Every college football team has its struggles as the season rolls along, and the Nebraska Cornhuskers are no different. Head coach Mike Riley has already made a few references to his team’s “warts.” The good news is that the Huskers’ bye week offers more than the opportunity for their wounded to heal and the newbies an opportunity to get more coaching. The Big Red gets a chance to make those warts less of a glaring problem.
Nebraska has three main areas it must clean up if it wants to roll towards a double-digit win total in 2016.
- Penalties – This has been an area of concern ever since Nebraska’s kickoff against Fresno State. The Huskers opened the first three games of the season with seven penalties during each contest for an average of 76 yards per tilt. That’s three-fourths of a football field gifted to their opponent.
The good news is that over the past two games, the Big Red has started to improve. Nebraska had a combined seven penalties versus Northwestern and Illinois. All three penalties versus the Illini came in the first quarter.
Following the Illinois game, Riley addressed the need to retain focus and control what the Cornhuskers can in terms of giving up free yardage.
“I think a lot of it has to do with the choices that players make. The penalties that I really think have to be controlled are those penalties that have to do with procedure of the game, offsides, false starts, illegal formations, shifts, motion, stuff like that. That stuff is obviously a poor reflection on everybody. The other thing that I’m most pleased with, I think we had one of them today, was unsportsmanlike, late hit, roughing the passer, those can be game changers. There’s going to be some holding calls, some pass interference, there’s going to be some of that stuff in football in general. You want to hold those down, you don’t want many.”
- Poor tackling – Nebraska’s defense has had trouble wrapping up over the past three games; its most lackadaisical effort came this past week against Illinois. There have been opportunities to take down ball-carriers at the line of scrimmage that have resulted in five- to seven-yard gains.
Part of this can be attributed to simply not making the correct read; a lost split second puts players out of position to make tackles. However, not executing the fundamentals of tackling is simply inexcusable, as Mark Banker talked about following the win over the Illini.
“The one thing that I was most disappointed in out of anything, I thought we tackled very, very poorly for a good portion of the game. I don’t know what it was. I don’t know whether we weren’t running through. I saw a few guys really overstaying themselves and not wrapping (up).”
- Tommy Armstrong’s decision-making – This has actually been a net positive for the Huskers in 2016, but Armstrong has still shown tendencies that will come back to bite his team against some of the better squads on Nebraska’s remaining schedule.
The two interceptions he’s thrown this season were both into triple coverage. One of his throws against Northwestern was right to one of the opposition’s defensive backs. If that defender had not dropped the ball, it would’ve been six points for the Wildcats and a tighter margin for Nebraska to work against.
This simply can’t happen in games against Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa.
That said, if Nebraska can make major progress in minimizing these problems heading forward, things look bright. If not, the remaining lineup could get a little dicey.