COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Nebraska needed that in the worst of ways.
The Huskers (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) had their largest halftime lead in a conference game (34-0) since 2011 and kept the foot on the gas pedal in the second half, rolling to a 54-7 win over Maryland (3-8, 1-7 Big Ten) on Saturday.
Here are three thoughts from the game.
A Shot at Something to Feel Good About
Nebraska is going to have a shot to do something it hasn’t done since 2016.
No, this season has not gone the way people hoped. No, it will not end in the place people had hoped for. And, yes, the Huskers look like they still have a lot of work to be done. But a bowl game is on the table. That did not look likely two weeks ago.
Nebraska will play Iowa, a rival, at home on Black Friday with a shot at bowl eligbility on the line. Linebacker Mohamed Barry told me last week it’s a shot at a grand finale. Nebraska plays better at home. Nebraska will be sending off seniors like Barry. The home crowd should be as good as it has been all year.
This is what you want.
Nebraska has a chance to rewrite a narrative.
The sky seemed like it was falling on Nebraska after a 31-27 loss to hapless Purdue. Nebraska still had ranked Wisconsin and Iowa teams on the schedule and the prospects of closing the year 0-6 were getting a little more likely with each passing day. Nebraska just needed a win, the team said all week, to find some confidence and find some stuff to feel good about.
Now, it has a play-in game, in essence, with the prize being a bowl game and all those extra practices that come with it.
Barry told me during the week he just wants to show progress. A bowl game does that. Even when it looks how it looked this year. It would show a two-win improvement over Year 1.
A win over Iowa is all that stands in the way of that. The Huskers don’t have a Big Ten West crown in front of them to go out and take, but they still have a whole lot on the line. It’s going to be a massive week upcoming.
Good to Be Had
Really, really, really bad football team. The Terps had a sure interception in the endzone when sophomore Adrian Martinez tried to find JD Spielman in double coverage, and the ball instead bounced off both sets of Terp hands and Spielman just, like, took the ball away for a score. It put NU up 24-0. There was no looking back.
But Nebraska didn’t have to be perfect. Maryland played four quarterbacks and combined to complete 7-of-21 pass attempts for 57 yards. Maryland was sacked six times. It had some remarkable penalties (“leaping over the shield” is wonderful) and four turnovers.
Not much resistance defensively. And not much to contend with offensively.
But Nebraska isn’t in a spot where it can shrug off wins against basement teams. Nebraska is in a spot where it needs these kinds of games for growth. Against Illinois earlier in the season it needed to feel what it was like to win on the road.
Here in Maryland, it needs to know what it takes to step on a floundering team and keep them down.
Nebraska’s defense gave up 4.0 yards per play, matching a season-low. Maryland crossed the 50-yard-line just twice. One of those drives ended in a fumble. The Terps were 5-for-14 on third and 0-for-3 on fourth. There’s progress being made on the field right now; it started a week ago against Wisconsin and continued today.
Frost says losing is a habit. Winning is also a habit. Putting teams to bed when you have them on the ropes is learned. Nebraska has to figure this stuff out. If it isn’t ready for Ohio State and Michigan and Wisconsin, then these are the teams the Huskers have to beat up on.
For the first time in a while, Nebraska actually did it.
The Weapons Scott Frost Wants
A team of Wan’Dale Robinsons? No. But Frost is finding some weapons down the closing stretch all the same. A week ago Dedrick Mills rumbled for 188 yards against a fantastic Wisconsin defense.
This week, freshman quarterback Luke McCaffrey played wide receiver and looked like he actually has a serious future in a skill position role. He had 83 yards and a score on just 10 carries, caught his first career pass and blocked well downfield.
Mills had 65 yards and a score on 12 carries despite being saddled with illness.
Maybe Nebraska needs to just burn Rahmir Johnson’s redshirt. He played in his fourth game of the year, but put up 55 yards and a score. He’s got speed to make people miss.
Spielman had 104 receiving yards and two scores, making him the first player in program history to have three 800-yard receiving seasons in a career and bringing him about 150 yards shy of Stanley Morgan Jr.’s season-yardage record from last season.
And on top of all of that, Martinez had 94 yards rushing and a score, on just 10 carries, while completing 64% of his passes.
Not having Wan’Dale Robinson has forced Frost to diversify his attack. The Huskers relied on the freshman wideout almost to the point of ignoring other options. Add Robinson to this mix, instead of using him instead, and what do you get? That’s the hope for the future.
Maybe, health-permitting, we get the full picture next week.
It also helped that Matt Waldoch provided Frost with his first sure thing at kicker all season. A former club soccer player, the sophomore went 3-for-3 on field goals, matching the number of field goals the Huskers have made in four games since Oct. 5.
Are things coming together late? We’ll find out.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.