It’s bye week, which means we’re going to try our best (and probably fail miserably) to assess where this Nebraska football team is. The DN football beat reporters sound off on what we learned from Nebraska’s non-conference games and what’s realistic for this team moving forward.
Kyle Cummings: Well, guys, we’ve seen it all in the 3-1 non-conference run: program-best offense, miserable defense, a critical injury, all leading to the non-conference finale of a drama-filled week. What can we take away from this first slate of games?
Nedu Izu: I learned negative and positive things about these guys on Saturday. Like you stated before, this defense is miserable. That may even be an understatement. Just ask coach Bo Pelini, who thought it was their “worst performance defensively.” Their inconsistency makes me question if they’re even going to be able to present any competition to their Big Ten counterparts, especially the ones in the Top 25. But I did take away a pair of good notes as well. Defensive back Stanley Jean-Baptiste is a wiz at his position. He’s a former wide-receiver and it has shown with his ability to record an interception each game. His performances have been the one constant this season. Another thing we can take away from the non-conference match-ups is the fact the team can play through adversity. Freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Ron Kellogg III did something starting quarterback Taylor Martinez hasn’t done this season: develop a rhythm. The combined 300-yard performance last Saturday showed that the team has nothing to worry about when Martinez is forced out with injuries. The Husker offense overall has depth.
Chris Heady: I think the telling thing so far was Saturday’s game against South Dakota State. The UCLA game pointed out a lot of the negatives, but the SDSU game showed what the offense can actually do. The offense produced more than yards in both running and passing for the first time ever, and without Taylor Martinez? I think that kind of production will help in the future, if they can keep it up.
KC: You both noted the success the offense had on Saturday, which definitely was promising for Nebraska. Yeah, Armstrong and Kellogg looked great against SDSU, but that’s not going to help the Huskers much this year. Once Martinez is healthy, there’s almost no question that he’ll be the full-time starter again. We knew the defense would be inexperienced and probably give up a bunch of yards early, and it’s still Nebraska’s biggest hole to fill. That’s the biggest question moving forward for me. The Big Ten doesn’t appear to be a dominating conference by any means, as we saw this week. Even with some atrocious displays of defense, how likely is making the Big Ten Championship game for Nebraska?
CH: Yeah I think they definitely could. You look at the schedule and the only truly tough games ahead are Michigan State, Northwestern and Michigan, and two of those games are at home. Michigan doesn’t look like too much of a problem, considering the last two weeks they’ve barely squeaked by. So I think it’s definitely possible. Probably a 70 percent chance, I’d say.
NI: I’d say they have a 60 percent chance of making it this year. Like Chris said, the schedule isn’t too strenuous and they’ll play a team in Michigan who’s lucky to have an undefeated record right now. There are two things that can keep Nebraska in the hunt. One, the improvement we saw from Martinez last year needs to show up the rest of the season. Two, developing more consistent passing drives is needed. Then, obviously the biggest elephant in the room is if the defense has the ability to close gaps behind the defensive line. The bigger question, though, is if they do get there, who will the Huskers play and will they break their winless streak in a postseason game?
KC: That’s hard to tell at this point. There’s so much season left to be played, it’s difficult to even guess who Nebraska could see in a bowl game. Last one. In one sentence, give me one bold prediction for the rest of the season.
CH: Ameer Abdullah runs for more than 1,500 yards this season.
NI: The Huskers lose one game the rest of the season.
KC: And I’ll say Nebraska’s defense averages a touchdown per game for the rest of the season. How’s that for bold?