football Edit

Five burning questions heading into Northwestern week

Here are five of the biggest questions still facing Nebraska as it gets ready to host Northwestern this week...

Can anything be done to fix all of the problems on Nebraska's offensive line?
Can anything be done to fix all of the problems on Nebraska's offensive line? (USA Today)

1. Is this season still salvageable?

For the second time in the first five weeks, Nebraska was in a game that would turn the season's trajectory one way or another.

For the second time, the Huskers were their own worst enemies in a crucial defeat.

Now at 2-3 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten, NU's path to a winning record and a bowl appearance for the first time since 2016 has never seemed steeper.

Had Nebraska found a way to win at Michigan State - like in Week 0 at Illinois - it would have infused the program and the fan base with confidence and optimism.

Instead, the Huskers fell face-first into a puddle of doubt of whether they're capable of executing well enough to turn the corner this season.

This week's home game vs. a below-average Northwestern team is a must-win in every sense of the term. It's not hyperbole that the rest of Nebraska's season and any hope at a bowl berth depend on it.

2. What can be done to fix the offensive line?

It's almost become hard to believe that Nebraska's offensive line, a unit that most projected to be one of the most improved on the entire team this offseason, could be this bad.

The Huskers can't run the ball with any consistency, and they can't protect Adrian Martinez whatsoever. It's now to the point where fans have to hold their breath every snap, hoping that the blocking will be adequate enough to execute a play.

Defenses don't even have to blitz to get steady pressure and stuff the run, leaving Martinez in the unenviable position of having to do almost everything on his own.

That doesn't even mention all of the o-line's inexplicable false start penalties. They've now committed eight of them over the past two games.

Would some personnel shake-ups provide a spark to the o-line? Or was the group we saw in East Lansing the best NU had to offer?

Nebraska's defense has played well enough to win every week, but it hasn't been enough more often than not.
Nebraska's defense has played well enough to win every week, but it hasn't been enough more often than not. (USA Today)

3. What is the solution at punter?

Nebraska has routinely found new and creative ways to lose games over the past decade, and Saturday night was another square on the bingo card of futility.

It's hard to remember a punt team so heavily deciding a game.

Whether it was William Przystup shaking seven-yard punts or Daniel Cerni kicking it to the wrong side of the field for a game-changing punt return touchdown, the Huskers found one way after another to lose that game with its punting.

Frost seemed as bewildered as anyone as to why NU couldn't simply line up and punt the ball where it needed to go. When neither of your two scholarship punters can adequately do their job, what other options do you have?

4. Did Culp break out of his funk?

As bad as things were in the punting game, the good news for Nebraska was that kicker Connor Culp seemed to settle back in after a disastrous past few weeks.

After missing seven total kicks over the first four games, Culp was a perfect 4-for-4 on two field goals and two extra points.

His field goals were chip shots from 28 yards, but Saturday night was a significant step forward for the reigning Big Ten Kicker of the Year.

Just seeing the ball go through the uprights was huge for Culp's confidence, especially his second field goal that tied it up at 13-13 midway through the third quarter.

Hopefully, that issue has resolved itself, and Culp gets back to his 2020 form because NU needs all the stability it can get on special teams right now.

5. Will the defense finally get some help?

As bad as things have been on offense and special teams this season, Nebraska's defense has proven its legitimacy more and more by the week.

After turning heads with its performance at Oklahoma last week, the Blackshirts backed that up by completing shutting down one of the nation's top rushing attacks at Michigan State.

Northwestern doesn't do anything offensively that scares you. The Wildcats rank fourth in the Big Ten in rushing at 211 yards per game, but if NU can bottle up Kenneth Walker III and MSU, it can hold up against anyone.

The question is, though, will the rest of the team be able to pick up the slack enough to win the game?

Nebraska's defense has played well enough to win for the past five weeks, but until the other two elements do their part, it's hard to know when that will be enough.