I spent most of yesterday’s drive home from Columbus trying to figure out what Nebraska should do with the loss at Ohio State. Is a lopsided game like that used for fuel — that was defensive coordinator Mark Banker’s sentiment after the game — or was it so outside of a normal performance that it’s best forgotten?
From the team’s perspective, it obviously has to move on as quickly as possible. From a talking points perspective, however, it’s tough to totally wash 62-3 from your mind. If Ohio State is the Big Ten’s gold standard — and it still is until a Jim Harbaugh Michigan team can prove otherwise — is Nebraska really 59 points removed from that level?
It will be hard to prove otherwise this season and hard for Husker fans not to obsess over the question, but the good news (no, really) is Nebraska faces Ohio State in each of the next three seasons. If that’s the measuring stick for the Big Ten, the Huskers will have an annual check up through 2019.
And there’s a lot of room, obviously, for growth. So, for the sake of posterity, lets just rip off the bandage and look quickly at some of the ramifications of this loss.
As expected, the blowout loss sent the Huskers tumbling down the polls. The coaches dropped Nebraska to spots from No. 10 to 20. In the AP poll, Nebraska went from a top 10 team (No. 9) to not even in the top 20 (No. 21). If anything, those falls may have been a little generous.
The two analytics-based ranking systems I pay the most attention to are S&P+ and FEI. S&P+ has been less impressed with Nebraska all season compared to the traditional polls. The Huskers were No. 22 in S&P+ going into Ohio State and No. 35 coming out. But the real jaw-dropper was the FEI fall. The Huskers were 16th. Now they’re all the way down at No. 54. Part of the reason for that: Ohio State’s win currently ranks second in game efficiency this season. Only Louisville’s 63-20 win over Florida State was more efficient.
Pro Football Focus’s grades were no more kind to Nebraska. On a 100-point scale, the Huskers’ offense only had three players earn a grade of 70 or above. That’s uncommon. Even more shocking: The Huskers’ top graded players on offense were Cole Conrad and Corey Whitaker. Tommy Armstrong Jr. made the top five and only played a quarter-and-a-half.
The defense had some better individual grades — Michael Rose-Ivey and Joshua Kalu both hit the 80s — but the overall impression of the Blackshirts was perhaps the cruelest cut of all:
This game largely looked like an early-season encounter between a football powerhouse and an FCS school, with Ohio State just looking better across the board. Whether on the ground or through the air the Buckeyes were able to pretty much have their way with the Cornhuskers and rack up yards and points. Curtis Samuel was the player through whom most of the success was funneled. He rushed the ball five times for 41 yards but also had eight catches from 10 targets for 137 yards and two scores — 47 of which came after the catch as he ran away from would-be tacklers.
With that out of the way, on to Minnesota, which won’t be an easy task by any means considering the presumed up-in-the-air status of Armstrong and the offense’s struggles as a whole. Nebraska hasn’t had a three-game losing streak during a season since 2008 and the overall perception of 2016 feels like it’s going to be decided over the next three games.
The Grab Bag
- We’ll see what Mike Riley has to say today about the status of Armstrong, but Minnesota Coach Tracy Claeys isn’t expecting to know which quarterback his team will be preparing for this week.
- Jerry Palm’s updated bowl projections have the Huskers facing Florida in the Outback Bowl.
- Nebraska basketball will make its 2016-17 debut tonight with an exhibition game against Chadron State.
- ICYMI: Jacob Padilla writes that Nebraska’s loss to Ohio State didn’t undo all of the progress the Huskers have made this season.
Today’s Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.