Are we sure Nebraska would have defeated Akron?
That’s not a ridiculous question in light of the Cornhuskers’ past three performances. Nebraska is 0-3 for the first time since 1945, all coming after bad weather wiped out the scheduled opener against the Zips on Sept. 1.
Saturday’s 56-10 rout at the hands of Michigan, in the Big Ten opener for both teams, only served to highlight the gulf between the two tradition-rich programs right now.
Few would have expected Nebraska to defeat the Wolverines at The Big House, and likely only a slightly larger percentage would have expected the Cornhuskers to keep the game close.
But the way Nebraska played cannot be acceptable to new coach Scott Frost on any level.
Was there one time in this game where viewers would have thought, “Michigan would be better off if it had Nebraska’s Player X” at any position? At any point?
With that in mind, here are the worst plays Nebraska had in Michigan Stadium:
Martinez sacked, Part I
The one bright spot for Nebraska fans came at the beginning, when Adrian Martinez started at quarterback. The true freshman was injured in the opener against Colorado, missed the loss to Troy and played Saturday. More pain greeted him upon his return. Witness this play in the first quarter when two defenders converged on him. The Wolverines loaded up the right side and Nebraska didn’t adjust to block Jordan Glasgow. Left tackle Brenden Jaimes was outnumbered and had to pick a defender to block, but defensive end Chase Winovich went right through him; if Glasgow hadn’t nailed Martinez, Winovich would have:
Wolverines pass so wide open
Later in the first, Michigan’s Shea Patterson hit about as easy of a pass as he could ever wish for as a collegian. He found tight end Zach Gentry for a 21-yard gain, and there wasn’t a Cornhusker defender in the frame. How a 6-foot-8, 262-pound player escapes everybody’s attention is a bit of a mystery. But that’s what seems to happen here:
Bad punt fielding
Tyjon Lindsey has not had a good season as Nebraska’s primary punt returner. Through three games he has five punt returns for 1 yard. Not a 1.0 average, but 1 yard total. The sophomore compounded that lack of production with a big error against Michigan. Bad decision-making led to this play, on which Michigan recovered Lindsey’s fumble. The touchdown did not count because the Wolverines could not advance the fumble, but the play set up a Michigan field goal:
Martinez sacked, Parts II and III
Sequels are rarely better than the originals. Sure enough, these two sacks on back-to-back plays looked at least as bad for Nebraska as our first selection above, and maybe worse. The Wolverines have one of the elite defenses in the country and they excel at pressuring quarterbacks. But on these two plays, Nebraska was overwhelmed up front and Martinez had no chance to show his elusiveness. Michigan just outcompeted Nebraska on both plays:
Michigan punt return TD
As bad as the fumble on the punt return was, it was just a misjudgement by one player trying to make a play. This next one, though? This third-quarter play reflected poorly on the entire special teams unit. Michigan’s Donovan Peoples-Jones returned a punt 60 yards for a touchdown but probably ran more like 100 yards in all, weaving in and out of Nebraska’s return coverage team and easily shaking some weak arm tackles. Poor tackling, poor angles, lack of speed — every Cornhuskers wart was visible on this play:
It’s one thing to get whomped by a team with better talent, and Michigan clearly has more talent than Nebraska. But these kinds of plays showed just how far the Cornhuskers have to go to even compete at this level in the B1G — and perhaps that offensive lineman Tanner Farmer’s worries about his teammates “buying in” might be well-founded.
After the Sept. 1 game was canceled, the theory was that Nebraska lost an opportunity for a lot of young players to gain experience against Akron, and that’s true. The theory was that the Cornhuskers had a chance to open against an inferior opponent to give their new coach a chance at a feel-good start to his reign, and that’s true. The theory now is that Nebraska would have avoided this 0-3 start, avoided what is now a seven-game losing streak, avoided yet another loss at Memorial Stadium.
After the past three weeks and especially after Saturday, it is fair to ask: Are we sure?