The team that is expected to make “The Leap” in 2019 in the Big Ten is Nebraska. Scott Frost is a good coach and his team at Central Florida improved dramatically in year two, but the 0-6 start to last season was quite underwhelming. The Cornhuskers ended up going 4-8, losing close games to Ohio State and Iowa in the second half of the year to finish as the hot team, but this was still a 4-8 team for the second straight year.
There are some nice pieces to build around, however. Nebraska is always going to have the resources and commitment to be a perennial top 25 team. The defense has struggled for quite some time, but there is the potential here for a strong offense that can gloss over many of those deficiencies. That can help them make the projected big jump.
2018 Record: 4-8, 3-6 Big Ten West
Bowl Result: None
Blog Representation: Corn Nation
Series with Purdue: Nebraska leads 4-3
Last Purdue win: 42-28 at Nebraska om 9/29/2018
Last Nebraska win: 25-24 at Purdue on 10/28/2017
Head Coach: Scott Frost (4-8 in second year at Nebraska, 23-15 overall)
Last Season for the Cornhuskers
Things could not have gotten off to a worse start last season for the Cornhuskers. Their opener against Akron was cancelled due to weather and Nebraska then lost its first six games of the season. It is hard to pinpoint the low point, too. Was it the 56-10 blowout at Michigan? The 24-19 home loss to a Troy team that turned out to be pretty good? The “winnable game” they had at home to Purdue?
The streak finally ended with a 53-28 home win over Minnesota when the offense played to its full potential. The Cornhuskers blew out Bethune Cookman and Illinois and got an ugly 9-6 win over Michigan State to salvage something from the year. We also saw them lose to Ohio State 36-31 and Iowa 31-28 in games that came right down to the wire. All-in-all, Nebraska was very close to pulling off the reverse Ron Zook in going 6-0 after starting 0-6. The biggest reason for excitement was the revival of the offense.
Rondale Moore might have been the most exciting freshman in the Big Ten last season, but Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez was not too far behind him. Martinez has given Nebraska fans a lot to be excited about as a dual-threat quarterback that can do a little bit of everything. On the ground he ran for 629 yards and eight touchdowns. Through the air he passed for 2,617 yards and 17 touchdowns against 8 interceptions while completing almost 65% of his passes. His biggest issue was a leaky offensive line that allowed 28 sacks. With improvement this season he can quickly invert Nebraska’s record.
At running back Dedrick Mills is expected to step in after Devine Ozigbo ran for 1,082 yards and 12 TDs. That is probably good for us since Ozigbo ran for 170 yards and two scores on us last season. Martinez also had a big day with 323 yards passing and 170 yards rushing. Maurice Washington also returns after a solid season where he had 455 yards and 3 touchdowns.
At receiver the Cornhuskers lose a 1,000 yard man in Stanley Morgan Jr. JD Spielman is now the no. 1 guy with 66 catches for 818 yards and 8 TDs last year. After Spielman and Morgan the production dropped off quite dramatically, however. There is not a lot of returning experience. The No. 3 receiver was actually Washington as a running back, who had 24 catches for 221 yards and a score.
What hurt Nebraska most last season was an offensive line that gave up too many sacks and penalties. Left tackle Brendan Jaimes is back as the best lineman, but this unit has to get better. There were too many times where the offense consisted of Martinez running for his life as a result of missed blocking assignments. That can work on occasion, but it is not the preferred method.
The Nebraska defense sucked last year, but it was actually better the previous season. They were 12thin the league at 31 points and 434 yards per game. While the offense should be better this year, it might mean winning in some shootouts. Nebraska is shifting to a 3-4 scheme with Darrion Daniels and Damion Daniels as massive tackles in the middle. Ben Stille, who had five sacks a season ago, returns as a good defensive end while Khalil Davis and Carlos Davis will share time at the other spot.
At linebacker Mohamed Barry is a great player to build around. He had 112 tackles a season ago with a pair of sacks and 11 tackles for loss. Alex Davis will play as a bit of a hybrid rush end while JoJo Domann is also expected to be a starter. There is at least some experience here, but like much of the rest of the defense, it has to get better.
The secondary will be led by DiCaprio Boodle, who had 39 tackles and 15 pass breakups last season. Lamar Jackson added 7 breakups and two interceptions, giving the Cornhuskers two pretty good corners. Both of the safety spots are up for grabs, however. Marquel Dismuke and Deontai Williams are the leading candidates to start there.
Nebraska Special Teams
Isaac Armstrong returns as a very good experienced punter. The senior averaged 43.6 yards per kick last season and downed nine of 32 inside the 10. Barret Pickering is also back at kicker after hitting 14 of 18 field goals with a long of 47 yards.
Washington and Spielman handled most of the return duties last season, but neither did much as the team had only 490 yards on kickoff returns. Spielman did have a 77-yard punt return for a touchdown, however.
This will be an interesting game because while I am not as high on Nebraska as many others, they are going to be a lot better than last year. At worst, this should be a bowl team this season. They should be able to go 3-0 against a non-conference slate that includes South Alabama, at Colorado and Northern Illinois. They also go to Illinois to open Big Ten play, but have a tough stretch of Ohio State, Northwestern and at Minnesota before hosting Indiana. If this team has five wins before coming to Purdue they will be fine for a bowl game.
Nebraska has also struggled with Purdue somewhat since joining the Big Ten. The 44-7 drubbing they handed us in 2013 is an outlier because of the disaster of Hazell year 1. In 2014 and 2016 Purdue was at least competitive in Lincoln before winning their last year. We also won at home in 2015 before losing late by a point in 2017. Under Coach Brohm we have a 14 point road win and a 1-point home loss where we blew it late. That means we should be in for a good game.
I think we’re going to see a lot of offense in this one Martinez is going to run around causing problems while Elijah Sindelar has a wealth of options to throw to. It is probably a game that comes right down to the end. Purdue 38, Nebraska 35