After wrapping up what seemed to be a far-longer-than-three-week non-conference schedule, the Wildcats are headed to Lincoln to take on the 2-3 Nebraska Cornhuskers. With these two teams always seeming to play each other close as of late, tensions are sure to be high and Memorial Stadium will certainly be rocking.
Two of the three Cornhusker losses have come to ranked teams in Oklahoma and Michigan State. However, they also lost to Illinois and have yet to secure a win against a Power Five team. As such, they’re somewhat of an enigma. That’s where Corn Nation’s Andy Ketterson comes in to tell us a little bit more about what to expect from this Nebraska team come tomorrow night.
Inside NU: Just about everyone knows the name Adrian Martinez by now for one reason or another. Who are some other Nebraska players that we should be on the lookout for on the offensive side of the ball?
Ketterson: Hmmm…on the lookout for who beyond Adrian…uh….aahhh….(zzzz -HUH? I’m up!)
Just kidding – let’s get the quick ones out of the way:
On the offensive line, it’s whoever doesn’t false start this weekend.
At running back, although some blame lies with the offensive line, no one really as of yet has stepped up. The longest four or five rushes of the year were by Martinez. The next highest are two of 21 yards – one by a Samori Toure (a WR, more on him next) and Gabe Ervin (out for the year). Not exactly terrifying.
Finally, wide receiver is easily the strongest offensive position after QB. The aforementioned Toure is a transfer from Montana who was being projected as late-round draft pick but wanted to compete in Power Five and maybe move up a couple rounds. Xavier Betts, a local guy, was ranked in the Rivals top 60 or 70 nationally and is starting learn his routes and get loose deep. They are likeliest to turn heads on Saturday.
Inside NU: The Cornhuskers played an undefeated Michigan State team very close last weekend, with their defense largely stifling Kenneth Walker III and limiting Payton Thorne in the passing game. Is Nebraska’s defense as legitimate as it looked last Saturday? Or was that somewhat of a fluke? Who are some defensive players to look out for?
Ketterson: It’s looking pretty damn legitimate now. The previous week, they held Oklahoma to their fewest points since Lincoln Riley took over, and, besides shutting Walker down, they did not allow a single first down to the Spartans in the second half. The Sooners edged over 400 total yards in that game, and that was the first time the Huskers had allowed over that number in seven games. They’re a dangerous mix of experience and younger guys with some freakish athleticism, and even though there’s much football left to play, they are feeling like the best Blackshirt unit since Ndamukong Suh’s senior season right now.
As for guys to watch, let’s start with Damion Daniels at the nose guard who stuffs the middle. Garrett Nelson at ILB has been all over the field making plays, as has Jojo Domann, who, at about 235 pounds, will get tackles for loss and cover a slot receiver on a deep route. Right now, this unit is our bright spot.
Inside NU: Northwestern’s defense has not looked good so far in 2021, with the ‘Cats posting the worst run defense in the Big Ten through the first four weeks. How do you think Nebraska will try to exploit the Wildcats’ defense in this matchup?
Ketterson: Wow, sounds like the stoppable force is meeting the moveable object! Nonetheless, we will attempt to establish the run, and if there has been a bright spot, it is that the O-line moved both Oklahoma and Michigan St. up front late in the game. Unfortunately, they also forget how to pass block late in the game or, as Coach Frost said, “I’ve got one of the most athletic QBs in D1 and we’re at the bottom of the conference in sacks. It’s unacceptable.”
He’s not lying — when Adrian gets sacked, it just breaks down in about two seconds. Usain Bolt wouldn’t have a prayer. With that being said, even minimal success on the ground will open things up for the receivers and almost guaranteed is that Martinez will find daylight at some point and bust loose for a couple of big runs. It’s been happening almost every week.
Inside NU: When Scott Frost first arrived at Nebraska, there seemed to be high hopes amongst the fan base that he would be the one to turn the program around. That hasn’t really been the case so far in his tenure, so what would you say the current temperature of Frost’s seat is?
Ketterson: It honestly depends with whom you speak. There are many who can’t see beyond the W/L record and are ready to rip it all apart again and start over with…who?
Some fans see the changes which have slowly taken place and are hanging in there. We have lost a crazy number of one-score games in that few years, many in jaw-dropping, excruciating fashion (see: punt to best Spartan player on the field away from all the coverage last week), but once the jaws finally close, the empty whiskey bottles are replaced and the hangovers subside, the reality is we are in games with teams that just pounded our asses under the last staff. And the question remains – if Frost gets run out of town, who of any note even wants the job?
All that being said, he’s still pretty safe right now. Most times, it wouldn’t be the case with a new AD, but Trev Alberts comes from the same era as Frost and has the intelligence and patience to see what is going on with the program and not do anything rash. It would take some serious steps backwards beyond the brain farts — which are the biggest issues now — before he makes a move. But no idea what the clock on needing to see some wins is.
Inside NU: Ready or not, it’s prediction time. The Huskers open as -11.5 favorites in this one, but these teams usually play each other pretty close. Who do you think walks away with the right to be called NU and why?
Ketterson: I’m sure I’ll bang my head for this later after watching three Husker passing touchdowns get called back for illegal receiver downfield and Northwestern running back a blocked FG on the first series of OT for the 20-14 victory as we outgain the ‘Cats 425 – 187, but I just feel like the team is ready to erupt at home. No disrespect at all intended to you guys, I promise, but in the words of the Dillon Panthers Coach Taylor, “I need something good to happen.”
Huskers 38, Wildcats 17
(But since that goes completely against the short history of NU/NU since we joined up, as well as our own recent history? I am 100% ready to eat crow or Husky floof or whatever when that first scenario above comes to pass. Thanks much and good luck to all the lads!)