Nebraska: Cornhuskers defense stuck in bad place
The Nebraska defense is not moving in a good direction.
At best it is stuck in neutral, not appreciably getting any better as the season moves toward October.
The Cornhuskers gave up 491 yards of offense to Michigan in their Big Ten opener on Oct. 22. Then on Saturday in a 42-28 loss at Memorial Stadium against Purdue, Big Red gave up big yards all over the place. The Boilermakers piled up 516 yards in a solid all-around effort, 328 yards passing (nearly 8 yards per attempt) and 188 rushing (5.1 average).
Purdue was the third team in four games to earn at least 20 first downs against the Cornhuskers, with 27. That’s a season high for the Boilermakers and the most allowed by Nebraska.
On plays like this it’s easy to see why:
Purdue’s Rondale Moore is an explosive player and one of the most fun freshman to watch in the Big Ten. So maybe — maybe — Nebraska can be excused for a missed tackle or two here because Moore is likely to make a few defenses look silly. That many missed tackles, poor angles, everything else on this play? No.
And there is no excuse for all of the penalties Nebraska is committing.
The Cornhuskers often see those yellow hankies at the worst times. On Saturday, safety Marquel Dismuke came up with an interception for the Cornhuskers — except that Nebraska was called for defensive holding to wipe out the play.
Later in the second quarter, Dismuke was called for a late hit which gave the Boilermakers a first down. A few plays after that, cornerback Dicaprio Bootle was flagged for pass interference near the goal line, setting up a field goal which gave Purdue a 20-7 lead.
There is also no excuse for letting a quarterback like David Blough so much room to run. The senior gained 38 yards, the second-most in his career, on seven carries against the Cornhuskers. Nebraska must not have thought he was a threat to run because he usually isn’t, but the defense’s awareness has to be better than this, especially on third and 14:
Tight end Brycen Hopkins had 103 yards receiving to lead the Boilermakers, all on five catches. During a third-quarter touchdown drive, Hopkins was left open on a play that looked very much like one the previous week in which Nebraska led a Michigan tight end run free for a big gain. That is the sign of a defense which is not progressing.
Nebraska’s offense is not in a place where this team can afford to get into shootouts. That unit showed some promise against Purdue and quarterback Adrian Martinez in particular looks like he is closer to regaining full health and full explosiveness both running and throwing. At some point the Cornhuskers, with their new system under coach Scott Frost, likely will start rolling. But right now the offense is still not a finished product.
To stop its eight-game losing streak, Nebraska needs its defense to make stops, make good decisions, make sure of its tackles and stop making so many penalties.
Otherwise, their opponents will make sure that this skid continues.