The 3rd Man In

Expectations are too high for the Huskers

Huskers Adrian Martinez

LINCOLN, Neb. – Expectations are high in Lincoln this season. Scott Frost is only in his second year as the coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who are coming off a four-win season. Despite last year’s struggles, the Huskers are ranked in the top 25 and considered a favorite to win the Big Ten West Division.  

Those hopes were way too high coming into the season for a program that has had three losing seasons in the last four years. On Saturday, the Huskers proved that belief throughout their sluggish season-opening performance against South Alabama.

The Huskers fended off a comeback attempt and prevailed 35-21 over the Jaguars. Although it is only the first game of the season and there were some bright spots, especially the defense generating five turnovers, the Huskers’ performance created questions.

The Huskers’ offense didn’t consistently display the typical traits of a Frost led team. The unit showed glimpses of its potential, but it also failed to move the ball at times, as sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez had a lackluster performance and the running game totaled 98 yards on 44 carries. 

Frost raved about the offense throughout the preseason, but after Saturday’s game, he said, “That’s as anemic an offensive effort as I’ve been a part of in a long time.”

After an underwhelming first half, the Huskers almost gained control of the contest in the third quarter.

On South Alabama’s first offensive series of the second half, quarterback Cephus Johnson fired a pass straight into safety Eric Lee’s hands. Lee returned the errant pass for a 38-yard touchdown to put the Huskers ahead 21-7.

South Alabama continued to hurt itself. Following a three-and-out, the Jaguars punted the ball straight to Nebraska returner JD Spielman. The speedy junior found the Huskers’ wall and jetted up the sideline for a 76-yard score.

Spielman didn’t have that same success on South Alabama’s next punt less than four minutes later. He fumbled the ball and the Jaguars recovered it on Nebraska’s 13-yard line. Three plays later, the Jaguars scored a touchdown to pull within 14 and halt the Huskers’ momentum.

On the ensuing drive, Martinez tossed an interception. The Jaguars once again capitalized on the blunder to cut the Huskers’ lead to 28-21 with less than three minutes left in the third quarter.

The Jaguars hung around with the Huskers in the fourth quarter. But after they allowed the Huskers to regain a two-touchdown lead in the opening minute of the final quarter, the Jaguars didn’t have the firepower to overcome the deficit.

In football, it doesn’t always matter how a team wins a game. A victory is still a victory. But for the Huskers, who have extremely high hopes this season, a less-than-impressive victory over a Division I Football Championship Subdivision team is not an encouraging sign.

Yes, the Huskers will compete this year, and they will learn from Saturday’s game. But the Huskers still have a ways to go if they want to be in the national conversation. They won’t be in that discussion this season. A team doesn’t go from winning four games – with one of those victories coming over FCS Bethune-Cookman — to competing with the college football powers, like Alabama and Clemson, the following season. 

The Huskers are headed in the right direction. They will be in the Big Ten championship conversation in another year or two. But it isn’t this year. They will be bowl eligible and may win seven or eight games this season, but the talk of winning the conference and challenging for the national title needs to stop. They aren’t there yet.

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