Nebraska football: Way-too-early look at 2022
Perhaps no fan base was more excited to see the calendar turn to 2022 than Nebraska’s.
That’s because 2021 was a tough year for one of the most passionate fan bases in not only the Big Ten, but the country. Indeed, Memorial Stadium remained full, or nearly full, even as Nebraska came up just short week after week. The 3-9 season certainly didn’t lack for drama, with all 9 losses coming by single digits and 8 coming within 1 score. But Saturday after Saturday ended in disappointment for Scott Frost and the Huskers.
That’s why moving on to 2022 is the best thing for this program. It’ll be a make-or-break year for Frost.
What worked in 2021
Though the record may not show it, a lot did work for Nebraska in 2021. Aside from special teams, Nebraska was actually pretty good. The Huskers were 2nd in the B1G in total offense and 7th in defense and in the top 50 nationally in both categories.
Adrian Martinez really developed as a downfield passer, as Nebraska went from a bottom-30 passing offense in 2020 to a top-30 passing offense in 2021. Though he still seemed to make untimely mistakes too often, Martinez hit on a plethora of big plays. Nebraska had just 4 pass plays of 30 yards in 8 games of 2020 (112th nationally), but it hit on 29 such plays in 2021 (12th nationally). Martinez had instant chemistry with Montana transfer Samori Toure, and Austin Allen developed into a reliable target.
Nebraska’s defense was also among the best in the conference, as it held Ohio State to its third lowest total yardage of the season. It only allowed more than 410 yards twice, to Michigan and Ohio State. The Huskers defense kept the offense in games each and every week.
What didn’t work in 2021
Nebraska struggled with mistakes in key moments almost on a weekly basis. No one could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory quite like Nebraska. It was either a special teams error or a turnover from Martinez that would send Nebraska to a one-possession loss. The Huskers are 5-20 in one-possession games under Frost.
Offensively, Nebraska struggled to find a reliable running back. Most often, Martinez was shouldering the load, literally. He played through broken ribs and an ankle injury. Martinez was Nebraska’s leading rusher at 525 yards, which was 19th in the Big Ten. Rahmir Johnson was the Huskers’ top back with 495 yards.
At long last, Nebraska found a solution at QB after Martinez transferred to Kansas State. Casey Thompson, who started this season for Texas, recently committed to Nebraska and will be on campus this semester for spring practice. Thompson is precisely what Nebraska needed in a make-or-break season for Frost; he’s experienced and has a big arm, with some potentially untapped rushing upside.
It’s possible the Huskers add another transfer, like Florida State’s Chubba Purdy, but Thompson has the inside track to start right now. He’ll be pushed by Logan Smothers, who looked pretty good against Iowa in the season finale.
Martinez, the emotional leader of this team, will surely be missed. The Huskers are also losing 1st-team All-B1G tight end Austin Allen, 2nd-team All-B1G cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt and 3rd-team All-B1G center Cam Jurgens. A couple key pieces up front, defensive end Deontre Thomas and nose tackle Damion Daniels, also won’t be back despite having eligibility remaining. Linebacker JoJo Domann, defensive back Deontai Williams, defensive linemen Ben Stille, defensive back Marquel Dismuke and Samori Toure are all gone, as well.
The Huskers should have key contributors such as WR Omar Manning, LB Caleb Tannor and LB Travis Vokolek back, all of whom could’ve left for the NFL. The duo of Rahmir Johnson and Jaquez Yant should anchor the backfield, along with incoming Texas A&M transfer Deondre Jackson. Wideout Zavier Betts will hope to make a leap after another year in the program. Linebackers Luke Reimer and Nick Henrich, the team’s top 2 tacklers, will anchor the defense, along with linemen Casey Rogers and Ty Robinson.
There will be a lot of spots up for grabs this spring and summer.
Nebraska had the worst recruiting class in the Big Ten, according to 247. Part of that is due to sheer numbers; the Huskers had a B1G-low 14 commits. But still, their average player rating was just 11th in the conference. Part of that was probably due to the uncertainty surrounding Frost’s job status. Cornerback Jaden Gould was the program’s only 4-star recruit.
The Huskers have, however, been active through the transfer portal. In addition to Thompson, Nebraska has added players from Texas A&M (RB Deondre Jackson), LSU (WR Trey Palmer), Arizona State (CB Tommi Hill) and Oklahoma State (OT Hunter Anthony).
Perhaps the biggest “recruit” was how Frost lured away offensive coordinator Mark Whipple from Pitt. Whipple oversaw one of the top offenses in the country in 2021, and if Nebraska can replicate that, it will be competitive in the West.