Husker football team runs through tunnel at Memorial Stadium
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Now That That’s Done, Let’s See Just How Far the Huskers Have Come

October 27, 2018

There is no impressing in a game like this, only a team looking as good as it is supposed to look. At best.

“We wanted to win the game, first and foremost,” Nebraska head coach Scott Frost said. “We wanted to play well, second. Ideally we wanted to be in a game where we could get a lot of young guys experience, so there were some details that were good and bad throughout the game, but I think we accomplished all three.”

Yes, Nebraska looked as good as it was supposed to look for the most part in its 45-9 win over Bethune-Cookman. That was true on both offense and defense, which also included some “good and bad.”

The Huskers led by quarterback Adrian Martinez scored on six of seven drives, five of them touchdowns. Nebraska’s first-team offense averaged nearly 8 yards per play and, minus one drive including two sacks and an interception, did just about anything it wanted. In the first half.

The defense? In one sense, I guess, it was a solid model of how this defense is meant to operate: Don’t be afraid of yards if the defense can get timely stops, sacks or tackles for loss and turnovers. The Blackshirts checked all of those boxes.

I spent most of the first half listening to the Bethune-Cookman radio broadcast. Let’s get a total outsiders read on Nebraska, I thought. They spent much of that time remarking about how much better the Wildcats’ offense looked against Nebraska than it did North Carolina A&T the previous week.

And that was accurate. The Wildcats had 265 yards through three quarters on 4.9 yards per play, better than the 196 on 3.6 Bethune-Cookman managed a week ago.

The Wildcats also had just three points through three quarters thanks to three Husker takeaways, two of them ending drives at Nebraska’s 23-yard line.

“Turnovers are great,” Frost said. “That’s one of the areas that we’ve been lacking. We’ve got to create turnovers and get the offense the ball back. It’s good to see those in this game, I hope they carry over into some of the other games we have the rest of the year.”

The Huskers hadn’t given up fewer than four scores in a game this season, but allowed just four trips to the red zone on Saturday, and one touchdown on the last drive of the game, so maybe that’s progress.

If anything, Saturday cemented just what Nebraska is two-thirds of the way through 2018: A high-powered offense with a defense that still mostly has to hang on.

And that makes next week’s game way more interesting than it was even a month ago. Ohio State also has a high-powered offense with a defense that’s far below the Buckeyes’ lofty standard.

It wasn’t long on Saturday before thoughts turned to the Huskers’ upcoming trip to Columbus.

“Urban Meyer better be looking at some tape,” Bethune-Cookman’s radio color commentator said after Nebraska went up 28-3 near the end of the first quarter. “These guys can move the football.”

I took that as license to officially turn the page to Ohio State. It’s a big one for Nebraska.

Not only because any bowl hopes hinge on winning that one (and all others after it), but because the Huskers seem much more ready to take on that task than at any point during the Frost era to date. This was one of the losses most just penciled in on Nebraska’s schedule back in the spring.

Now? The Buckeyes are shakier than their typical statuesque greatness people have gotten used to in recent years and the Huskers legitimately seem to be getting better.

“We’re going to be chomping at the bit,” senior defensive lineman Mick Stoltenberg said shortly after the win over Bethune-Cookman. The Nebraska co-captain saw his first action since September on Saturday.

Being stranded on the sidelines allowed him to see just how far the Huskers have come since he left early in Nebraska’s blowout loss to Michigan.

“From my vantage point, as someone who’s been seeing it from more of a bird’s-eye view the past couple of weeks, that’s what’s so frustrating about the way some of those games went a few weeks ago,” Stoltenberg said. “We realized we are doing so much better. We’re improving so much, and we’ve made so many strides from last season to this season. We really are a better team.”

ESPN’s Football Power Index may not be seeing it yet. Entering Saturday the rating system gave Ohio State a 95.3 percent chance to win, and it’s doubtful a rout of Bethune-Cookman will do much to change that as the Buckeyes sat idle.

But good luck convincing anyone in scarlet-and-cream that those are true odds in the week ahead. Nebraska isn’t a complete team yet –– Saturday offered additional proof of that –– but it does appear to have one very sharp knife in the drawer.

It happens to be the same knife Ohio State has at the moment. The Buckeyes aren't well-honed at the moment either.

With a win over Bethune-Cookman in the books, now it’s really time to find out just how far the Huskers have come.

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