Nebraska football: Get ready, Husker Nation; it’s going to be a long week
Nebraska’s ugly 21-13 loss at Northwestern on Saturday is going to lead to questions.
Questions like: Why do the Huskers continue to shoot themselves in the foot with penalties? What about Scott Frost’s play-calling, especially in the red zone? And, of course, the big one — who should start at quarterback?
Let’s get one thing straight: Nebraska’s loss was on the offense. Scoring 13 points isn’t going to cut it — that’s got to eat at the soul of the offensive-minded Frost. There’s now even more pressure on the coaching staff to play who it thinks is the best option at quarterback.
Nebraska moved the ball against the Wildcats — they outgained Northwestern in total yards 442-317 — but those yards didn’t turn into points. The Huskers were 4-of-16 on 3rd downs, which isn’t good.
Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander’s unit played well enough to win, holding Northwestern to 21 points, 148 rushing yards and 3.9 per carry.
With 2 starters in the defensive backfield — Deontai Williams and Cam Taylor-Britt — missing the first half due to targeting calls from the Ohio State game, and starting middle linebacker Will Honas not playing due to an injury, kudos to the players who stepped in and played well for the Huskers, especially linebacker Luke Reimer and Myles Farmer.
Reimer was fun to watch, wasn’t he?
The 6-foot-1, 220-pound former walk-on played fast and physical and finished with 10 tackles. Reimer’s best play of the game? The one that comes to mind was when he stripped Northwestern quarterback Peyton Ramsey in the backfield off a blitz. Ramsey got the ball back, but Reimer brings a different dimension to this defense.
— Nebraska On BTN (@NebraskaOnBTN) November 7, 2020
After looking lost — and I hate to say it, but slow, too — while trying to run down Northwestern’s Drake Anderson in the 1st quarter on what turned out to be a 41-yard touchdown, Farmer, a redshirt freshman from Atlanta, settled down and even picked off 2 Ramsey passes. The first one simply fell into his hands off a deflection, but the second was a great play on an inaccurate pass — it was almost a pick-6. Nebraska scored 10 points off those 2 takeaways by Farmer.
Have a day, @mylesfarmer2!
— Nebraska On BTN (@NebraskaOnBTN) November 7, 2020
Let’s stick with the defensive back talk here, specifically about Williams and Taylor-Britt. I don’t mean to pick on these 2 guys, because they’re not the only culprits, but their tackling has got to get better.
On more than one occasion, Williams and Taylor-Britt didn’t wrap up and just threw their shoulders into ball carriers, who keep on running. These are vets who are expected to tackle well — that didn’t happen on Saturday. It seems like they’re going for the highlight-reel hit instead of the safer, less flashy stop.
The main takeaway from this game won’t be about Nebraska’s defense, however. It’s going to be about the quarterback situation and discipline, or lack thereof.
It was officially Luke McCaffrey time at quarterback deep into the 3rd quarter after Adrian Martinez threw a bad pass into coverage and was picked off. The throw may have been there earlier, but Martinez didn’t see it and was late.
Martinez’s passing started to decline last year, and for whatever reason, it hasn’t improved. Does this mean McCaffrey is the starter going forward? I’m not quite sure.
The fanbase will want McCaffrey out there for the first snap next week against Penn State. But are we sure McCaffrey is that much of an upgrade from Martinez? Both are run-first quarterbacks, and their legs are the most dangerous part of their game.
But in the passing game, I’m not convinced McCaffrey is a better option — yet.
Yes, when McCaffrey was in during the 4th quarter, the offense moved down the field — but it moved when Martinez was at the helm, too.
When McCaffrey was in, the pass wasn’t a big part of those drives — his completions to Zavier Betts, Wan’Dale Robinson and Marcus Fleming were easy-completion throws to the sideline that Northwestern was letting him have. I think Martinez could’ve completed those just as well.
To my untrained eyes, it didn’t look like McCaffrey was reading the defense too much. Instead, he was making quick decisions and taking what was given, which is just fine. Just like Martinez, McCaffrey’s best trait is his athleticism — he busted loose for runs of 17 and 15 yards and finished with 49 yards rushing. Martinez, who has a history of fumbles, held on to the ball on Saturday while rushing for a team-high 102 yards. But his confidence was clearly waning.
If Frost thinks McCaffrey is the better option, he’ll start him. Something needs to happen on that side of the ball, though, and a change might give the offense a spark it desperately needs.
As for the discipline, how does one team consistently hurt itself by committing penalties? It’s truly mind-boggling.
Nebraska’s 1st drive of the game looked great. The Huskers were moving the ball and trying to get the run established with Dedrick Mills. But the drive ended like so many have in recent years — with penalties. Nebraska’s offensive line was called for 3 in its first 2 drives of the game. The Huskers finished with 9 for 55 yards. Ouch.
Buckle up, Husker fans. It’s going to be a wild week full of questioning.