What a mess.

Penalties. Mental errors. Turnovers (5 of them!). Bad snaps. A defense that gave up 41 points to Illinois, a team that came into Saturday averaging 17. And, most importantly, a failed experiment at quarterback.

Yes, Huskers fans witnessed all their usual nightmares in a 41-23 loss to the Illini. The very 1st play of the game from scrimmage was a poorly-executed backward pass from Luke McCaffrey that wound up being called a fumble which was recovered by Illinois. Just 3 plays later, Nebraska trailed 7-0.

The Huskers basically spotted Lovie Smith’s crew 7 points to start.

Out of all the what-in-the-worlds that happened in this game, the biggest disappointment was the fact that McCaffrey probably isn’t the answer, either. Yes, it’s just his 2nd game as a starter, and he’s a redshirt freshman learning on the fly. That’s a difficult spot to be in, and only a handful of quarterbacks can come in early and see success. Scott Frost’s decision to make the move to McCaffrey was the right one because, as he said, it gave the team a spark.

But against Illinois, McCaffrey showed the same bad signs that the guy he replaced, Adrian Martinez, showed. Signs like poor accuracy on what should have been routine throws, limited arm strength and uneasiness in the pocket. McCaffrey is a great runner and maybe the best athlete on the team — no one should deny that.

But the best quarterback to operate Nebraska’s offense? That’s what this experiment was supposed to tell us, and I think we have our answer: The top 2 options at the position aren’t quarterbacks, but rather athletes who can kind of throw.

Maybe that works in the American Athletic Conference, but not in the B1G.

We don’t know much about Logan Smothers, Nebraska’s true freshman quarterback from Alabama. I doubt we’ll find out much, either, as it’ll likely be the McCaffrey-Martinez show for the rest of the season.

On top of the usual offensive woes, Nebraska’s worst defensive showing of the season came on the same week that the Blackshirts were handed out.


The tradition of the coaching staff distributing the Blackshirts to members of the defense means a lot to many people in the state, and that’s fine. There’s a lot of history and memories there.

But this isn’t 1995. College football has changed since Nebraska was winning national championships, and the Huskers have struggled to keep up. They haven’t played Blackshirt-level defense in quite a while, and losing to Illinois while giving up 285 rushing yards and 5.5 per carry isn’t a good look.

Nebraska’s defense couldn’t get off the field on 3rd down — the Illini went 11-of-17 — and didn’t get to Brandon Peters, who, when given time, is a solid passer. He was sacked just once and went 18-of-25 for 205 yards and 1 touchdown. Illinois’ season high in points coming into the game was 24. The Illini had 21 early in the 2nd quarter.

Saturday’s face-plant wasn’t a question of talent, either. Nebraska had more talented players than the Illini. At times, it seems like Frost and his staff don’t know what to call. And when they call a play, the players on the field — especially the quarterbacks — can’t execute it. We saw that more than once against Illinois, where McCaffrey missed wide-open receivers. Does he have the arm strength to get the ball to these open wideouts? It doesn’t seem like it.

So what needs to happen after Frost’s worst loss of his career as Nebraska head coach, which this undoubtedly was? Do the coaches need to be better, or do the players need to play better? Both are true.

Know what else is true? Nebraska doesn’t have a quarterback. And the closest one to it, Martinez, was benched against Northwestern and got garbage-time snaps against Illinois. Frost has already made the move to McCaffrey, which is a decision made with an eye on the future. It’s hard to backtrack from that.

Get ready, Husker Nation. We have another interesting week coming up.