots from defenders. But, time and again, he’s back on the field. Against the Illini, his leg was injured, and his bell was rung, but he showed fight with each carry until the trainers had no choice but to take him to the locker room. There’s little doubt Nebraska is going to need him all season long.
— Speaking of toughness, I think you spell it, J D S P I E L M A N. Man, what a warrior. He gets absolutely crushed. Then crushed again. Then bent in half. Then pops up and is ready for the next snap. Where would Nebraska be without him?
— The high snaps from Cam Jurgens returned against Illinois. It is ruining the timing of every play, as Adrian Martinez reaches and hops around to gain control. Some of the snaps went higher than Robinson is tall when he was in the backfield. Not ideal.
— For the most part, the Blackshirts answered the bell again. Over and over, they were put in terrible spots by the offense and had to respond in several quick-change drives. Some guys like JoJo Domann, Cam Taylor-Britt (injured shoulder and all) and most of the defensive line really played a good game.
— I have an idea: Let’s not kick line-drive missiles down the center of the field for kickoffs. If there’s anything that the return team wants, it’s that. You’re literally allowing a big kick return every time you boot it that way. If you can’t kick it into the end zone, then just pooch it high so the coverage team can get down there and set, or just squib kick.
— Unfortunately, the kicking game is just a mess all around. I loved seeing Norfolk native Lane McCallum getting his shot again, but the blocking on extra points is suspect, and there’s not much confidence in field goal attempts, either. With how thin Nebraska’s margin on error is anyway, the kicking game will once again win or lose a game(s) this season.
— I have another idea: If you’re only 6 inches away from the goal line, just sneak it with the quarterback. Do it all four times if you have to. You have a big, physical quarterback under center, so just push ahead. So, instead of icing the game with a late touchdown, Nebraska went backward on all successive downs, committed a penalty, missed a field goal and completely failed to end the game right then and there.
— Was it me, or were Illinois defenders hitting a lot harder than they ever have? That was a very physical game on both sides of the ball. As I mentioned before, the Illini have hit on a few winners as far as the transfer market. The talent is definitely on the upswing.
— And speaking of talent, here come the Ohio State Buckeyes. OSU has NFL talent all over the field, including freak-of-nature Chase Young. He’s an elite defensive lineman that I’m not sure Nebraska can block at all. He’s going to be making plays everywhere on Saturday.
Besides Young, watch out for quarterback Justin Fields and running back JK Dobbins. They can score 70 in a blink of an eye. To me, there isn’t one position that Nebraska has the advantage. The Huskers have to play the perfect game and hope the Buckeyes have an off night. Can it happen? Sure. Look at what Purdue and Iowa have done against Ohio State in recent years. But this just might be a different beast. Good lord, please don’t let it be 42-3 Bad Guys at halftime. I’m trying to be positive here, but Husker Nation has seen this play out all too many times before in recent times during a high-profile national broadcast. ESPN’s “College GameDay” is coming for the first time since 2007, and even that was an embarrassing blowout loss to USC. This is what most fans are worried about, even though the atmosphere is going to be electric and completely off the charts. Let’s hope the Huskers can match that on the field.