We are at the midway point of the first year under Head Coach Matt Rhule, and we are sitting at 3-3. For those of you that read my season preview, I had us at 3-3 heading into the bye week and ending at 6-6 to get to our first bowl game since 2016. While I got the record right so far, there are things within that that have me intrigued to see how things finish the last 6 games. Let’s dive into them…
I had us narrowly losing to Minnesota, as I didn’t think we were ready to win those games yet, and was right on par. Picking us to beat LA Tech and Northern Illinois was easy as well. Calling a loss against Michigan was easy too. I had us beating Colorado as I didn’t think they were very good, which is starting to come to fruition a bit, but that was a frustrating loss. However, I had us losing to Illinois on a short week as I thought they were going to be very good this year, and with us having to travel to play a Friday night game I just believed the cards were stacked against us. The team bounced back and Rhule had a very physical Sunday practice the day after getting thrashed at Michigan to get us back within striking distance of a bowl game.
Let’s be honest, we probably should be 4-2 right now. Our starting QB the first two games had 7 turnovers in 6 quarters, threw an INT to end the first half against Minnesota that all you needed to do was get points, and just a litany of other problems that came his way. Some people say we should have won the Colorado game as well. While I have trouble going there because of what the final score was, there’s no doubt we were in that game midway through the 3rd quarter. Who knows what happens if we don’t turn the ball over as the Buffaloes defense is awful.
While we will have more on our QB situation tomorrow, we turned to Heinrich Haarberg to get us where we wanted to be and have won 3 of our last 4 games. There are things to like about HH, such as not turning the ball over and managing the game. However, it is my opinion he’s not going to go WIN you any games on his own. While I understand this is a team game, at Nebraska we are used to having players at that spot that can go seal the deal such as Taylor Martinez, Tommy Armstrong, Adrian Martinez, etc. But you have to have pieces around them as well, and that’s part of the problem. Tomorrow we will go over if we should hit the transfer portal for a QB.
Our Record Moving Forward:
So if I had us at 3-3 and finishing at 6-6, that means I had us at 3-3 this back half of our schedule. In my preview I had us winning our next 3 games against Northwestern (3-3), Purdue (2-5), and Michigan State (2-4). All of those are extremely winnable. However, I think we go 2-1 in our next 3 games. Northwestern is better than I thought and coming off a bye, Purdue is coming off a bye, and we play Sparty on the road. While I’m not scared of any of these teams, it’s just really tough for me to think we put together a 3 game win streak here.
That means we have to find a way to beat Maryland, Wisconsin, or Iowa in our last 3 to get to a bowl game if we don’t run the table from the previous paragraph. While that’s a tall task, I think the game can be very close against Iowa where we can figure out a way to beat them or have the ball bounce the right way for us. Wisconsin’s QB has a broken hand currently. And Maryland I still can’t get a read on though i’m very impressed with them this year, at least more than I thought I would be.
6-6 is what i’m keeping from here on out. We are still really thin at some spots like RB and WR. DB is starting to get thin as well, but we get some guys back such as Buford and Singleton later. Let’s go 2-1 and i’m feeling really good about getting to a bowl.
Surprises To Me
We will start with breaking things down a bit about the Blackshirts. One of the hot topics for fans in the offseason was how the 3-3-5 would hold up against B1G opponents. It has been nothing short of remarkable in my book, and it’s winning games exactly how we need to. Stop the run and make them throw. Nebraska is 31st in the country in points allowed per game, and a top 25 unit in yards allowed per game. Nebraska for the first time since I can remember also has a top 5 rushing defense.
Couldn’t be happier with what we have seen here, and honestly we are getting a ton of kids playing time. The true freshmen DL are playing way better than any freshmen DL I can remember, and that includes people like Collins, Valentine, etc. We are rediscovering guys like Gbayor, and in the secondary we are playing 15 guys a game. That’s how you develop. Couldn’t be happier with how things are going there.
Conversely, we have our offense that is struggling mightily. I brought up that when you do the QB run, that’s fine if you use it as an added dynamic to your arsenal. But when it’s your main point of moving the chains or getting yards, you are in trouble. Check out this tweet:
That’s dicey, and a good DC like what Purdue has is going to take our QB away and make us run block for Grant or throw to our decimated WRs.
Further, our OL seems to have gotten better in some areas like Benhart at RT. But somehow worse at other areas like LT. Hopefully the development continues, but when your offense is this tough to watch, it’s tough to like what the possibilities are for the back half of the season.
In one of the biggest discrepancies i’ve ever seen, PFF ranks our special teams top 25. Meanwhile, FEI ranks Nebraska 110th in the country.
Quite the crew we are surrounded with there. We are #1 in kickoff efficiency which is great to see. Really what’s holding us back in my opinion is our FG kicking with a true freshman in Alvano. He reminds me a bit of I think it was Drew Brown who some people were ready to write-off, but really turned it on his second year and made some all-conference lists.
The way I summed it up to people is that I like that we can get some explosive plays out of our special teams such as the KR against Minnesota or the fake FG, or the recovered kickoff. But we are so inconsistent such as our punting in Boulder, or letting LA Tech take a kickoff to the house (called back due to penalty), or all the missed FGs. We have to do better here.
Join us tomorrow when we go over the argument of if we get a transfer portal QB again next year, and we talk about our current 2024 recruiting class.
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