Nebraska football midseason grades: How the Huskers stack up across the board
Tis the season for midterm evaluations. We’ve reached the approximate midway point of the college football season. It’s time to take a glance at how things are going in Lincoln.
Has it really been less than a month since Scott Frost was fired? Seems like ages ago.
Interim coach Mickey Joseph and staff are filling in admirably. Is Joseph doing enough to be considered for the full-time gig? The answer to that remains to be seen. There are still 5 games to play and the Huskers, sitting at 3-4, are showing grit and toughness — which is all you can ask if you’re a fan of the Huskers.
Through 7 games, there have been highs and lows. A disappointing trip to Dublin and loss to Northwestern got things off to a rocky start. But since getting pummeled at home by Oklahoma, Nebraska has turned things around. It’s not all roses and sunshine, but Joseph has things trending in the right direction.
Let’s take a closer look at each position and assign a midseason grade to each.
Texas transfer Casey Thompson has been the epitome of hot and cold. Granted, he’s taken a beating at times and is playing behind a sketchy offensive line. Thompson is completing 64.1% of his throws and has 11 TDs to go with 8 interceptions.
He’s developed a nice chemistry with Trey Palmer, which is producing terrific results. If it continues, the duo could put up big 2nd half numbers.
However, inconsistency has plagued Thompson. His 2 picks against Purdue proved costly, and he’s at times made some head-scratching throws. But he’s shown the ability to throw the deep ball well. If he can add just a bit of threat on the ground with his legs, it’ll lead to more open lanes for Anthony Grant in the run game.
Running back: A-
Anthony Grant has been a tremendous addition out of the transfer portal. Grant has eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark in 4 of 7 games, while scoring 6 touchdowns. He emerged from a crowded running back room and snagged the starting role. He’s yet to relinquish it and continues to be the workhorse back in the offense.
Freshman Ajay Allen was playing well before an injury cut short his season. Depth is becoming a question mark, as Gabe Ervin Jr. has been slowed by injury. Last year’s starter, Rahmir Johnson, saw limited action against Purdue but looked good. Will he be the guy that gives the Huskers a boost down the stretch? Don’t be shocked to see a fresh-legged Johnson join the mix.
Wide receiver: B+
If this grade revolved solely around Palmer, it’d be a slam-dunk A. However, depth and consistency around Palmer (47 catches, 781 yards) has been an issue. Who’s the No. 2 guy? At the moment it looks like Texas transfer Marcus Washington. But others will need to step up.
Nebraska lost Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda to the transfer portal last week. Omar Manning’s been slowed by injuries. Oliver Martin has had a few nice moments. Nebraska will need others to make plays. Defenses will be keying more and more on Palmer. OC Mark Whipple will need to get more creative finding ways to get him open.
Tight end: B-
When healthy, Travis Vokolek has been a solid option for Thompson. He scored his 1st TD as a Husker last Friday at Rutgers and has 16 catches on the year despite missing 2 games for injury.
With Vokolek out, the position took a dip. Production was minimal during his 2-game absence, and other than Chancellor Brewington and his tenacious blocking, depth behind Vokolek remains an issue.
Offensive line: D-
This is being generous. In reality, it could be an F. But the fact that Grant has found room to run and produce keeps it as a narrow passing grade.
Nebraska is playing without left tackle Teddy Prochazka due to a season-ending upper body injury. Both tackles have struggled in pass protection. Communication and alignment have been problems. Improvements have been slow to happen under OL coach Donovan Raiola.
Thompson has taken multiple hard hits. Yes, at times he holds the ball too long. But the guys up front need to provide a more consistently clean pocket. This unit is holding the offense back from being a really good group. Joseph said they’ll continue working to find the right group of 5.
Defensive line: C+
This unit is trending in the right direction. Garrett Nelson and Ochaun Mathis are getting more pressure on the QB. The addition of Stephon Wynn Jr. (Alabama transfer) has provided depth. Ty Robinson is rounding into form.
But this unit has to be better against the run. Purdue walk-on running back Devin Mockobee went off for 178 yards. He ran tough and got plenty of yards after contact. Nebraska needs to do a better job winning the point of attack. It starts up front.
Nebraska ranks No. 117 in FBS against the run. It’s allowing 190.4 yards per game. The Huskers must improve their physicality up front for this to improve.
Leading tackler Luke Reimer missed the Purdue game with an injury. He’s the heart and soul of this unit, and when he’s in, it’s a much better group.
Nick Henrich left Saturday’s game with what looked like a not-so-good injury. Suddenly, this group is down a few guys and leaders. They’ll need freshman Ernest Hausmann and senior Eteva Mauga-Clements to fill the void.
Being disciplined and filling gap assignments has been troublesome. More consistency is needed in those areas for the defense to flip the script. The Huskers’ D was on the field for an unbelievable 101 plays against the Boilers. It surrendered 608 yards and 36 first downs.
Chase Brown and Mo Ibrahim loom the next 2 games. It only gets more difficult. The linebacking unit has to play better.
Quinton Newsome had good and bad moments against Purdue standout Charlie Jones. He won and lost a few 1-on-1 battles, but remains Nebraska’s top corner. Malcolm Hartzog has taken over opposite Newsome. He sealed the 14-13 win over Rutgers with a late INT. He’s improving each week.
Isaac Gifford, Myles Farmer and Marques Buford Jr. are Nos. 2, 3, 4 in the team in tackles. They’ve played well at times, but the Huskers will need more big plays and takeaways out of the safeties to pull some upsets down the stretch.
Special teams: A-
The addition of Montana transfer Brian Buschini has improved Nebraska’s punt game tremendously. He’s averaging 45.6 yards per kick and on countless occasions has flipped the field, giving the Huskers defense a fighting chance.
Fordham transfer Timmy Bleekrode has made 4 of 6 field goals and given Nebraska stability at a position it has been searching for answers at in the past.
No one imagined the Scott Frost era going as badly as it did. The Huskers found endless ways to lose under Frost and confidence was at an all-time program low.
Enter Mickey Joseph, and the mindset is changing. Nebraska is playing hard. Believing again. This is a team with many deficiencies, but at least it’s competing. Effort is there. Attitudes are changing for the better. Joseph is clearly making a difference.
AD Trev Alberts will be viewing the final 5 games with an eye glass. Joseph has put himself in the conversation to be the next coach. However, a strong finish is a must. Nebraska must get to 6 wins and continue to build positive momentum. Anything less, and it’s almost a certain Alberts goes outside for his hire.
Final grade: C
The Huskers certainly have an opportunity raise their GPA. A strong finish will do the trick. Nebraska’s effort is trending in the right direction. Whether it leads to more wins, we’ll have to see.
The bye week should rejuvenate the troops. Back-to-back home games against Illinois and Minnesota await. A road trip to Ann Arbor is daunting, but the final 2 against Wisconsin and Iowa look far less intimidating than they once did. Nebraska can, and NEEDS to, break through.
There’s plenty left to play for. Plenty of drama remains. Nebraska fans won’t jump ship; they never do. If Joseph can pull an upset or 2 along the way, all eyes will be on Alberts to see the direction he turns.