Purdue (2-3, 1-1 Big Ten) came into Memorial Stadium Saturday and handed the Huskers (0-4, 0-2 Big Ten) their eighth straight loss and seventh straight home loss, 42-28. Things haven't started the way coach Scott Frost had hoped, so what's next?
The Hail Varsity staff has three more takeaways from the game.
On Saturday, Adrian Martinez grew up. That’s according to his coach, Scott Frost.
“I think Adrian grew up a bunch today,” Frost said. “I saw a guy today that looks like he kind of figured out he can win a game. Some of the throws he made, some of the decisions he made to take it down and run it … That’s my guy and we’re going to ride with him.”
Martinez had a monster day statistically racking up 323 yards passing and 91 yards rushing. His 414 total yards were good for the tenth most in a single game in Huskers' history. That’s a pretty remarkable feat for a true freshman quarterback making his third career start after not playing his high school senior season.
I think it’s safe to say that watching the California signal-caller's development over the coming years will be great for Nebraska fans. The scary thing for opposing defenses is that he is just scratching the surface of what he can do. Also, the Nebraska offense as a whole still isn’t clicking fully, nor does it have the full compliment of weapons that Frost would like to see.
When Frost references brighter days ahead for this program, for me it begins with the potential for his starting quarterback to be a special player.
Scott Frost called for warriors during his post-game press conference on Saturday night. He mentioned Ben Stille, Devine Ozigbo, Adrian Martinez, Stanley Morgan Jr., JD Spielman and Luke Gifford by name, but said there were others as well.
I think it’s safe to say that redshirt sophomore cornerback Dicaprio Bootle is one of them.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound cornerback has come a long way since he blew Nebraska away with his speed at a satellite camp in the summer of 2015 and earned a scholarship offer.
After a redshirt year and a freshman season spent primarily as a back-up in a rotation, Bootle has been on the field for the vast majority of Nebraska’s defensive snaps this season, and he’s been the team’s clear-cut No. 1 corner.
Yet for some reason, he’s the one opposing teams seem to be targeting.
“[I’ve seen] a lot of growth,” junior corner Eric Lee Jr. said. “I don’t know why teams keep throwing the deep ball at him but he’s defending it well. I’m really proud of him.”
After breaking up five passes last week against Michigan, Bootle broke up three more on Saturday against the Boilermakers. Toss in two more against Colorado (Troy, wisely, didn’t really target him) and Bootle is already up to 10 pass break-ups a third of the way through the season. Last year, Joshua Kalu led the team with six all season.
At this point, Bootle is a little surprised teams keep going at him too.
“Yeah, definitely, but I’m up for the challenge … I’m always ready for it,” Bootle said.
It wasn’t just the production that struck me on Saturday, though. Early in the game, Purdue tested Bootle deep down the field up the left sideline. Bootle never turned his head and ran into the receiver, drawing a pass interference flag.
However, later on, Bootle found himself in the exact same situation, almost in the exact same spot, only this time he turned his head just in time, made a play on the ball and broke it up. Then he did it again later on.
Bootle made a mistake, he learned from it and he corrected it. That’s something we haven’t seen from many of his teammates and that goes a long way towards explaining why Nebraska is 0-4.
Based on everything I’ve seen, I feel confident saying that Bootle is going to be a very good player. I don’t know if he’s quite ready to be a lockdown No. 1 corner at this stage in his career, but that’s exactly what Nebraska needs of him and he’s going to give it everything he’s got.
"You don’t want to play anymore? Bootle said. “That’s okay. Get going. But, if you’re going to fight, let’s ride."
Dicaprio Bootle is the kind of warrior Scott Frost needs to win it Nebraska.
Plenty of negatives to stick on, plenty of mistakes to harp on, but let’s look at a positive note at least for the purposes of this post. Devine Ozigbo was a major bright spot for Nebraska against Purdue.
When Scott Frost and this new coaching staff arrived in Lincoln, the senior running back was easily the most dismissable of Nebraska’s returning rushers. The staff brought in speedier backs in Greg Bell, Maurice Washington and Miles Jones. Sophomore Jaylin Bradley was expected to take a leap. Instead, it was Ozigbo who upped his game, worked his tail off, earned co-starter status for the opening game and saw his hard work rewarded Saturday.
Ozigbo finished with 170 yards and two scores on 17 carries. The yardage total is a career-high and it wasn’t even close. The per-carry average was a career-high for games when he’s had at least five runs (he had two carries for 33 yards in a game against Rutgers his freshman year). But his work goes beyond just the numbers.
Ozigbo really grew his game in the offseason and that has been on full display so far. He’s reading the field, finding his holes and make the right cuts when they need to be made. The common knock on his game before was he was too reliant on just running into the pile and moving it forward a couple yards. Ozigbo had runs of 10, 18, 11, 35, 23, 11 and 13 yards and almost every single one of them saw him break a tackle or cut away from a defender and get downhill.
“Devine practiced better than anybody else [this week],” Frost said after the game. “When he got hot, he was a warrior today, and I’ll go to battle with him.”
Maybe part of Ozigbo’s extended run had to do with Washington’s absence — Frost said he was sick this week and missed all of practice; they weren’t going to play him cold — but Ozigbo earned his keep.
“Yeah, I expect nothing less from Devine,” quarterback Adrian Martinez said. “He’s a great player and a guy that’s always been a grinder in the weight room, on the field, and I’m glad he had an opportunity today to show that a little bit.”
Ozigbo has practiced and played so well that Bradley hasn’t sniffed the field through four games and Miles Jones — another freshman runner that came into Lincoln with plenty of buzz from the coaching staff — is likely heading for a redshirt season. He had 493 yards and three scores on a 3.8 yards-per-carry average in 2017. He’s up to 260 yards and three scores on a 5.7 yards per-per-carry average through four games to begin 2018.