Week one of the college football season is typically the time for teams to get their first game experience and figure out what they need to improve on. For a Nebraska team that went 4-8 last year but came into the season ranked No. 24, a 35-21 win over South Alabama showed things that the Huskers do well and items to improve on. Here are a few takeaways:
The Blackshirts can force turnovers
One of the biggest goals for the Nebraska defense this offseason was to build a defense that can regularly force turnovers. Scott Frost’s teams at UCF were among the best in the NCAA in forcing turnovers, a quality he wanted to bring to the Huskers. In 2018, the Nebraska defense created only 12 turnovers all season.
However, the Husker defense stepped up and produced nearly half of their 2018 turnover total in one game, recovering two fumbles and picking off three passes. Two of these turnovers went for touchdowns, ultimately proving to be the difference in the game.
The defensive back group showed how opportunistic and hard-hitting they can be, forcing all five South Alabama turnovers. The two fumbles were forced by senior cornerback Lamar Jackson and sophomore cornerback Cam Taylor, both of them lighting up South Alabama sophomore quarterback Cephus Johnson and knocking the ball loose. Taylor’s forced fumble led to a defensive touchdown; he also had an interception in the game.
Senior safety Eric Lee Jr. also came up big as he intercepted two passes, including one he returned for a touchdown.
Despite looking like Nebraska’s weak spot last season, the Blackshirts were the main reason the Huskers came out with the win. If they can keep up the trend of forcing multiple turnovers per game, the Husker defense will be a force to be reckoned with.
Offense needs to improve
Although the offense did enough to win the game, it’s unlikely that Nebraska can continue to put out offensive performances like this one and expect to win games.
The Husker offense had two turnovers on the day, giving up a fumble and throwing an interception. Junior wideout JD Spielman also lost a muffed punt, setting up a South Alabama touchdown. Sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez struggled, throwing the aforementioned pick and nearly throwing two more interceptions. Martinez finished the day with just 178 passing yards and six yards on the ground.
Martinez’s rushing struggles carried over to the running backs as well, as the Huskers totaled just 146 rushing yards on 44 attempts (2.2 yards per carry). Junior running back Dedrick Mills had 44 rushing yards and both offensive touchdowns on the day, but still only managed 2.9 yards per carry.
Some of this may have been the fault of a struggling offensive line as well, but overall the Huskers showed very little of the 2018 Nebraska offense that was top 25 in the NCAA in offensive yards. Martinez and the rest of the offense will have to improve to have a chance in a bigger test against Colorado next week.
Nebraska’s offense has weapons
Nebraska’s offense was dangerous last year, and they only seem to be adding more talent. Freshman all-purpose player Wan’Dale Robinson impressed in his collegiate debut, totaling 131 all-purpose yards between rushing, receiving and kick returns. Every time he touched the ball, he seemed to have a chance to break off a big play using his speed and quickness.
Spielman also stepped up, showing he was good enough to be the No. 1 receiver for the Huskers. He had just 36 yards on three catches, but made one of the biggest plays of the game on a 76-yard punt return touchdown.
Sophomore Maurice Washington started the second half at running back after serving his half-game suspension and had Nebraska’s longest run of the game on his second carry. He finished the game with 39 yards on six carries, along with a 13-yard reception.
Although the offense struggled, it was clear that the Huskers have plenty of dangerous playmakers. If Martinez returns to form in the following games, Nebraska’s offense has the potential to be even more explosive than it was last year.