Nebraska Football vs Georgia Southern Photo No. 16

Nebraska’s Marques Buford (1) runs to intercept the ball during the game against Georgia Southern at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sep. 10, 2022, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Editor's Note: This story was updated on Sept. 11, 2022 at 4:15 p.m. to correct the number of games Nebraska lost under Scott Frost from 32 to 31 and Ajay Allen's home-state from Texas to Louisiana. 

Nebraska football found itself on the wrong side of a one-score game for the 12th straight time on Saturday and suffered the 22nd overall one-score loss in its five years under coach Scott Frost. The program is left at a frustrating and confusing crossroads sitting at 1-2 with nine straight games against Power Five opponents lying ahead. 

Here are four takeaways and a question from the game:

This will quite likely be the game that fells Scott Frost 

Whether it happens this week or perhaps more likely once his buyout price drops by $7.5 million on Oct. 1, Frost’s second loss to a Sun Belt foe in his tenure may prove to be the nail in his coffin after an ill-fated five-year tenure at his alma mater. There have been dozens of other losses under Frost, 31 to be exact, but this one felt especially cruel. It came in spite of a dynamic offense and happened in the once-secure confines of Memorial Stadium. The Huskers were 23-point favorites, won the turnover battle for a change, felt like they mostly had the game in hand late in the fourth and nearly rallied to tie after the defense improbably broke for the umpteenth time. 

It seems Frost doesn’t know what outcome to expect any more than the most passive fan at this point. But at some point there’s a correlation and underlying constant between the recurring unfathomable losses he’s overseen, and the peculiarity of his situation has been well-documented for some time. Nebraska may be shopping for a new coach in the next month and beyond, and an expected static carousel due to last year’s extreme movement could prove to be in its favor. 

Nebraska’s offense can only carry it so far

It seems absurd that an offense as productive as Nebraska’s 2022 outfit finds itself with a 1-2 record, but that’s the case for this team with a +15 point differential and two three-point losses. 

Nebraska’s infusion of talent at the skill positions kept it in this shootout of a game. 

Junior quarterback Casey Thompson connected with nine different pass catchers for a total of 318 passing yards, a touchdown through the air and punched in three more scores on the ground as he flashed some juice with his legs. Running backs Anthony Grant and Ajay Allen combined for over 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns as Grant surpassed 100 yards for the third game in a row. Junior receiver Trey Palmer surpassed 80 receiving yards for the second week in a row and fellow junior receiver Marcus Washington had a breakout game with six grabs for a career-high 123 yards. All five are new to the team this year. 

This year’s offense looks like an upgrade on last year’s explosive unit that struggled to minimize turnovers or convert yards into points. The talent at the skill positions is overflowing so much that coaches have repeatedly talked about not being able to give enough players touches. Junior running back Rahmir Johnson has seen the field but is yet to touch the ball after starting much of last season. It’s a similar story for redshirt freshman running back Gabe Ervin Jr. and sophomore running back Jaquez Yant who each started games last year as well. Senior receiver Omar Manning was the No. 2 target at his spot last year and has largely faded to the background despite recording a catch each of the past two weeks. 

Too many options is a good problem to have, and Nebraska has had both a few constant stars and a rotating cast of supplementary contributors this year. The Huskers can rest assured that their offense isn’t the problem, and it’s a unit that could keep it in some games against better teams this season if the defense can see any improvement. 

This is a markedly different defense than last season

This year’s iteration of the Blackshirts is a vast departure from last year’s stingy bend-don’t-break unit that posted the Huskers’ lowest average points allowed since 2010. Pair this offense with that defense, and perhaps this year’s bad-not-terrible special teams, and you likely have a Big Ten West contender. Unfortunately for offensive coordinator Mark Whipple’s group, they’re tied at the hip with the defense. 

More regression probably should have been expected for this group after losing what it did with three secondary starters, an All-American nickelback and several pieces on the defensive line all departing. But the drop-off has been starker than virtually anyone imagined. Nebraska is hemorrhaging an average of 492 yards per game, a mark that would have ranked 126th played out over the course of last season and last in the Big Ten by over 50 yards. And the teams it has come against are far from the best offenses on the schedule. 

Sophomore defensive back Marques Buford Jr. was the lone bright spot, snagging a pair of interceptions that both shifted the momentum of the game but ultimately not the outcome. This unit can’t look much worse, but it can’t afford to play this poorly in the heart of Big Ten play. Other guys need to step up more reliably as playmakers among a much-talked-about group of linebackers and edge rushers. 

Nebraska has its running back of the present and future — and they’re not the same guy

Grant reaffirmed what most already knew this week, that he can be a marquee bell-cow back for a program with a long line of them, as he toted the ball 27 times for 138 yards and a score. Allen, meanwhile, had the second-most carries of the running backs for the third week in a row, finishing with a career-high 76 yards and a score off of nearly 10 yards per carry. Grant’s success shouldn’t come as a major surprise after he was the JUCO offensive player of the year last season, but he’s decisively separated himself from a position battle that extended deep into fall camp per coach reports. He may well be one of the top backs in the Big Ten and could be primed for a similar breakout season as Kenneth Walker III enjoyed for Michigan State last year. Although that would be an outsized and unfair expectation to place on Grant.

Meanwhile, Allen, a high-3-star recruit from Louisiana, followed running backs coach Bryan Applewhite from TCU to Lincoln and has assimilated to the NCAA landscape at a rate that’s few and far between among players his age. For reference, and at risk of providing another dominant running back comparison, Ameer Abdullah had marginally more yards in his entire freshman campaign than Allen does through three contests — 150 to 141. 

The hierarchy has made itself clear. Nebraska has an All-Big Ten caliber back, a freshman with star upside behind him and a group of experienced and capable reserves further down the depth chart. Paired with Thompson and a bevy of skilled pass catchers, this offense has the skill pieces to compete with nearly anyone in the Big Ten. In order to beat a few of those teams, it will need the line to play like it did on Saturday and the defense to look wholly different. 

Can this Nebraska team bounce back?

A massive opponent, and perhaps opportunity, looms with top-ten rated Oklahoma coming to Lincoln for a rematch of last year’s surprisingly close battle. Frost’s teams of late have largely shown a short memory in their effort, but not in their end results. Take one look at last year’s close loss after close loss for a case study. The Huskers appear to have a better offense now and home-field advantage after playing OU closer than expected last year. Does that change the result? And if they lose that one, can they rebound against Indiana after a bye week? How much does the chatter about Frost’s job security affect the players? 

Nebraska appears to be in line for another season filled with close contests, so long as the defense doesn’t hold it back too much. Conventional wisdom would imply that if the Huskers play in eight or more one-score games this season, the result has to flip at some point. Frost has won close games before but not many of them. The key will be resiliency and continued motivation even after a season may seem “lost.” Because, again, Nebraska at least has the requisite pieces to flip a couple outcomes in a major way this season. 

sports@dailynebraskan.com