Without a miraculous turnaround, the Huskers look to finish with a losing record for the second time in three years under Mike Riley as they fall to 4-6 in a 54-21 loss to the Golden Gophers. The Nebraska offense has been a complete enigma this season with games that will boggle defenses one week and boggle themselves the next.
WIth the odds of bowl eligibility quickly slipping away from the Huskers we take a look at 5 postgame thoughts from today’s loss.
1.Where did the running game disappear too?
The Huskers looked good on the ground early as Devine Ozigbo was running hard and saw the field extremely well. What was perplexing is the insertion of Wilbon into several short yardage situations that would come up short and then the eventual turn away from rushing the ball altogether.
2. Can the “bend not break” defense hold up at Nebraska?
When you have a team installing a brand new defense in year 3 there are going to be growing pains that you should expect. What’s not expected is for an entire position group to see the same struggles in week 2 as they do in week 10. Some of this is attributed to the talent and inexperience of the group but with little progress over the season, there should be some accountability here.
The linebackers have consistently had their hips in the wrong position or have taken bad angles to stop a ball carrier. If the Huskers are going to stick with the 3-4 they’re going to need the linebacking corps to get much more aggressive while continuing to add talent and athleticism that can stick with stretch and option plays. The safeties are accountable here as well but arguably have been hit much harder by injuries and are forced to make plays that the linebackers should be taking care of.
3. There is a lot of talent left on this team
In the midst of a terrible season, the Huskers have wide receivers Stanley Morgan Jr and J.D. Spielman both playing at an incredibly high level. Both have been banged up at one point or another through the season and have capitalized on every opportunity that comes their way. Morgan Jr has racked up 43 catches for 690 yards and Spielman, as a freshman, is hot on his heels with 49 catches for 734 yards.
There’s also players slowly emerging such as Tyjon Lindsey, Jaylin Bradley, and Jack Stoll who have begun to see substantial playing time throughout the second half of the season. Offensively, lets also not forget about the play of true freshman Brenden Jaimes, redshirt freshman Matt Farniok, and sophomore Michael Decker on the offensive line. While Decker is out for the season he cleaned up the interior of the offensive line after taking the position away from upperclassman Cole Conrad at center.
On the other side of the ball young linebackers Ben Stille, Tyrin Ferguson, Luke Gifford, Colin Miller and Mohamed Barry continue to see playing time and have the chance to mature in the last few games of this season. If guys like Willie Hampton can mature with them this group will see a large influx of athleticism and talent over the next year.
Behind them, the return of Jojo Domann next season and the maturing of Marquel Dismuke will continue to give the Huskers great depth with Williams and Reed both set to return as seniors.
4. One-half of the special teams haven’t been very special
On one hand, Drew Brown and Caleb Lightbourn have been incredibly consistent and spectacular this season. Drew Brown has made 11-of-13 field goal attempts and is a perfect 27/27 in extra points this season. In the punt game, Caleb Lightbourn is averaging 42.3 yards per kick and has done a terrific job in pinning opposing defenses deep when in a position to do so.
Kicking the ball hasn’t been a problem this season but returning the ball has been a different story. With returners De’Mornay Pierson-El and JD Spielman being huge talents they haven’t done much of anything since a kick return for a touchdown by Spielman against Arkansas State.
The Huskers look to have given up on punt returns by sitting in a punt safe coverage for most of the season. Spielman also seems to have slowed down a bit on kick returns. His big return against Arkansas State looked like he was shot out of a cannon and we haven’t seen that same full speed approach from him in several games.
5. Things have gone from bad to worse for Mike Riley
After a promising 9-win season in his second year as head coach, the change of defensive coordinators and lack of growth as an offense haunts Mike Riley this season. Most of the Big Ten has gotten to the point where they are playing their best football and Riley’s team looks more lost than ever. With incredibly tough games against Iowa and Penn State on the horizon, it’s going to be harder than ever for Riley and the team to ignore the turmoil swirling around the program.
Barring a 2-game winning streak against Iowa and PSU, there isn’t much chance that Riley survives this season unless AD Bill Moos sees something the rest of us don’t. It’s been an up and down battle for Riley all year and much like year his record in year one, his teams continue to come up short.