Nebraska football: Good for Huskers to beat Rutgers, but plenty of questions remain
Friday night’s game between Nebraska and Rutgers was a lot of things.
Was the 28-21 victory a sign that Scott Frost and Co. finally found the blueprint for the Huskers’ identity on offense? Fans sure hope so after watching what looked to be a fully healthy Dedrick Mills and Adrian Martinez combine for 348 rushing yards with an average of 7.2 yards per carry behind an offensive line with 3 freshmen on it.
Was it the game where Nebraska learned valuable lessons about overcoming adversity when it hits? Yeah, maybe. After the first 4 drives of the game ended in a fumble, punt, fumble and punt, Nebraska imposed its will in the 2nd half and acted like the better team. After the poor start where they trailed 6-0, the Huskers outscored the Scarlet Knights 28-15 in the last 3 quarters. Nebraska’s had plenty of bad starts this season, but none of them ended like Friday’s did. It was a welcomed sight for Huskers fans.
It was a good win for Nebraska — having it come against a team like Rutgers shouldn’t matter. The Huskers have been bruised, battered and embarrassed this season, so getting to finish on a high note is great for the players and coaches.
But it’s important to remember that this win might not translate into much of anything next year. The damage of 2020 has already been done. The issues that plague Nebraska’s program run deep, and they even surfaced yet again against Rutgers.
Nebraska committed 9 penalties, which is 3 more than its per-game average. It committed 4 turnovers and is at the bottom of the B1G in turnover margin. Nebraska knew all about Aron Cruickshank, the guy who returned a kickoff for a touchdown while playing for Wisconsin last year. But in another special teams blunder, the Huskers let Cruickshank return one again, and he made Nebraska pay by taking it to the house — again. How does that happen?
Yes, the Huskers won the game while making those mistakes, but not every opponent is going to be a rebuilding Rutgers squad that lets you get away with it.
There are still major questions to be asked. Let’s go through some of them.
Do the Huskers even want to play in a bowl game?
It’s been a long and trying year for everyone for many reasons. Frost mentioned after the game that some of his players have been away from their families since March. Frost even admitted he was worn out, too.
At the end of the day you have to ask yourself: How much good can really come from a bowl game? This isn’t a normal year, where a bowl trip should be a cool and fun experience for these players.
Frost said it’d be up to the players to make the call whether they play in a bowl. It might be in the best interest for everyone involved if they call it a season.
What about the quarterback situation?
The quarterback situation is going to be speculated about all offseason, and it should be because everyone — Frost, the fans, even Martinez — knows it’s a problem.
At this point, it’s fairly obvious that backup Luke McCaffrey isn’t the answer, which makes Frost’s “Luke is the future” comments all the more perplexing. McCaffrey may be the best athlete on the team, but he’d be more useful if he was playing receiver or running back.
Fans had to love how Martinez responded after those 2 fumbles and 2 interceptions. The guy looked like he played his heart out and did everything he could to help Nebraska win that game. He was limping for most of the second half and still ran hard each and every time his number was called. He finished with a career-high 157 rushing yards and 2 TDs — to go with a season-high 255 yards passing and another TD.
No one will ever question Martinez’s character, leadership or want-to. We know he’s a great kid. But something needs to change. There needs to be a shakeup with the process because he needs to show improvement in 2021.
Next season will be the first where Huskers fans start wondering about Logan Smothers. The freshman from Alabama has had 1 year in the program, studying the offense and working in the weight room. Will he push Martinez and, if he’s still taking snaps, McCaffrey?
The offense didn’t look right this season. They finished 11th in the B1G in scoring at 23.1 points per game. We can blame the players for it because they’re the ones on the field. But Frost will be in his 4th season with the Huskers in 2021. Does he make a change on his staff after this season, or does he stay loyal to his close friends/assistant coaches?
You hate to speculate on these things because it’s people’s livelihoods. But college football is a business. It’s about wins and losses, and Frost has 1 winning season in his 5 as a head coach, and he’s now 12-20 at Nebraska.