Progress is always tough to measure and Nebraska’s 48-7 loss to Ohio State makes it even tougher to really judge where the Huskers are at.
Last year, after a blowout loss on the road to Michigan, Nebraska was competitive in every game after. While they lost tough road games to Ohio State and Iowa near the end of the season, it was fair to assume this team would take a step forward in the offseason.
While the team’s season got off to an inconsistent start, Saturday night was a chance to show how far the program had come over the past year and a half.
After Saturday’s performance, it’s fair to question how much this team has progressed.
First, one should look at where the Huskers would seemingly progress, which starts with the development of sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez. Some even had him in the Heisman conversation.
This season he has not progressed and one could make a good case that he has regressed instead. On Saturday he had his worst game in a Husker jersey completing 8-17 passes for 47 yards with three interceptions and no touchdowns. This wasn’t his first poor performance of the year either as he had a poor first half last week against Illinois and had a clunker of a season-opener.
What was particularly concerning about his performance wasn’t just the numbers, but his body language. For a quarterback who head coach Scott Frost praises for his poise, he looked unsettled and rushed for much of the game. Throws were off his back foot and he rarely stepped into his throws. Part of that is on the offensive line for not giving him much time, but Ohio State isn’t the only talented defensive front the Huskers will face this year.
Martinez did have a decent game on the ground with 81 yards, but when 56 of those yards came on one run in garbage time, that number doesn’t look as good. While this game can look disconcerting for Martinez, he’s a good quarterback with great physical tools, he just needs to become more consistent which will come with time. His progress isn’t maybe where Husker fans had hoped it would be, which means Husker fans will need to be patient.
The other area that had shown progress prior to the game was the defense. Other than a bad second half against Colorado, the defense had been solid and looked to be improved from last year. Saturday the defense looked like a busted pipe in need of flex seal.
Nebraska’s defensive strength started with the defensive front’s ability to get pressure on the quarterback as well as fill gaps to stop the run. They did neither part well as Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields had plenty of time all day and Nebraska’s run defense gave up 368 yards on the ground.
Credit should be given to the Ohio State offensive line which senior linebacker Mohamed Barry said was much-improved compared to last year. In the end though, if this Nebraska defense is going to succeed it will need to play well at the line of scrimmage, and with other great offensive lines in Wisconsin and Iowa on the schedule, they are sure to be tested.
The other area the defense has been successful at was forcing takeaways, but Ohio State didn’t turn the ball over all game. While credit should be given to the Buckeyes for taking care of the ball, the Huskers were first in the Big Ten at turnovers forced and knew going in they needed to force a few to stay in the game.
So, after that performance, how much has the defense really progressed? That answer is tough to say. Ohio State has one of the best offenses in the country and will put up points on some of the best defenses in the country. The best answer at this time is they are better than last season, but not yet at a point where they can contain great offenses or even good ones at times.
All of these questions circle back to the question of progress in the program. What Saturday showed was this team still has not reached that next level, although there are signs of them getting there sooner rather than later.
Nebraska has two winnable games against quality Big Ten West opponents before its first bye week. If the Huskers can take care of business and win those games, then that’s a step in the right direction. That’s progress.
Until then, the jury is still out.