Nebraska kicked off its 2019 football season with a tough, sloppy 35-21 win over the South Alabama Jaguars. The Huskers’ offense looked nothing like a Frost offense but the defense and special teams helped with three touchdowns.
Here are three players who impressed:
Cam Taylor, DB
Sophomore DB Cam Taylor played his best game of his Husker career Saturday and it wasn’t in just one area. Taylor was all over the field with five tackles, two tackles for a loss, a strip sack and an interception. He did all of this while playing multiple positions, splitting time between nickel, safety and corner.
Taylor’s versatility means he can be on the field at all times and he is one of those players who can be counted upon to make plays. His strip sack in the fourth quarter came at a crucial time in the game as the Jaguars had all the momentum after scoring 14 unanswered points. That moment was the most important play of the game as the sack didn’t just yield a change in possession, but also produced seven points as it was recovered in the endzone.
Moving forward, Taylor will be hard-pressed to match his production in this week’s game. But if he even produces a fraction of what he did today, it would be a good day.
Eric Lee Jr., DB
Starting safety junior Deontai Williams went down with an undisclosed injury early in the first quarter. Because of this, senior Eric Lee Jr. saw a lot of the field and he made the most of it. Lee had four tackles, two interceptions, including a pick-six, and one pass breakup.
In the third quarter Lee had great back-to-back plays. On the first, he tracked a Jaguar wide receiver on a fly route and was able to get the pass breakup. The next play, Lee picked off the South Alabama quarterback and took it all the way back for a touchdown. On a day when the offense struggled to do much of anything, those seven points were critical.
For a player like Lee who has been on the outside looking in for much of his Husker career, this game could serve as a springboard for what could be a solid senior year. It reminds me a little bit of Antonio Reed from last year. Nebraska could use players like that and they may have one in Lee.
Wan’Dale Robinson, WR/RB
Throughout the offseason, much was said about what true freshman Wan’Dale Robinson would bring to this offense. One of the most highly touted recruits of the Frost era proved his worth today with a spectacular game that numbers can’t show. Overall, Robinson had three receptions for 33 yards as well as four rushes for 21 yards. He was explosive in the kicking game as well, as he had three returns for 77 yards, good for a total of 131 all-purpose yards.
What was clear from the start is that Robinson is as explosive as they come. Every time he touches the ball it could be going all the way. While he didn’t have any of those plays today, he came close a few times, including a 39-yard kick return. As Robinson gets more comfortable with the offense, the Nebraska coaching staff will find more ways to get him the ball, which can only mean good things.
Players that need to show more:
Adrian Martinez, QB
For a player who came into the season with potential Heisman aspirations, Martinez needed to perform better than he did Saturday. Martinez went 13-22 for 178 yards and one interception as well as only six rushing yards on 13 carries. Those numbers are simply not good enough for a player of his caliber.
Martinez at times looked a little hesitant on his reads and a little disjointed, as did the whole Husker offense. He wasn’t getting much from the running game which didn’t help, but for someone who played as well as he did last year, this performance comes as a bit of a shock. He should be able to turn it around, but if the Huskers are to win many games this year, they are going to need more from their star quarterback.
None of the starters on the offensive line are seniors and it showed. The defensive line is one of the strengths of the South Alabama defense, but not to the point where the offensive line could not make running lanes. The offensive line’s struggles were the base of the problem for the Husker offense as it essentially eliminated the inside run game. Junior running back Dedrick Mills is a running back who needs holes to run in, as he isn’t someone who makes people miss. This is why I think he struggled as much as he did this game.
Obviously the season is young and there is a lot of time for improvement, but if the Huskers are going to be competing for a Big Ten West title, they are going to need much better play from the big boys up front.
Non-Spielman/Robinson wide receivers
Last year, the theme for wide receivers was JD Spielman and Stanley Morgan Jr. would catch a lot of passes and that was it. This year, it looks like it might be the same issue but with Robinson taking Morgan Jr’s place. Outside of Spielman and Robinson, the only other wide receiver to record a catch was sophomore Jaevon McQuitty with one catch for six yards. Junior tight end Jack Stoll had a big day which helped lighten the load, but for wide receivers there wasn’t much.
Senior Kanawai Noa is one of the wide receivers who could step up. Noa went for 788 receiving yards two years ago while playing for California. All he needs to do is put up a fraction of that number and he would be a solid third option. It may not be Noa, but someone needs to fill that spot to allow the offense to run more freely.