After a restructured contract, four firings and one of the best Blackshirts calling it a season in JoJo Domann, there’s still two games left for the Nebraska football program.
The Huskers are in Madison, Wisconsin, today for a 2:30 p.m. date with Paul Chryst’s Badgers, who have won six straight after starting the season 1-3. Wisconsin has won the last seven games against Nebraska, and the odds are stacked against the Huskers yet again.
What are Nebraska fans to expect in this one after all the turmoil the program has been through the past two weeks? There’s plenty to talk about, but let’s stick to three main thoughts I have about this game.
The running back room
Some may have noticed that Rahmir Johnson didn’t finish the Ohio State game after rushing for 62 yards on 16 carries. The New Jersey native, who emerged as the team’s lead back at Oklahoma, wasn’t on the field for the Huskers’ final two drives against the Buckeyes. Instead, it was Markese Stepp, who came off the bench cold in one of the most important stretches of that game.
On Thursday, Nebraska head coach Scott Frost didn’t say if Johnson was healthy enough to play or not, noting that both his running back room and Wisconsin’s have been beat up lately. Wisconsin’s starting running back, Clemson transfer Chez Mellusi, is out for the season after rushing for 815 yards and five touchdowns. Badger fans feel pretty good about their true freshman backup, however, in the 6-foot-2, 238-pound former linebacker Braelon Allen, who actually leads the team with 834 rushing yards and nine touchdowns while averaging 7.1 yards per carry.
There’s uncertainty surrounding Nebraska’s running back room—it’s been the case all season. Depending on how healthy Johnson is, Husker fans could even see the seldom-used Marvin Scott and Stepp. Scott’s last carry came against Fordham. Will Jaquez Yant even see the field?
How will the offensive line react?
Nebraska’s offensive line has been the position that has struggled the most this season, and now it’s heading into battle against one of the nation’s most fierce defensive fronts without its position coach, Greg Austin. How will that unit react?
Will they drop their heads at the first sign of trouble, or play hard and smart for four quarters knowing that’s what Austin wants. My read on the situation is that this team has been beat up so much by Wisconsin since they’ve been in Lincoln that they’re tired of it. Things may not go as planned on the scoreboard, but you won’t see anyone quit like in the past. Look, fans know Saturday’s likely outcome. But I think a lot of good would come out of this game if the players play hard for four quarters and make the Badgers sweat a bit.
This is the type of game and situation where you’d want a guy like Cam Jurgens next to you in the foxhole.
Don’t expect the offense to look any different
With no Matt Lubick, Held and Austin, some are wondering what Nebraska’s offense is going to look like on Saturday. With nothing to lose, would the Huskers look like a different offense with two weeks to prepare?
I doubt it, and I doubt you see much change in the offense at all. The architect of this offense, Frost, is still around. Former analyst Steve Cooper will serve as Frost’s offensive coordinator, but don’t get it twisted, Frost will be the one calling the plays, just like he has throughout his coaching career.
Coaches are creatures of habit. For the most part, they do what they do and don’t deviate from their plan. Saturday’s game is no time to be making drastic changes just to say you made changes. That’s a topic that needs to be tackled in the offseason when the team actually has an offensive coordinator and Adrian Martinez has decided whether he’s going to stay or move on.