football Edit

Five burning questions heading into Buffalo week

Here are five of the biggest questions still facing Nebraska as it gets ready for this week's home game vs. Buffalo...

1. How can the o-line improve?

Nebraska eventually pulled away for a lopsided win over Fordham on Saturday, but the struggles on the offensive line could not be ignored even in a 45-point victory.

For the second week in a row, and this time against a far inferior opponent, the Huskers failed to get a consistent push in the running game or protect Adrian Martinez in the pocket through the first quarter and a half.

The unit eventually was able to take control as the game went on, but after last week's struggles at Illinois, it showed some glaring issues to address on the o-line.

The question is, how many of those problems are correctable fixes?

Does NU need to look into shaking up its starting group or rotating earlier at some spots? Or is there something the staff can do with its scheme and game plan to help give the line a boost?

2. What will NU do at punt returner?

Cam Taylor-Britt is a great athlete, but he's proven too much a liability for Nebraska to keep playing at punt returner.

A week after his head-scratching safety at Illinois, Taylor-Britt made another awful decision on Saturday when he let a catchable punt hit the ground and then tried to field it off the bounce.

The junior captain then let the ball bounce off of him and right into the hands of a Fordham player for what could have been a massive turnover to start the third quarter.

Nebraska benched Taylor-Britt for the rest of the game, but because No. 2 return man Oliver Martin was out with an injury, it had to turn to walk-on Brody Belt to handle punt returns the rest of the day.

Will the Huskers stick with Taylor-Britt? Will Martin be healthy enough to take over against Buffalo? Do they trust Belt enough to handle the role for an entire game?

3. Will the Huskers continue to ride Stepp?

Nebraska has been searching for a bell-cow running back since the end of last season, and Markese Stepp certainly made his case for that role against Fordham.

The sophomore transfer from USC finished the game with a team-high 101 yards on 18 carries, nine more than any other Husker running back.

He might not have the game-breaking speed as some of the other options in the room, but Stepp's size, physicality, and experience seem to make him the most dependable option right now.

Will Nebraska stick with him against Buffalo? Or will the revolving door in the backfield continue for another week?

4. Will any injured players return this week?

Martin won't be the only player Nebraska will keep a close eye on this week in practice.

The Huskers have two other key players that missed the first two games with undisclosed injuries in tight end Travis Vokolek and defensive lineman Casey Rogers.

Last week, head coach Scott Frost said that both players were "close" to getting back on the field but didn't give a specific timeframe on when either would return.

The defensive line has the depth to get by OK until Rogers is ready, though he was expected to be one of the top pieces in the rotation before his injury in fall camp.

At tight end, Vokolek's return would provide a significant boost both in the passing game and especially with his run blocking on the edge.

However, NU has gotten some solid contributions from guys like Chris Hickman and Chancellor Brewington over the past two weeks in his absence.

5. How good is Buffalo?

While Nebraska has a lot to worry about on its end, it's hard to know exactly what to expect from Buffalo.

Another opponent introducing a new head coach in Maurice "Mo" Linguist, the Bulls at least have one game of film for NU's staff to study with their opener on Thursday night.

But how much can the Huskers take away from a 69-7 blowout over lowly Wagner?

This is still a Buffalo team that replaced its entire coaching staff and had 13 players - including the No. 2 quarterback, two top offensive linemen, and a starting safety - enter the NCAA Transfer Portal after former coach Lance Leipold left for Kansas. Six of those entered after Linguist was hired.

On top of that, Buffalo lost star defensive end Malcolm Koonce (drafted 79th overall by the Las Vegas Raiders), record-breaking running back Jaret Patterson, No. 1 wide receiver Antonio Nunn, and All-American left tackle Kayode Awosika to the NFL.

The Bulls return starting quarterback Kyle Vantrease, a 1,000-yard back in Kevin Marks Jr., and standout defensive end Taylor Riggins, but there were major holes to fill on both sides of the ball going into the season.