Just like last week, Nebraska football started Chubba Purdy at quarterback before later switching to Logan Smothers.
However, this time it wasn’t due to an interception late or the offense’s overall struggles. Instead, the Huskers didn’t have a choice. Purdy’s night was cut short due to an injury suffered on the team’s lone scoring drive. Postgame, interim head coach Mickey Joseph said it was a high ankle sprain.
Coaches entertained the possibility early this week that any of the team’s top three quarterbacks — Smothers, Purdy and usual starter Casey Thompson — could start against Michigan. Thompson was the first ruled out, still recovering from an injury suffered two weeks ago, but by halftime, Smothers was the only one left available of the trio.
Joseph said Smothers wasn’t perfectly healthy either, having been “banged up” for the past two weeks despite being available to play.
“We tried to go more to the run game with Logan and try to show some more option, but we were trying to make sure that he didn’t take any direct hits,” Joseph said. “So we tried to put the ball in there a little bit, but he gave his all when he went out there.”
It was one of two times an already-vulnerable group for the Huskers was hurt even further by injury. The second came as a bit of a freak accident, as offensive coordinator Mark Whipple was hit while standing on the sidelines at the end of a kickoff return. He remained on the sidelines for the rest of the half with help close by, then took the cart to the locker room. He missed some time with the team during the half, but Joseph said he returned to call plays from the booth upstairs in the second half.
“We have some really good offensive coaches and they do their normal routine,” Joseph said. “Making adjustments without Whipple, and then once Whipple got there, they just let him know the adjustments that they made.”
The Huskers have lost seven games now this year, but the losses have also piled up outside of the scoreboard. Their starting quarterback has missed two games. Their top backup missed the second half of Saturday’s game and was seen on the sideline with crutches and a boot. Injuries significant enough to cause multi-game absences have happened at running back, linebacker and on the offensive line as well.
Not all changes have been injury-related, either. Wide receiver Isaiah Gardner-Castaneda had 120 yards in the season opener, then entered the transfer portal in October. Top safety Myles Farmer was suspended for this game. Four coaches — the head coach, defensive coordinator and two position coaches — have an interim tag included in their title.
Some of the injuries have already been declared as season-ending, and there might not be significant coaching changes in the final two weeks. That leaves the biggest remaining question for this season at quarterback.
The Huskers once again struggled offensively, scoring just three points against the Wolverines. With Thompson playing in the first half against Illinois, the team scored nine points on a touchdown and field goal. They’ve only scored one more touchdown in the five halves since, although they’ve totaled 16 points thanks to three field goals.
The offense has experienced more success with the starter in, which Joseph plainly stated as the advantage of potentially having Thompson back against Wisconsin and Iowa. The staff has evaluated his injury on a day-to-day basis, and that’ll continue this next week.
“We’ll see how Casey feels tomorrow,” Joseph said. “I’m sure if I look at my phone he’s probably already texting me and calling me that he’s ready to play next week, so we’ll take it day by day with Casey. We won’t put Casey out there unless he can play at a high level.”
Nebraska’s been eliminated from bowl game contention, has injuries to navigate in several key areas and a number of coaches are in roles they didn’t expect to be in at the start of the season. Despite all this, the head coach said the Huskers still hope to finish the year strong.
“We got to have some pride,” Joseph said. “We have Wisconsin and Iowa left, so we got to have some pride and we got to continue just to come to work tomorrow and try to get a game plan to help us be successful and execute the game plan. But we got to keep going, We’re not gonna quit.”