Nebraska football fans have had a rough week, seeing NU get upset by Minnesota and wondering about the future of head coach Bo Pelini. A smart and particularly handsome analyst has already listed five coaches who might replace Pelini if Nebraska makes a change at the end of the season.
But Pelini is still the head man, and Nebraska still has a shot to win the Legends Division and make sure NU athletic director Shawn Eichorst doesn’t have to reach for his short list.
If Nebraska is going to pull another Lazarus act like last year, though, here’s what has to happen.
Settle at Quarterback
The decision to start Taylor Martinez at quarterback against Minnesota was certainly defensible by Pelini, given what Pelini knew about Martinez’s injury.
Pelini says Martinez looked him in eye and said he was ready to go. At some point, have to let him try. Had numerous conversations about it.— ESPN Big Ten (@ESPN_BigTen) October 28, 2013
As the game unfolded, of course, the decision to continue with Martinez seemed harder to justify.
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck leaned heavily on the pass, even with Martinez clearly struggling with injuries to his shoulder and his toes. Martinez was far from accurate while trying to throw over or around an eight-man box designed to stop Ameer Abdullah.
Indeed, it was Martinez badly missing a wide-open Quincy Enunwa in the end zone at the end of the first half that may have been the biggest play in the game. We’ll never know how the game would have unfolded, but it’s fair to expect that a Nebraska touchdown would have sent NU into the locker room with more confidence and more momentum for the second half.
With Martinez likely out for the Northwestern game this week, Pelini is relieved of a decision regarding his starting quarterback.
But should Tommy Armstrong be able to guide the offense successfully, particularly given that Nebraska has no further margin for error, it would be hard to see Martinez getting his job back.
Feed the Beast
If there has been one lesson learned about Nebraska’s offense this season, it has been that Abdullah is NU’s best offensive weapon.
Abdullah was by far Nebraska’s most effective weapon against Minnesota, gaining 165 yards on 19 carries. Say what you will about the strategy of Abdullah having 19 carries, but the cold fact remains that Abdullah was finding success against a surprisingly stout Gopher defense.
For next week, and for the foreseeable future, Nebraska will be starting a redshirt freshman at quarterback. Nebraska’s defense will still be young and inexperienced as the meat of the schedule approaches. Abdullah represents Nebraska’s most effective and consistent offensive weapon.
Pelini would do well to lean on Abdullah down the stretch to give NU the chance to turn things around and return to Indianapolis.
So, can Nebraska still win the Legends Division?
Sort out the Front Seven
Defensive success against Illinois and Purdue gave Nebraska fans a false sense of accomplishment. But Minnesota took a page out of Wisconsin’s playbook and attacked Nebraska with a power rushing game, using motion to scheme away from NU’s best defenders like Randy Gregory and Stanley Jean-Baptiste.
The linebacking corps was always going to be a work in progress. Defensive tackle was always going to be a question mark.
But the talent appears to be there, perhaps with Michael Rose at middle linebacker and the freshmen seeing more playing time at tackle. They may take their lumps, but if Pelini can find the right combination in the front, maybe the defense can hold up enough to pull off an amazing turnaround.
Or, you could always use the Twitter machine to follow @patrickrunge.