The 2022 season has not been kind to Nebraska, but at least for them the Scott Frost pain era is finally over. We talk about that, and much more in our weekly Q&A. Be sure to check out Corn Nation to get some other perspective on Saturday’s contest!
1. The Scott Frost era is over, who do you think is going to be the next Head Coach at Nebraska? Is who you THINK and who you WANT different?
I’ll reverse it a little and shorten up what I’ve been doing in my weekly column (The 24-HOUR RULE on Corn Nation! Come to the dark side! Wow, I’ve never snuck in a plug before!) where I popped in my coach wish list three times, sort of a beginning, middle, end, and stated who I thought would get it this week.
My big three requirements were 1) Power 5 head coaching experience, 2) a low-floor, high-ceiling guy, and 3) someone with a track record of fixing broken things. My top 3 in order were:
- Lance Leipold - checks off all three, teams play hard and disciplined, has history at both Nebraska and Nebraska-Omaha and that pile of DIII championships isn’t meaningless.
- Matt Rhule - checks off all three, what he did at Baylor was simply remarkable and considers line play the difference between winning and losing football. There were definitely some high fives when Carolina fired him.
- Dave Aranda - a name I’m guessing you’re familiar with, ditto on the big three and his defensive focus is something I wouldn’t mind seeing again in an HC
- Deion Sanders - was never going to happen but I loved the ideas of 1) top 5 recruiting classes and 2) some of our rural, “traditionalist” fans bursting into flame when the hire is announced
Personally, I think it’s Matt Rhule. Of all the recent smoke, he seemed to have a few actual flames popping up here in recent days.
And I would be 100% thrilled with Matt Rhule.
2. In years past Nebraska has been able to put up points against Wisconsin because they had a dynamic player at quarterback. However, Nebraska is dealing with some question marks at quarterback. What’s going on there?
It was announced yesterday Casey Thompson will play Saturday, so while he’s not dynamic, what was playing behind him was downright anemic in his absence.
When Thompson went down against Illinois with under 7 minutes left in the 2nd quarter, Nebraska was up 9-6 and had gained more yards on them than they were averaging giving up per game at the time. In the two a half games since, they have scored 16 points total - and 10 of those were on their first two drives against Minnesota virtually all on the ground.
If he’s truly ready to go, we have some weapons around him to make things interesting. We also have an offensive line that has been sporadically successful in their best moments, so…
If Casey’s not full speed or goes down early, a lot of rum will be going down my gullet as well. Chubba Purdy is done with ankle surgery and there’s no delicate way to describe his play, so I’ll just move on. A banged-up Logan Smothers, a run-oriented QB, is next up and after that it’s a redshirt freshman walk-on from Hastings, NE. In that scenario, the offense could check out for a 3rd straight game.
3. Nebraska has Thompson and other strong skill players, what has made the offense struggle despite the talent?
Quite simply, the offensive line. When people ask what went wrong there, I tell them basically everything that could. Stop it, I’m not laughing.
Cam Jurgens was drafted by the Eagles, but you lose guys every year and he was it, so everyone was still feeling pretty good. Teddy Prochazka, a 6’10” 325 redshirt freshman, was fantastic in 2021 when given the start, but injured his knee against Michigan after neutralizing Aiden Hutchinson most of the game - and this year he was shut down early when it was clear he wasn’t ready. We then lost our 2nd best lineman to a failed drug test.
After that, we still had several other formerly highly touted recruits who simply haven’t gotten it done and it’s unclear whether it was development issues (the three above surely seemed well-developed), a poor job of scouting or both.
But whatever the reasons, it’s the glaring weak link and something the incoming coach will have to address immediately.
4. Defensively it looks like Nebraska has been a bit up and down all year. What are the strengths and weaknesses of that unit?
Basically, it was way, way down (literally ranked at or near the bottom nationally in almost every major category) until former DC Erik Chinander was fired a week after Frost. Since then, I won’t say it’s suddenly amazing, but night and day is a fair description. Since Bill Busch took over as DC, the change that most warmed our hearts was seeing different sets and coverages. With Chins, it felt like we were running the same basic set on every play. I’m not kidding. Calling the other team's plays successfully in the bar repeatedly did not fill us with confidence.
They’re a bit undersized on the line but have been very solid at stopping the run since the change. They tired in the second half against Minnesota and Michigan but that happens when your offense can’t stay on the field for more than a minute. If Thompson can string some drives together, I believe they can keep Allen in check.
Pass defense wise, they have played much more aggressively after Busch took over with much more man-to-man and tighter cushions. It has paid off with fewer big plays and more turnovers.
5. What does Nebraska need to do to win this game?
Score more points than Wisconsin - HOOO-AAH!!!
Sorry, couldn’t resist. I’ve touched on it above, but it’s pretty simple. The offensive line has to keep Thompson upright and in the game. He is generally pretty accurate with only the occasional misfire.
A deep ball to Trey Palmer is something that needs to happen. After 237 yards receiving against Purdue, he has basically been shut down by Purdy’s inability to get a ball near a Husker receiver unless they’re in double or triple coverage.
But if the line can protect Casey well enough for him to hit a few passes and open things up for Anthony Grant on the ground, this could be a close game. I feel sorry for Grant - a very talented back who could be running for 1500 yards behind an average line. If they can do all that and rest the defense for the first time in a few weeks, we could have a chance.
But that’s a whole buncha if’s which have to cash in if we’re gonna break that 10-year win streak.
6. Score Prediction?
I’m going to go on the assumption that Casey will go 100% for the game and the bookies have adjusted accordingly with the line having dropped from -13 to -10 ½ for the Badgers since the announcement.
All the who’s and what-if’s have been covered and I’ve babbled too much even by my standards. I think the Huskers will come out fired up for their seniors, wanting to give Mickey one more chance and pumped up some with Casey back in the lineup. They will get some quick points for an early lead and I believe the defense will play well giving Allen around 130 yards on 25-30 carries and grab a pick or two from Mertz.
However, that’s a script we’ve seen before and adjustments offensively have NOT been the Huskers strong suit after early success. For the love of Bo Pelini, are we the only team this year to lose our Offensive Coordinator to a knee injury. Jack Daniels, take my ass away!
I think it’s closer than expected but the song is the same in the end. Brunch in Lincoln ends with Badgers 26 Huskers 20.