From Scott Frost's coaching status to the near-misses against three undefeated teams, Chris Basnett of the Lincoln Journal Star breaks down the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
When Nebraska lost to Illinois to start the season, it sure seemed the wolves were circling around Scott Frost. What's the mood in Lincoln now after the close losses to Oklahoma, Michigan State and Michigan?
It's certainly better now than it was after that Illinois game. It's clear this team has made at ton of progress since that loss, which gets more inexplicable by the day. And it's funny, because it seems like every single game this season has become a referendum on Scott Frost and the program. So it's kind of in this weird spot where everyone knows Nebraska is close to breaking through – the evidence is clear in those close losses, which very easily could have been wins if not for some special teams disasters and an ill-timed fumble. But they're also losses, in a season where it feels like NU has a bowl team, and needs all the wins it can get. I think people feel OK right now, but the wins have to start coming at some point.
Adrian Martinez is second in the Big Ten with 314.9 yards of total offense per game. In what areas has he improved the most and what are the weaknesses that have held him back?
Martinez trimmed up in the offseason and is as fast and as healthy as he's ever been, and really for the first time, he's not looking over his shoulder at his competition. He also has much better weapons around him. The receiving corps is the best Nebraska has had by a pretty wide margin since Martinez arrived in Lincoln. He has two NFL-caliber tight ends in Austin Allen and Travis Vokolek. And the running back situation seems to be settling down with Rahmir Johnson grabbing the reins. That's led to fewer turnovers, though they still seem to come at the worst times (see the fumble against Michigan). And even though he's completing 66% of his passes, he has a couple inaccurate throws every game that leave you scratching your head.
What has Samori Toure, the transfer from Montana, meant to the Huskers offense?
He's been hugely important. He obviously had an incredible FCS career at Montana, and it was clear he was going to have a role at Nebraska, but I'm not sure anyone thought he would turn into Adrian Martinez's most reliable target and one of the best big-play receivers in the Big Ten. Toure currently leads the country in 60-yard catches (three) and has three more catches of at least 50 yards. For an offense that desperately needed to upgrade its big play ability in the offseason. Toure has been the answer, and then some.
Nebraska has allowed 19 quarterback sacks, most in the Big Ten. What have been the issues with the Huskers' pass protection?
Mainly, Nebraska's offensive line struggled mightily early in the season, with 18 of those sacks coming in NU's first five games. NU finally made some changes up front, between the Michigan State and Northwestern games, bringing in a new left tackle in freshman Teddy Prochaska, and a new left guard in Nouredin Nouili, and moving Turner Cocoran from left tackle to right tackle, and the Huskers had their best offensive day since joining the Big Ten against the Wildcats. But Prochaska suffered a season-ending knee injury against Michigan, forcing more reshuffling. The simple fact of the matter is, NU wasn't very good up front before the lineup changes seemed to spark something.
How important is this game to the Huskers, especially with Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa remaining on the schedule?
They're all important in Nebraska, especially with this being Year 4 for Frost, who is working for a new athletic director in Trev Alberts and still looking for his first winning season. The Huskers know they can play with just about anyone in the country. But to get to a bowl game, NU really needs this one going into a bye week, and really needs to beat Purdue coming out of the bye before running the gauntlet against Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa to end the regular season. The progress is clear, but the Huskers desperately need results.