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Husker Talk: Last win came 323 days ago

September 27, 2018

Ouch. Now that was a beatdown of epic proportions.

It reminded me of the good times. The good times back when Nebraska was the superior team in all facets. The good times when the Big Red machine would roll on down to Kansas, or over to Iowa State and put up 60 points on the board without breaking much of a sweat. But, oh, how times have changed — and it’s painful to watch. Everyone wants to know when things will turn around? Unfortunately, no one has that answer. This program has dug such a giant hole for itself that only time filled with consistency, leadership and development will help steer things in the right direction.

Would the previous staff be 3-0 or 0-3 at this point? You can debate that for days, but the proof of the matter is the inconsistencies of this program over the past decade have left a crumbling foundation at best. Scott Frost and Co. have an entire rebuild ahead of them. Will Nebraska go winless this year? Maybe. Can the team find a hot streak and salvage the season with a handful of wins? No doubt. But what we do know is that Nebraska will essentially have to prepare and play nearly perfect every week to give it a chance.

Coach Frost said the team’s preparation for the Colorado game had been the best yet. Coincidence that it was also the best performance? I think not. It’s really strange how the team peaked for the first game and slid downhill ever since. Each Monday since then, the Huskers have come back strong to the practice field, only to let things slip Tuesdays through Fridays. This is not championship pedigree. These players have to be accountable and bring the attitude and energy each and every day, regardless of the win-loss record. You simply can’t have lazy practice habits and expect to win games. But, for some of these players, they haven’t been pushed to the brink like they are now. Like I’ve said before, one offseason with the new coaching/strength staff is not going to cure all of the lazy habits that have blanketed this program for so long. It stinks that juniors and seniors are just now learning what it takes to build a competitive culture. Add that to the lack of the depth on the roster, and things get bleak pretty quickly.

You can plainly see what ails Nebraska right now — no depth, no consistency from a coaching carousel at every position (some guys have had four or five different coaches), constant scheme changes on offense and defense over the years, underdevelopment and the list goes on. In turn, look at Michigan. Yes, the Wolverines have underachieved under coach Jim Harbaugh, but they’ve continued to be a recruiting machine with NFL body-types all over the field. These athletes also have been trained and developed. They’ve had time in the system — one system. There’s a culture in place. No, Michigan was not a great team overall, but the defense is elite, and you aren’t going to question how physical it plays. Add the fact that they were playing with some extra motivation stemming from an old quote from Frost about physicality, there was no doubt Michigan wanted to punish the Huskers.

And punish they did.

Now some fans may question heart and motivation, but I don’t know. Maybe there are some guys still like that. And, sure, getting whooped can get your head down, but I just saw a bigger, stronger, more physical team in Michigan.

The Wolverines’ defense is not one you want to play against with a talent disadvantage. The defense mans up and pressures you like crazy. It’s similar on offense for Michigan, too. Nothing fancy, the offense just wants to run you over. When your Jimmys and Joes can’t hang, well, then it becomes a long day.

Regardless, now it’s time to flush the Wolverines out of the system and look ahead to Purdue. Make no mistake, Purdue can easily win this Saturday. Heck, even Vegas thinks it will as the Boilermakers opened up as a three-point favorite. It’s really an even game. There are a lot of similarities between the two teams. Will the Huskers finally taste victory? They just might. And, you know what would make things easier? Not turning the ball over.

Turnovers

Speaking of turnovers, Nebraska has had two turnovers in the first quarter of every game this season. Yeah, that’s not good.

Doesn’t it make you wonder how this team would respond if it didn’t have to play from a 14-point deficit each week? Or stop beating itself in just about every way possible? Nebraska simply will not allow anything good to happen. Turnovers, penalties. It’s a lack of focus, and it’s maddening.

On Adrian Martinez’s interception early in the game, did you notice how that would’ve been a TD had it not been knocked down by a lineman? Receiver JD Spielman was literally all alone in the center of the field. A quick six for Nebraska? Wow, that would have been something.

And after one of the few stops by NU’s defense, Nebraska was set to get the ball in some of the best field position of all season, until Tyjon Lindsay drops the punt return, turning the ball over again. Guys just need to make plays. But, unfortunately, when there’s a chance for a positive play, Nebraska literally drops the ball.

Special teams

Nebraska’s special teams was obviously brutal again. The Michigan punt return for a touchdown is a killer, the penalties are a killer and field position has been terrible all year. You can’t have a blossoming offense stuck near its own end zone so often and expect good results.

Through three games, the Huskers’ (non)special-teams unit has committed 10 penalties for 91 yards. Ouch. Here I go stating the obvious again, but when a team can’t get out of its own way on offense or defense, sometimes games can still be won with excellent special teams.

Defense

Gap integrity was an issue last week, too. The defensive line held up OK, but sometimes those rushing lanes got pretty wide. And if the linebackers are a split-second too late hitting those gaps, the running backs take advantage. Too often, the backs made the first defender in the hole miss and scooted into the secondary. You saw bad angles by the Huskers’ defensive backfield, as well. I’m thinking the speed surprised the NU players. But, whatever the case, things have to improve.

Goal-line situations just didn’t seem right, either. Instead of bringing in more beef up front to match Michigan’s goal-line packages, NU had extra defensive backs. Frost did say that personnel is matched depending on the situation, but too often we saw defensive backs up at the line of scrimmage completely undermatched in heavy formations.

It’s incredibly hard to write this, but Nebraska has given up 54 or more points in five of the past eight games. What?! I don’t even remember who the Huskers last beat. Oh, yeah, last year against … Purdue.

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