On Sunday we tried to look on the bright side of life for the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the wake of last week’s 41-24 loss to Wisconsin.
But in the midst of an 0-5 start it’s impossible to ignore the problems surrounding the Cornhuskers this season. So today we look at the top five things Nebraska must clean up.
Sure, this list could have been much longer. An 0-5 start at a program like Nebraska will exhibit a large number of flaws for fans and coaches alike to spot. But we’ll stick to the top five most persistent problems the Cornhuskers have had this season:
We keep harping on this, but that’s only because it keeps cropping up as a serious problem. Nebraska committed 10 penalties for 100 yards on Saturday — ordinarily you’d call those “nice, round numbers” but they’re hardly nice when they keep cropping up every week. Coach Scott Frost has commented on his team’s lack of discipline and that manifests itself in many ways, but none are more obvious than a persistent penalty problem. The Cornhuskers have had double-digit penalties called on them in all five games, an astounding number, and at 10.4 penalties a game they are second-worst in the nation; only Kent State (10.8) has been whistled more often.
Offensive line play
The Cornhuskers shook up their lineup in a few places going into the Wisconsin game, including on the offensive line. Tanner Farmer took over at center and Boe Wilson was listed as the No. 1 right guard. It was all in an effort to get a more consistent running game going and protect quarterback Adrian Martinez a bit better. It produced a mixed bag against Wisconsin but that’s a tough litmus test. Big Red Nation will be watching to see if the line gels this week against Northwestern and in the second half of the season.
Fourth-down and third-down conversions
The Cornhuskers went for it on fourth down twice against Wisconsin and came away empty both times. That’s par for the course this season, as Nebraska has converted just one fourth-down try in nine attempts. The picture is not much rosier on third down, where the Cornhuskers have converted just 20 times in 63 tries, a 32 percent rate. Nebraska’s defense is allowing a 41 percent conversion rate on third downs (30-of-73) and 57 percent on fourth down (4-of-7). That’s partly why Nebraska is only averaging 27:04 per game in time of possession.
Special teams malaise
Starting punt returner Tyjon Lindsey announced last week he was transferring to Oregon State. So J.D. Spielman stepped in to return punts against Wisconsin, but the Badgers only punted three times and Spielman had one return for 3 yards. That boosted Nebraska’s total punt return yardage in 2018 to 4 yards. Total. Add in Barret Pickering’s up-and-down season (4-for-7 on field goals) and the crucial punt return touchdown allowed against Troy, and Nebraska’s special teams are a constant sore spot.
Thinking you’ve made a play when you have not
This is pretty much the story of Nebraska’s entire season wrapped up into one play:
Even when Cornhuskers lay on a big hit, it winds up as a highlight for the other team. This is the difference between a good team and a bad team: A bad team makes a splash play then thinks it has done something great when the whistle has not even blown. A good team takes a pounding and keeps coming at you. Sure, safety Antonio Reed just got a little enthused prematurely trying to hit Garrett Groshek, and it’s only one play. But this play is an example of a persistent problem — because concentration, and playing until a play is over, is part of a team’s discipline. Discipline is about more than not committing penalties. A player too eager to celebrate rather than finishing a play is another indicator of a team failing to concentrate in key moments.
Nebraska’s players must learn to win before they learn to celebrate.