As Northwestern heads overseas to kick off its 2022 season against Nebraska, it will look to avenge a 2021 loss that was ugly, to say the least. The Cornhuskers handed NU one of its worst defeats in recent memory in their last matchup, clobbering the ‘Cats 56-7 in Lincoln. Unfortunately for Scott Frost’s squad, that October blowout marked the high point of its 3-9 season. But that record doesn’t reveal everything about the Huskers. So, here are three things you need to know about Nebraska ahead of the season opener:
Nebraska didn't play like your typical 3-9 team
This is far from a secret, but it bears repeating that Nebraska was somewhat of an anomaly in 2021. Even though the Huskers posted the nation's 37th best SP+ rating and a positive scoring margin, they only managed to beat Northwestern, Buffalo and Fordham.
Nebraska's inability to win tight games was the root of its problems. The remarkable list of teams that beat the Huskers by only one score last season includes Oklahoma, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Their biggest loss? A nine-point defeat to Ohio State. Despite having to run through the elite Big Ten East gauntlet, Frost and Co. proved they could hang with the conference's best. That being said...
The offense will look very different from last season
After four seasons in Lincoln, quarterback Adrian Martinez transferred to Kansas State. He'll be replaced by Texas transfer Casey Thompson, who threw for 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions on a 62.6 quarterback rating in 2021. While Thompson has performed slightly better in the pocket than Martinez, he isn't especially threatening as a runner compared to the former Husker, who led the team in rushing last year.
With pass-happy offensive coordinator Mark Whipple now running the show, Big Red will probably attack the air much more than it has in the past few years. But Nebraska's two leading receivers from last season are now in the NFL (Samori Toure with the Packers, Austin Allen with the Giants). So, it remains to be seen who Thompson's top option will be.
Plus, all three of Nebraska's starters on the interior offensive line are gone. If Whipple relies on the passing attack enough, those losses may not be as significant as they appear. But they will require major scheme adjustments — which, by extension, will force Northwestern's defense to stay on its toes with no game film to review.
It's a make-or-break year for Scott Frost
Frost has been at the helm since 2018 when he took the job at his alma mater following a 13-0 season at UCF. Not once has Big Red put up a winning record during his tenure. The program's plethora of close losses last season only added fuel to the fire under his seat. As a result, Nebraska restructured Frost's contract last November by giving him a 20% salary cut and slashing his buyout price in half.
As much as this week's game in Dublin matters for Northwestern, it may matter even more for the Huskers. Our own Ben Chasen pointed out that Nebraska hasn't yet beaten a Power Five opponent to open the season under Frost. A resounding win could set the tone for the Huskers to cruise through a mostly tame early schedule, but a loss to the 'Cats could foreshadow a feeling that has become all too familiar for this program: disappointment.