After every game, there are always things we learn and things we still need to know. Especially after a loss, like Nebraska suffered against Northwestern, those unanswered questions come right to the front.
So, let’s take a look and see what are Nebraska’s five biggest unanswered questions going forward.
Lost in the shock of Nebraska’s loss to Northwestern was Taylor Martinez, doing things that we haven’t seen him do before. Things like throwing the ball accurately into tight windows on a consistent basis. Things like holding on to the ball. Things like not throwing interceptions.
Sure, there’s still a ways to go. But earlier in the year, Nebraska fans were convinced that Martinez would not—could not—mature and grow into an actual quarterback. Based on the evidence of the Northwestern game, at least the potential for that growth is there.
Jamal Turner. Tyler Moore. Braylon Heard. Aaron Green. All four of those freshmen have shown enough talent to see the field, but for reasons unknown, have seen their playing time diminish significantly.
In the meantime, Nebraska has become more and more reliant on Rex Burkhead—bearing a disturbing resemblance to last year’s reliance on Taylor Martinez for offensive production.
Certainly, experience is important. But at some point, will Nebraska’s coaches take a risk and allow some of their young talent to shoulder part of the load down the stretch?
Last week, Northwestern ran crossing pattern after crossing pattern, spreading Nebraska’s defense out and exploiting their man-to-man coverage underneath. Stubbornly, Nebraska appeared to stick with a man under defensive scheme when a short zone might have been effective in taking away some of the drag routes that decimated Nebraska.
Needless to say, Nebraska’s remaining opponents will have taken notes on how Northwestern attacked the Blackshirts. We'll see if the brothers Pelini have found a counter-move.
Penn State’s strength lies on defense, with an offense that has struggled to produce points and yards. This year, Nebraska’s strength (as strange as it may sound) has been on offense, with the defense struggling to regain its former glories. That combination could very well lead to a low-scoring game where points are at a premium.
If that happens, Nebraska could be well-poised to be successful. Brett Maher is 15-of-18 on field goal attempts this year, while Penn State’s kickers are a combined 14-of-21 on the year. While Maher hasn’t quite entered Alex Henery territory yet, the statistics suggests that a field goal battle might favor Nebraska.
Most people walking out of Memorial Stadium after Northwestern’s surprise win were thinking about how much they could get for Big Ten Championship Game tickets on StubHub. But, while the loss certainly puts NU in a more difficult position, the opportunity is still there for Nebraska to make a trip to Indianapolis.
The most important thing for NU’s divisional hopes is for Michigan State to trip up before the end of the season. But Michigan State—a notoriously poor road team—makes a trip this weekend to Iowa City to face the suddenly-dangerous Hawkeyes.
If Iowa does Nebraska a favor and knocks off the Spartans, and if Nebraska can take care of business on the road (no mean feat, especially traveling to Ann Arbor for another bad matchup), then the Heroes Game will also likely be for the Legends Division championship.
Like what you read? Follow me on Twitter @patrickrunge to track my thoughts and observations about college football—and one or two other topics—throughout the year!
And if you would like to contact me directly to schedule an interview, ask a question or to get my recipe for a killer peach cobbler, you can send an e-mail to email@example.com. (DISCLAIMER: Peach cobbler recipe might not be all that killer.)