My Opinion So Far

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…

Our Record:
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

The Defense:
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.

The Offense:
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.

Special Teams:
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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7 thoughts on “My Opinion So Far

  1. Repost as I’m curious on your thoughts of the possibilities for the second half:

    Is there any realistic chance that the offense figures some things out during the bye week, turns respectable, and we turn in a surprising 4-2 type finish? In some ways, it seems so far away for that group, but so much of what ails them seems like extremely low-hanging fruit: stop just dropping the ball, don’t jump every time the defensive line stems, good holds on field goals, etc. Maybe the LT situation gets figured out a bit (does pulling Gottula’s RS or playing him the last four games solve any problems there?), a young WR (or two) has the light come on with 1st team reps (I think I saw that Coleman was tabbed as a starter for NW), and the two FR pass rushers continue to develop, and all of the sudden you’ve got a little going.

    Another question on the bigger picture . . . Do you think it will be a tougher jump for the program to go from our current state (somewhere between atrocious and just bad) to mediocre, from mediocre to good (top 5-7 in the new B1G), or from good to really good (top 3-5 in B1G with a shot at the ostensibly 12-team playoffs every couple of years)? In other words, assuming Rhule and Co. can get the ball rolling, if/once it gets going, would you expect a pretty quick jump to national relevance, or do you see a total slog the whole way with a real chance of plateau at every level?

    1. I think we are so depleted on offense we are going to have a tough time turning the corner there. I could be wrong, but I think people are going to load the box and we aren’t going to be able to make them pay.

      As far as national relevance, I have a tough time with that, especially with the conference changing. We couldn’t even get it done with a mediocre B1G West and now we have to worry about adding USC, UCLA, Washington, and Oregon. I’m hoping Rhule can get it going but we will see. I need to see more from our offense before I even go there. Our defense has me very optimistic on that side of the ball at least.

  2. I optimistically thought we’d start 4-2 with 3-3 possible as well. We’re more or less as a whole where I thought we’d be, except defense looks much better than I anticipated and offense looks much worse.

    Hopefully next year whether development or portal something will get figured out on offense. I don’t anticipate with our current QB room it will change drastically. Unless the OLine can take a huge leap and become a REALLY good run blocking line.

  3. “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.”

    Enjoy reading your insights and perspective. I know Adrian Martinez had better passing skills than Haarberg and Tommy Armstrong had an edge over Haarberg running the ball. Armstrong’s YOLO interceptions and Martinez’ injuries and fumbles are negatives that Haarberg so far has not displayed. Throw in Haarberg’s previous lack of good coaching, which Martinez also suffered under Verducci and Frost, as well as low number of reps for Heinrich and Haarberg has the potential to bypass 2 or 3 of these guys. Just my 2 bits.

  4. I believe it’s extremely important NU gets to 6 wins and a bowl game. This would show progress and would help keep current recruits onboard. IMHO, the offense is going to have big problems going forward. DC’s have already figured out the QB running game and they will face some decent defenses going forward. Sims better be ready to play because we will need him eventually. HH was banged up in the Illinois game in the 2nd half. He’s a tough kid but if we keep running him 15-20 times a game he will eventually get hurt just like Sims did. Defensively, having Reimer back is huge, hopefully he is 100% (game playing shape) as I know his issue wasn’t injury related. The defense is going to have to carry this team as it may be difficult for the offense to score more than 20 points a game.

    I have no idea what is going to happen the last 6 games, hopefully they can get 3 more wins and get to a bowl game.

    1. Right there with you. Our offense needs to get an identity other than Haarberg running the ball in a hurry, because Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin, and Iowa will all take him away. That means it will be up to our OL to get a push for Grant or make HH throw. We haven’t seen those two things at all this year, especially with WRs dropping like flies.

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