Five burning questions heading into Wisconsin week
Here are five of the biggest questions still facing Nebraska as it gets ready for its home opener vs. Wisconsin this week...
1. Will the quarterback rotation continue?
While Adrian Martinez was the starter and played the bulk of the snaps at Ohio State, Nebraska still managed to get Luke McCaffrey in the game early and often in various ways.
The standout redshirt freshman saw action at quarterback, running back, and even wide receiver against the Buckeyes, leading all rushers with 87 yards on nine carries, completing 4-of-5 passes for 55 yards, and catching a pass for five yards.
McCaffrey also took over at quarterback for most of the fourth quarter when the game was well in-hand. Will his opportunities under center continue to increase now that he finally has some notable game reps under his belt?
It wasn’t that Martinez played poorly by any stretch, as he connected on 12 of his 15 passes for 105 yards while running 12 times for 77 yards and a touchdown. Both Martinez and McCaffrey also committed costly fumbles.
After the game, Martinez said that he expected McCaffrey to continue to work into the offense quite a bit this week vs. Wisconsin. Will that include more work at quarterback earlier in the game? Or will Martinez remain the primary option at signal-caller?
2. Is Omar Manning ready to return
Nebraska was without one of its top offensive weapons on Saturday, as heralded junior college transfer wide receiver Omar Manning did not make the trip with the team to Columbus, Ohio.
Manning had missed significant practice time this fall due to injury and personal reasons, which kept him from being ready to play in the Huskers’ season opener.
A few hours after the loss to the Buckeyes ended, Manning tweeted: “Monday can’t come any quicker, ready to prepare with my brothers.”
That would seem to indicate that the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder is ready to make his NU debut vs. Wisconsin. However, that ultimately could be decided by how much work he’ll be able to put in this week in practice.
3. How will the DBs replace Cam Taylor-Britt and Deontai Williams?
As if losing by 35 points to Ohio State wasn’t enough, Nebraska also saw two starting defensive backs ejected from the game for targeting penalties in the second half.
Because those flags happened after halftime, senior safety Deontai Williams and junior cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt will also have to sit out the first half against Wisconsin on Saturday per NCAA rules.
There is still a shred of hope that the Big Ten Conference could review the penalties and decide to wave the additional discipline this week based on perceived lack of intent and severity.
Should the league stick with the rulings, the Huskers would have to get creative with an already thin secondary. Redshirt freshman Quinton Newsome could be in line to start in Taylor-Britt’s place, while redshirt freshman Myles Farmer could take over for Williams at safety.
4. What is the status of Jack Stoll’s injury?
Some good news was that Nebraska's tight ends were much more involved in the passing game vs. Ohio State than they had been in some time.
The bad news was that the group might have already lost one of its key pieces in senior Jack Stoll. After making a catch over the middle during the second quarter, Stoll was hit low and immediately grabbed his left leg.
Head coach Scott Frost didn’t have any update on Stoll’s status after the game, but Stoll did not return for the rest of the day, and the injury certainly did not look good on replays.
Should Stoll have to miss any game time, juniors Austin Allen and Travis Vokolek should see increased roles.
5. Will Graham Mertz play?
A week after going up against one of the best quarterbacks in college football in Ohio State’s Justin Fields, Nebraska must now prepare to take on one of the country's top freshmen QBs.
However, whether or not Graham Mertz will actually be on the field and under center on Saturday is now very much up in the air.
A report from the Madison (Wis.) State Journal surfaced on Sunday that Mertz had tested positive for COVID-19. As with all positive daily antigen tests per Big Ten protocols, Mertz will take a PCR nasal swab test in order to confirm his diagnosis.
Should the PRC test also come back positive, the former four-star recruit out of Overland Park, Kan., would be forced to sit out 21 days - three games - before being allowed to return to football activities.
This could be a significant blow for the Badgers, as Mertz made his collegiate debut for Wisconsin on Friday night vs. Illinois and couldn’t have looked any better.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound redshirt freshman completed 20 of 21 passes for 248 yards in the Badgers' 45-17 victory. He also tied UW records for passing touchdowns in a game (five) and consecutive completions (17) in a game, and he set a program record for completion percentage (95.2 percent).
The Huskers just allowed Fields to have an almost equally as impressive day, as he also went 20-of-21 passing for 276 yards and two touchdowns.
For Nebraska to have any chance at knocking off Wisconsin, it cannot allow Mertz to replicate those types of numbers on Saturday. That is, of course, if he even makes the trip to Lincoln.
If Mertz is out, former three-star redshirt sophomore Chase Wolf would be the Badgers starting quarterback.