Five burning questions heading into Minnesota week
1. How much worse will it get?
After Nebraska’s blowout loss at Michigan, the message from head coach Scott Frost and his players was that Nebraska had reached its rock bottom.
Three more defeats later, the Huskers are 0-6 and now off to the worst start to a season in its 129 years as a program.
Any hopes of a miraculous turnaround to a bowl berth have all but vanished, and now the final six games of the year are more about trying to salvage any semblance of positivity going into Year 2.
The next two weeks provide two of the last remaining chances to finally get that first victory and build some momentum, starting this week with a home game against 3-3 Minnesota, which is also winless in Big Ten play.
Can the Huskers find a way to stay out of their own way for four quarters and get a win? If so, there’s a realistic chance they could win three of their next four games with Bethune-Cookman and Illinois sandwiched around a trip to Ohio State.
The opportunity is there in theory, but that’s assuming Nebraska will be able to put together the resolve and execution to do it.
2. Will the secondary bounce back?
Saturday was a complete disaster for Nebraska’s pass defense, as Northwestern torched the Huskers for 455 passing yards and three touchdowns on a whopping 65 attempts, the second-most ever by an NU opponent.
The worst part about it is that the secondary fell apart at the worst possible time, allowing the Wildcats to throw the ball at will en route to a 10-point comeback with less than five minutes remaining in regulation.
The Huskers were able to snag a season-high two interceptions, but their inability to stop Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson when it needed to the most was one of the most crucial factors in turning a victory into a loss.
Minnesota’s passing offense presents a much lighter challenge, as the Gophers come in throwing for just 200 yards per game, completing just 52 percent of their passes, and tossing nine touchdowns to nine interceptions on the year.
Nebraska has a laundry list of things it needs to fix in order to turn things around, but improving the play of its pass defense is right near the top.
3. Can NU trust Pickering?
Freshman kicker Barret Pickering has had a rough debut season, to say the least.
He’s made just five of his nine field goal attempts on the year, with all five of his makes coming within 35 yards. After going 1-of-2 on his attempts at Northwestern, Pickering is now 0-for-3 from field goals of 36 yards or longer.
Pickering also bounced an extra point off the right upright, his first missed point after of the season.
Frost said after the loss that Pickering’s inconsistency played a role in Nebraska’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 in overtime rather than kick the go-ahead field goal. The Huskers obviously failed the attempt, and Northwestern followed up with the game-winning kick.
Will that lack of trust impact how the Huskers handle future fourth-down calls in opponent territory? Or will Frost stick with Pickering in hopes that he can settle down and become a more reliable option?
4. Will the offense keep riding Ozigbo?
One positive development Nebraska has learned over the last three losses is that its offense is at its best when Devine Ozigbo sets the tone with the running game.
With two career performances vs. Purdue and at Northwestern, Ozigbo has clearly established himself as NU’s top option in the backfield. In the loss at Wisconsin, the senior only got five carries the whole game.
Minnesota’s run defense has been stout, ranking fourth in the Big Ten with 121.5 yards allowed per game. But Nebraska can’t afford to make itself one-dimensional and rely too heavily on true freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez to carry the load.
Ozigbo is the Huskers’ workhorse, and they need to keep on riding him.
5. Can Frost keep this team together?
There really wasn’t a whole lot left for Frost to say following Saturday’s overtime loss, but some of his comments raised a few eyebrows.
Asked about the play of the defense, particularly on Northwestern’s 99-yard drive to tie it at the end of regulation, Frost said he wasn’t responsible for calling the defense.
His answers to every other question about what all went wrong generally came down to the players not making enough plays.
Whether it was intentional or not, Frost seemed to pass up an opportunity to shoulder the blame for his team’s 0-6 start. As someone who has always been very strategic with how he uses his press conferences, it will be interesting to see how that resonates with his players.