Following the conclusion of the Nebraska football season, the Daily Nebraskan will be examining the success of each position. This is the first part of this series, evaluating the team as a whole.
To put it simply, Nebraska football didn’t live up to expectations this season.
The Huskers came into the year ranked No. 24 in the Associated Press’ preseason poll and sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez was seen as a potential Heisman candidate. Nebraska was also picked to win the Big Ten West by some media members and many others.
Months later, Nebraska finished at 5-7 and missed out on a bowl game for the third straight season. Martinez regressed, and the Huskers finished second-to-last in their division.
There were plenty of reasons for Nebraska’s 4-8 season in 2018. It was Frost’s first year as Nebraska head coach with a new roster that had yet to play together for the most part. The players who had been on the team previously had to adjust to an entirely new spread offense system. The 4-8 season wasn’t ideal, but the lack of experience and a 4-2 finish to the year gave plenty of reasons for hope.
However, this season, Nebraska had the talent to win more games than it did, but never took advantage of its opportunities. Realistic expectations for the team sunk lower after every single game.
The Huskers had a shaky start to the year right from the season opener. In that first game, they squeaked out a 35-21 win over South Alabama, a team which finished last season 2-10. Nebraska’s offense was touted as the strength of the team coming into the season, but the Huskers were powered by three non-offensive touchdowns. Martinez struggled in the game, completing 13-22 passes for just 178 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.
Then, the first of many embarrassing losses for the Huskers came against Colorado. Nebraska looked like it would avenge its 2018 loss to the Buffaloes, jumping out to a 17-0 lead at halftime. Then, it gave up 31 points in the second half on the way to a 34-31 overtime loss. Even after blowing the lead, Nebraska regained the lead with a touchdown and then forced and recovered a Colorado fumble with just over five minutes left to go. However, the Huskers received a personal foul after the play and went three-and-out to set up Colorado’s game-tying drive.
After the game, players and coaches were visibly emotional about the missed opportunity and expectations were dashed. Nebraska fell out of the top 25 rankings and wouldn’t return for the rest of the year.
Days after the loss, senior linebacker Mohamed Barry made a bold declaration, saying, “no one’s going to care about Colorado when we’re in the Big Ten Championship.”
The Huskers’ next big showdown came against Ohio State three weeks later. Nebraska sat at 3-1 after a blowout win over Northern Illinois and a 42-38 victory in its conference opener against Illinois. College GameDay came to town for the game, and it seemed that the Huskers would have a chance against the No. 5 Buckeyes after only losing by five points to them in 2018.
Ohio State dismantled Nebraska, winning 48-7 and shutting out the Huskers for almost three quarters. Martinez’s Heisman chances had already become extremely low before this game, and they became nonexistent after he threw for 47 yards and three interceptions in the loss.
Going into the bye week, Nebraska still stood at 4-3. The Huskers beat Northwestern 13-10 on a game-winning field goal from sophomore safety-turned-kicker Lane McCallum, and were blown out again the next week on the road by an undefeated Minnesota team by a score of 34-7.
Expectations were lowered again after the loss, as the Big Ten Championship appearance seemed unlikely. However, with Indiana, Purdue and Maryland still left on the schedule, a bowl game looked to be a realistic expectation for Nebraska.
Despite this, the Huskers stumbled down the final stretch, going 1-4 in their final five games. Nebraska held double-digit leads against Indiana and Purdue, but ended up losing both games by a single score. After Nebraska’s second bye week, Wisconsin earned a comfortable 37-21 win over the Huskers.
Nebraska improved to 5-6 in its second-to-last game of the year, delivering its most complete performance in a 54-7 win over Maryland. This set the Huskers up for a chance at bowl eligibility against Iowa at home. After being down 17-3 in the second quarter, Nebraska tied the game up at 24 late in the third. However, it fell to the Hawkeyes on a last-second field goal for the second straight year.
It seemed after nearly every game, Frost said the Huskers could have won if they had made just a few more plays. With four losses coming within seven points, those plays could have given Nebraska a much more impressive record of 9-3 or 8-4. Instead, the Huskers failed to execute repeatedly in key moments and failed to reach .500 in Frost’s second season.
The offense as a whole regressed from 2018, scoring two less points per game and gaining 38.7 less yards per game. Meanwhile the defense improved, holding opponents to fewer points per game than it did in 2018 and forcing 21 turnovers.
Meanwhile, some of the key contributors changed throughout the year. Sophomore running back Maurice Washington was expected to be a key contributor for years to come, but struggled with injuries throughout the start of the season and is currently not with the team for disciplinary reasons.
However, freshman all-purpose back Wan’Dale Robinson quickly became a fan favorite and key part of the offense. Robinson had 793 combined rushing and receiving yards along with five total touchdowns. He was also sidelined with injuries at times throughout the year, but will likely be a big part of the team in the future.
Nebraska going 5-7 isn’t the end of the world, as Frost is still just in his second year and the team had a better record than it did in 2018. However, the story of the season was that the Huskers missed opportunities and failed to live up to the hype.