Nebraska’s bye week couldn’t come at a better time, with the Cornhuskers reeling from their 63-38 defeat at the hands of the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday. After taking a 17-7 lead, Nebraska was unable to stop Braxton Miller and an Ohio State offense that seemed to move the ball and score at will.
So, with a week off to prepare, Nebraska will next face Northwestern in Evanston. The Wildcats will present a similar offensive philosophy as Ohio State did, but without the kind of athletes that the Buckeyes can put on the field. So if Nebraska wants to stop the bleeding, what needs to happen between now and October 20?
Open the Roster to Competition
It seemed very strange that, against a mobile quarterback like Miller, Alonzo Whaley was Bo Pelini’s choice at linebacker over David Santos. Ohio State was just such an opponent, and Nebraska’s inability to contain the Buckeyes’ rushing attack (particularly the counter and cutback plays attacking the weak side) bore an eerie similarity to NU’s struggles in Pasadena.
After the UCLA game, Santos and Zaire Anderson saw a lot more time on the field. Anderson’s season-ending injury may be far more of a loss than was originally thought at the time he went down. But it seems that if the current players do not have the physical skills to stop teams that have an offensive attack like the ones that UCLA and Ohio State have, then Nebraska must take a risk with younger players who may have those physical gifts even if they are not as familiar with Nebraska’s defense.
Because you can bet that Northwestern and Michigan have been paying close attention to the UCLA and Ohio State tapes.
So, what will Nebraska's final regular-season record be?
Stay Balanced on Offense
Against both UCLA and Ohio State, when Nebraska was facing real trouble, offensive coordinator Tim Beck turned the offense almost exclusively over to Taylor Martinez. In both games, as was the case in Nebraska’s losses last year, Martinez was unable to deliver.
This should not take away from the improvements Martinez has made in the offseason, which are significant and encouraging for the long term. But Beck simply cannot put the entire burden of the team on Martinez. Against Ohio State, we saw Martinez revert to his back-foot-throwing mechanics, which caused the back-breaking interception.
While Martinez certainly deserves some criticism for his play, Beck must be questioned for putting Martinez in that position. That question is called into sharper focus when you consider that, even with Rex Burkhead’s injury, Nebraska has far more offensive weapons than it has had in years past. Even when Nebraska is trying to come back, NU needs to ensure that its running game is still a part of the offense. That way, teams have to play both the run and the pass honestly, which in turn will give Martinez an opportunity to succeed.
Keep your Eyes on the Prize
I know it doesn’t feel like it after Saturday in Columbus, but Nebraska still controls its destiny. NU doesn’t even need to win out, as Pelini boldly proclaimed in his post-game press conference. What Nebraska needs to do is take care of business against its main rivals for the division, specifically Michigan State and Michigan. If Nebraska sweeps the Michigan schools—which will mean beating a Denard Robinson-led Wolverine squad, although the game is in Lincoln—then going to Indianapolis and playing for a Big Ten title (against a team not named Ohio State) is in the cards.
I do have concerns about the team folding if it does lose another game after Pelini’s “must win out” pronouncement. But, ultimately, knowing that a conference championship is still there for the taking should help Nebraska bounce back from another embarrassing performance on national television.
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