It's been a while since I've written about Nebraska. Well, let me rephrase that. It's been a while since I've written solely about Nebraska football. Sure, there was the rant, and I'm sure I've put a few snippets out in other articles about what this team is about, but nothing in the past month has forced me to really say much. Since an abysmal half of football against UCLA, Nebraska has more or less taken care of business, gotten a little stronger on defense each week - with the aid of some subpar offenses - and has proven that their run game led by Ameer Abdullah is a legitimate, in your face rush game.
So why write now? Especially considering Nebraska is coming off of a Bye week and looks to face another team that is most likely overmatched? Well, I finally am ready to start talking about expectations. Namely, is it fair to expect anything out of this young team yet? In other words, can I start to get invested in a team that has a penchant to succeed and fail in spectacular fashion... With a crazy month of football ahead, here are three reasons I see Nebraska failing and three reasons I see Nebraska succeeding en route towards Indianapolis.
Nebraska fails miserably because...
1. The defense is still not so good.
Look, the last two games have been nice to see with Purdue scoring a meaningless 7 against the scout team and Illinois only putting up 19. However, Nebraska is still averaging around 407 YPG allowed and if you watch closely, teams who can aggressively target our LB corp in short passes are extremely successful. There are plenty of teams - Michigan and Northwesternifhealthy (I'm going to make that a thing) being two that come to mind - that are capable of exerting a lot of pressure on this team and Iowa's punishing run game terrifies me still. More scary? Nebraska is allowing almost 5.8 yards per play. That's, uh, problematic.
2. Taylor Martinez has been hurt, could be rusty, and the backups are still raw.
This is a tough one to put up here because I'll hear it from both sides. Yes, Taylor Martinez can be one of the most costly quarterbacks in the game. He tries to fit balls in windows he can't fit it in, he can get careless with the ball, and he really has a way of making bad decisions in critical situations. Conversely, he's a dual threat that really does put pressure on opposing defenses and he has a knack for making Michigan State miss - which will be important down the road. Unfortunately, turf toe lingers. He's been shutdown for the better part of a month now, so hopefully it's all healed up, and it's not like the backups are awful. Still, a healthy Martinez will be necessary to get back to Indy. If the injury lingers, who knows what happens.
A second part to note here. Injuries can always be a devastating part to a team, but while the Huskers have been able to absorb the temporary loss of Taylor Martinez, I am nervous that the loss of Spencer Long on the field could be really bad. This OL has been great this year and Long is a huge part to the continuity of the line from calling out what he sees to just leading by example. While there are already rotations and plans in place to make sure the loss isn't the end of the world, I am still really nervous about what that means to this team going forward. One man doesn't make a line, but it sure doesn't help to lose him.
3. The Nebraska coaching staff has yet to prove it can win big.
Not to say that Nebraska does not have some great wins under Bo and Co. However, without piling on this staff for a number of questionable decisions in the past, it is worth considering the reality that they also seem to get outcoached. The UCLA game was a picture perfect example. Nebraska played tough that first half. The defensive scheme worked for the most part, the offense wasn't humming, but it was effective enough, and Nebraska had done enough to win at that point. Mora adjusted, though, and Nebraska spent a half of football not understanding what was going on. With enough good coaches left on the schedule, I shudder to think of the possibilities for getting out-adjusted lay out there. This is a very reasonable fear to have as a Nebraska fan, and I am terrified of watching well-coached teams that may be inferior in talent, still win the game on execution.
Nebraska succeeds in wonderful ways and ends up in Indianapolis because...
1. Ameer Abdullah, that's why.
I definitely understand why someone would overlook Abdullah. He generally isn't a bowling ball, and he doesn't necessarily have the breakaway speed you would want in a flashy HB, but Abdullah is shifty in space, has incredible vision, and has a knack for working harder than everyone else on the field. To date, he is sixth in YPG rushing in the nation and has set the pace for Nebraska so far. He is tied for 2nd in 20+ yard carries with ten, and is tied for 9th in 10+ yard carries with 23. He's also averaging 22 yards receiving per game. Basically, he's really really good and I'm glad Nebraska has him. He runs with that swagger that is just really fun to watch, almost in a Barry Sanders way (and no I'm not comparing his talent, just his style).
2. Schedules are our friend.
Everybody plays everybody. I get that. Still, Nebraska has as easy a path to Indianapolis in light of current standing as anyone. With MSU coming to Lincoln in what looks to be a deciding game AND the fact that Nebraska has avoided Ohio State and Wisconsin this year, it looks like things are lining up nicely. Add to that the reality that avoiding Indiana is proving to be a nice thing for this defense and you have the makings for a great run. Nebraska should be favored in most - if not all - of its game sans Michigan at the Big House. Even dropping that but winning the rest is a good bet that the Huskers are
losing in awful fashion off to face the Buckeyes.
3. The Defense might not be as bad as people thought either.
This is not to say that the Nebraska defense is good either. It's just not a constant tire-fire bad either. We knew going into this year that this would be all about the growth and maturation of an incredible amount of Freshman and Sophomores getting their feet wet in big time football. There would be times where they look incredibly lost and hopefully there would be times where they looked competent.
While the opponents - Illinois and Purdue - have not been the greatest stress test on the Nebraska defense, they've also shown people that the players are getting a better idea of how to adapt to what they're seeing. Randy Gregory is playing like a man possessed and is a wonderful fulfillment of expectation. Stanley Jean-Baptiste is proving he has the talent to play on Sundays. The LB corp is learning to talk. See, lots to like here. Will they regress some still? Probably off of the Purdue/Illinois games, but I am hoping this is a sign of growth. If the defense becomes competent, Nebraska is a very legit team. It starts Saturday, though.
So what you're saying is...
As a Nebraska fan who tries not to get caught up in high expectations or sky-is-falling drama, I am trying to say there are some positives and negatives going into the next month. The Big Ten might be a little squishy in the middle, but it does make for a lot of fun football. In looking at the rest of the schedule for the Huskers, there is definitely a chance they could run the table. There is an equally good chance they get blasted a couple of times by teams they didn't see coming - or did and still got ran over. I do not see a bad game, per say, left and that makes me happiest. We may look back on this article and laugh at how I don't watch football, obviously, but that won't change that we have a lot of great stuff about to happen in the B1G landscape. Can't be mad about that.