Going in to last week’s game against Wisconsin, the Nebraska offense knew it would be in for a tough test. Prior to the game, the Badgers allowed just 84.4 rushing yards per game, held the best third-down conversion rate in the country and averaged just 12.5 points scored against.
The Huskers blew past those numbers, rushing for 273 yards and scoring 21 points, a performance which offensive coordinator Troy Walters said was encouraging. However, with multiple turnovers and an inability to finish in the red zone, Nebraska’s performance still could have been better.
“In the end all that matters is getting the win, and we didn’t do it, we didn’t score enough points so we’ve got to make improvements,” Walters said.
While the offense played well against Wisconsin, the defense struggled to slow down the Badgers’ potent rushing attack and special teams struggled. A momentum-killing kickoff return for a touchdown and missed field goal were costly mistakes for the Huskers as well. It was yet another instance of a season-long issue for Nebraska: it’s been nearly impossible to get the offense, defense and special teams to play well at the same time.
“I don’t know how many times this year offense has been playing well, defense has been playing well and special teams have been playing well,” Walters said. “It seems like any given day, the offense might be clicking and the defense is struggling or the defense is rolling and we’re struggling.”
At the beginning of the year, Nebraska’s defense looked like the strength of the team while the offense struggled and special teams fell upon especially hard times without a starting kicker. As the season progressed, NU’s defense has struggled, giving up 30-plus points four weeks in a row. Even with sophomore kicker Barret Pickering back, connecting all three aspects of the team together has been a challenge.
“Well we've got to get better in all three phases,” head coach Scott Frost said on Saturday. “Special teams is especially one of them.”
For the Husker offense, this week’s game is an opportunity to do their part. While Nebraska must win its final two games to reach bowl eligibility, that ship has already sailed for its opponent the Maryland Terrapins. On paper, Maryland’s defense hasn’t impressed this year, as it allows 34.3 points per game and gave up 73 points to Ohio State in its last outing. Despite that, Walters isn’t taking the Terrapins lightly.
“They’ve given up a lot of points, but if you look at them man for man, they’re very talented,” he said. “They’ve got good size, good length… it doesn’t look like a team that’s given up as many points as they have.”
The health of freshman all-purpose back Wan’Dale Robinson is again in question after he didn’t play against Wisconsin. Robinson didn’t practice in pads today, increasing the likelihood he won’t play against Maryland either. Also not practicing in pads on Wednesday was senior wideout Kanawai Noa, although he is still expected to play this weekend.
After struggling to get going early in the season, Noa has put together a trio of consistent performances in his last three games. Against Indiana, Purdue and Wisconsin, Noa totaled 10 catches for 171 yards a touchdown. For a team which has lacked consistency at wide receiver apart from junior JD Spielman, Noa’s recent surge has been a hopeful sign that the offense can lead the way.
“He plays hard, plays with passion, and loves the game, he really reminds me of Stanley [Morgan Jr.] last year,” Walters said. “Every time he steps on the field, he has that enthusiasm, that excitement, he’s been doing a great job running great routes and he’s getting better each week.”