Remember in July when Nebraska was picked to win the Big Ten west division by the media?
Well, things haven’t unfolded quite as projected.
Nebraska was a team that many fans and media types picked to make a big leap after the Cornhuskers played better down the stretch last season. What many people forgot was that Nebraska finished with a 4-8 record for the second straight season.
This season has been a slight improvement for Scott Frost and company, but at 4-5 through nine games, representing the Big Ten West in Indianapolis is now out of the question.
Here are the results so far for the Nebraska Cornhuskers:
- Win vs. South Alabama 35-21
- Loss at Colorado 31-34 (OT)
- Win vs. Northern Illinois 44-8
- Win at Illinois 42-38
- Loss vs. Ohio State 7-48
- Win vs. Northwestern 13-10
- Loss at Minnesota 7-34
- Loss vs. Indiana 31-38
- Loss at Purdue 27-31
In this edition of B5Q’s upcoming “opponent at a glance,” we take a deeper look at how Nebraska has looked so far this year.
Adrian Martinez is a dynamic athlete. He had one of the best freshman seasons in Big Ten conference history last year. He entered this season a dark horse Heisman Trophy finalist, but has not been as effective in year two. Martinez is below all of his season averages from a season ago, and has a completed only 59% of his passes this year.
While he has missed two games due to injuries, he has only thrown for seven touchdowns to six interceptions. Nebraska only ranks No. 72 in the nation for passing efficiency and No. 76 in passing offense.
Martinez is still, by far, the most impactful player on Nebraska’s offense though. In addition to leading the team in passing, he is also the leading rusher with 399 yards rushing. Running backs Dedrick Mills and Maurice Washington have shown flashes at times in their careers, but neither player has been overly impressive this season in a by committee approach that has garnered 186 yards per game on the ground. Washington has been away from the team the past two games due to legal matters.
The lack of a strong running game, and Martinez’s struggles, have led Nebraska to an average of only 26.3 points per game, good for No. 81 across the FBS.
One bright spot for Nebraska has been the emergence of freshman standout Wan’Dale Robinson. The do it all playmaker has amassed over 1,000 all-purpose yards. Robinson was the gem of the 2019 recruiting class, and he is already paying dividends for the Cornhuskers. He is a player that can break a game open at any moment when on the field.
The other playmaker on the outside to keep an eye on is J.D. Spielman. The junior wide receiver leads the team in receiving with 689 yards, and is also a dangerous punt returner.
If Wisconsin wants to win in Lincoln, Robinson and Spielman are two dynamic athletes that the Badgers will need to keep in check.
The Nebraska starting defense, commonly known as the “Blackshirts,” is led by linebacker Mohamed Barry. The one time Wisconsin commit has been a solid player for the Cornhuskers during his tenure in Lincoln. The senior from Georgia leads the team in tackles and is the unquestioned leader. Next to him, Will Honas and Collin Miller have done well at inside linebacker as well.
The defense as a whole though has been up and down. The defensive line has some solid players like brothers Carlos Davis and Khalil Davis who have accounted for 8.5 sacks, but as a team the Cornhuskers rank No. 74 in the FBS in total defense at over 400 yards allowed per game. One main reason for that has been the inability for Nebraska to get off the field.
Nebraska ranks No. 113 in time of possession, in large part because the defense is on the field so often. Part of that lies on the offense, but a big issue has been third down defense. Nebraska ranks No. 13 in the Big Ten in third down stoppage rate, with a rushing and passing defense that both ranking No. 11 in the conference.
That was an awful series for the Nebraska defense.— Steven M. Sipple (@HuskerExtraSip) November 2, 2019
Purdue converts three third-down plays on 13-play march that lasted 5:35.
Two rushing first downs.
Terrible rushing offense.
Senior cornerback Lamar Jackson and safety Marquel Dismuke has each shown the ability to make plays in the secondary, but consistency on defense has been lacking in 2019.
With a defensive unit that ranks near the bottom of the Big Ten across most metrics, the Wisconsin offense should be able run the ball well on Saturday.
In total, Nebraska has yet to live up to lofty expectations in Scott Frost’s second year at the helm. Offensive miscues and injuries paired with a defense that has struggled with third downs has lead to the Cornhuskers current 4-5 record. With three more games left, Adrian Martinez and the rest of Nebraska aim to get to a bowl after three straight losses.
Wisconsin had a bounce-back performance against Iowa last week, and will need to continue that momentum in order to fend off a Nebraska team in dire need of a win to right the ship.
Nebraska has struggled at getting to the quarterback on defense, but the offense has playmakers that can make turn the tide of a game at the drop of a hat. Wisconsin will need to minimize the big plays for Spielman and freshman sensation Robinson to keep control of the Freedom Trophy on Saturday.