Nebraska football: 5 things Huskers fans should want to see against Purdue
We meet again, Mr. Diaco.
Nebraska is headed to West Lafayette for a date with Purdue this Saturday. The Huskers are hoping to go home with a win, which would end their 2-game losing streak and inject some much-needed positivity in the program after a couple of gut-punch losses to Illinois and Iowa.
The man tasked with stopping Nebraska from scoring points is an old friend of the program, one who holds a special place in Huskers lore: Purdue defensive coordinator Bob Diaco.
I kid, of course, but the 1 season Diaco spent in Lincoln as DC under then head coach Mike Riley was one for the memories. Diaco’s “Do you see the strain? Do you see it, or no?” quote left many Huskers fans scratching their heads.
Many Husker fans have read & reacted to Bob Diaco's bizarre postgame quote on Nebraska's run defense. Here's the video: pic.twitter.com/8CTQ0x4i4a
— Kevin Sjuts (@kevinsjuts) November 5, 2017
To this day, Diaco gets a hard time from Nebraska fans, and that’s fine. This may be an unpopular opinion, but Diaco is probably a knowledgeable guy and knows defense. His strain came in front of a mic and turning what he was thinking into words. It usually didn’t go well.
Saturday’s game between Nebraska (1-4) and Purdue (2-3) isn’t going to win any beauty pageants. So what should Huskers fans want to see from their team against the Boilermakers? Here are 5 things:
Martinez and McCaffrey runs
This shouldn’t be a shocker because quarterback-designed runs have been a large part of Nebraska’s offense already.
But if you take a look at Purdue’s last game, a 37-30 loss at home to Rutgers, you’d see the Boilermakers had a hard time stopping the Scarlet Knights’ rushing attack — specifically from their running quarterback Johnny Langan.
Langan, a physical 6-3, 223-pounder, racked up 95 yards on the ground. It was a bruising night for Langan and his offensive line as it took him 21 carries to get there, and his longest rush was only 10 yards.
But the Scarlet Knights may have exposed something in Diaco’s defense. The Boilermakers couldn’t stop Langan in the second half, and he kept chipping away. Nebraska can do something similar with either Adrian Martinez or Luke McCaffrey, who are both good runners like Langan is.
Purdue’s leading tackler, linebacker Derrick Barnes, won’t play the 1st half because of a targeting penalty against Rutgers. Can the Huskers take advantage and run right at Purdue’s D for a half without its leader?
Opportunities for interceptions
Purdue may not have its starter at quarterback, Aidan O’Connell, who has been banged up recently. But the offense is still in good hands as backup Jack Plummer has started since the Minnesota game and has performed well.
Plummer isn’t perfect, however. The Arizona native does turn the ball over some and has thrown a pick in each of the 2 games he’s played in. Nebraska has 4 interceptions on the season — 2 of which are from Myles Farmer, a backup who doesn’t get a starter-amount of reps — and Saturday could be a game where the Huskers get some chances at picking off Plummer.
You may remember Plummer from last year’s game. He broke his ankle against the Huskers and missed the rest of the season. His then backup, O’Connell, went on to win the game for his team and take his job.
This may be a game where 2 Huskers who lead the team in pass breakups, JoJo Domann and Marquel Dismuke, finally get a pick.
Don’t be scared to throw downfield
What’s there to lose, right?
Nebraska’s offense is bad. It can’t really throw down the field, either because the quarterbacks don’t trust they can deliver the ball or because their receivers don’t get open.
But against Iowa, Martinez had a bit of success, which was refreshing to see. He completed 18 of 20 pass attempts for 174 yards. That’s efficient, but not explosive. Huskers fans want it to be explosive, but that’s obviously not going to happen this season.
But Martinez’s effort against Iowa was good enough to stay in the game thanks to a solid outing from Erik Chinander’s defense. Wan’Dale Robinson caught 9 passes for 75 yards, including a 28-yarder. It was good to see Nebraska’s most talented player offensively get involved, it’s just too bad it came in the 5th game.
A clean game from the offensive line
Can center Cam Jurgens snap the ball without issue on Saturday? Unfortunately for Huskers fans, that’s a question that needs to be asked heading into this game after clap-gate against Iowa.
The offensive line is full of young players learning on the fly in the sophomore Jurgens and 2 redshirt freshmen in guard Ethan Piper and Bryce Benhart. Baptism by fire against the grown men of B1G defensive lines can’t be easy. With that being said, Huskers fans would greatly appreciate a cleaner game from that unit.
Benhart’s holding penalty that brought back a Martinez long run for a first down in the 4th quarter against the Hawkeyes was brutal. Who knows what would have happened on that drive if that penalty wasn’t called. Who knows how those drives would have turned out if Jurgens’ snaps were accurate, too.
But enough of the ifs, ands or buts. Fans — and head coach Scott Frost — are tired of it.
With Dedrick Mills likely not being in the picture because of injury, the best running back on the roster is Robinson, who wants to be a wideout.
Before the season started, the coaching staff wanted to use Robinson as a slot receiver only. Things change, though.
Nebraska is in dire need of a running back who knows how to run between the tackles. Although Robinson is small in stature — he’s listed at 5-10, 185 pounds, but he’s likely closer to 5-9 — he’s the toughest runner the Huskers have and has more experience doing it against B1G defenses than the two guys he’ll likely play over in Rahmir Johnson and Marvin Scott.
The Nebraska football program needs something good to happen. Spirits need to be lifted. A win would make that flight back to Lincoln much better, and Robinson is good enough at running the ball to make that happen.
Purdue is stingy against the run, though. Fans in Nebraska like to poke fun at Diaco, but the guy has made improvements with the Boilermakers, especially in run defense, where they rank 5th in the B1G, allowing 3.56 yards per carry. The Huskers rank 11th with 4.35.
Ride Robinson — in a variety of ways, too — and good things will happen.