Rutgers is coming off two consecutive losses and will host Nebraska on Friday night.
For an insight on the upcoming matchup and on Nebraska as a whole, we were joined by Andy Ketterson of Corn Nation for a quick Q&A on the upcoming game.
OTB: Scott Frost is out — and the program did not even wait until his buyout was cut in half. How bad was it actually toward the end between Frost and Nebraska?
CN: Not great!
Although in truth, while we were all holding our breath a little, I don’t believe too many folks expected it to come crashing down the way it did. The off-season had everyone optimistic for several reasons: 1) despite a 3-9 record, it really did feel as if a corner was about to be turned after going toe-to-toe with multiple top 10 teams including a 3-point loss to CFP playoff Michigan in which we outscored them 29-19 in the second half; 2) excitement over the coaching hires including Mickey, Mark Whipple, Bryan Applewhite, Donavan Raiola and elevating Bill Busch to full-time Special teams Coach; 3) a very successful recruiting/portal season and 4) a relatively easy (cough cough) opening schedule of Northwestern (defeated 56-7 in 2021), North Dakota (1-AA and not THAT North Dakota team) and Georgia Southern (Sun Belt 3-9 team in 2021).
It was just assumed 3-1 was the downside and that wouldn’t result in anyone’s firing by the buyout cut date of Oct. 1. Instead, Northwestern happened. People screamed about the onside kick, but much more disturbing was them gaining more yards in the 1st half than I thought should have been allowed in the game and an approximately 8 min. drive in the 4th quarter in which they just plowed through us. The defense never got off its heels after that.
Georgia Southern was the final straw beating us 45-42 while gaining 642 yards and punting only once. Rumor has it the $7.5M Nebraska lost by not waiting until 10/1 was covered by one or more boosters who had had enough.
OTB: Nebraska is thought to be a great job opportunity. A program with a lot of history. Are there any early candidates that fans might prefer? Just how important is it to nail this hire?
CN: Hah, let’s start with the second question. It is extremely important, especially given the absolute head slappers so many of the Husker coach searches became. The indefensible Mike Riley hire was the result of a mentally and testicularly challenged AD Shawn Eichorst being sneaky for no reason and stealing away a coach literally no one else wanted then or now. The Bill Callahan hire also involved an AD trying to play spy king and not consulting with anyone else. Frank Solich had been anointed years previous to his hire. The Frost process was fine & geez, we got the National Coach of the Year, but it didn’t work out. Bo Pelini was the result of a formal search, and SURPRISE, the most successful of the bunch.
So, yes, it’s great to hear Alberts is actually handling it like a professional. Names which keep popping are Lance Leipold, Matt Campbell (meh, and it’s always seemed the feeling is mutual), Bill O’Brien (please, no) and of course, Mickey Joseph who is in his audition. Speaking for me, I would prefer Leipold, Dave Aranda or Matt Ruhle if he became available. And if Mickey somehow turns this horror show into 6-6, he’s firmly in the mix.
OTB: Last time Nebraska was at SHI Stadium, it ran all over Rutgers during a 28-21 victory. Can we expect to see a similar game plan or will Casey Thompson be on display?
CN: I would look for a mix although despite the Ohio State game, it doesn’t appear as if anyone has had much ground success against Rutgers this year. Anthony Grant, the 2021 JUCO POY is averaging over 100 yds/game and would likely be headed for about 1800 or more with a better offensive line. One of his many skills is turning 1-2 yard losses into short gains. He ground out 136 yards on 32 totes against Indiana and I’m sure you will see us absolutely try to pound it out.
However, I would also expect plenty of Casey as well likely chucking it 30 times or more. I suspect he’s gotten some extra work this week on getting rid of the ball quicker after eating some sacks last week when given time to throw. It even got him benched once. LSU transfer Trey Palmer was already the team’s leading receiver but had a breakout game with 8 grabs for 157 yards and a 71 yard TD in the 4th quarter. He will again be targeted plenty.
OTB: How has the offensive line held up? Rutgers is strong along the defensive line and has been successful against the run. Will the trenches be a big difference on Friday night?
CN: They are improving but the Rutgers D-line is going to be a heck of test. Whether or not the Huskers can get Grant going on the ground will probably be a great indicator of what the rest of the season holds. The season will be half over when the gun sounds and if Nebraska loses that battle, it doesn’t bode too well for the rest of the season. They may be able to overcome the lack of a strong run game riding the air attack for a win or two, but probably not enough to jump into the fight for the suddenly wide open Big Ten West race.
However, if Grant and possibly redshirt freshman Gabe Ervin can have solid or even big days Friday, we might be onto something.
OTB: What is the strength defensively for Nebraska? Is there a vulnerable area that opponents can look to take advantage of?
CN: Indiana was the first D1 team the Huskers held under 500 yards this season and before that game, I would have said take your pick. We were at the bottom of Division 1 in just about everything. However, while keeping the basic set, new interim DC Busch tossed the soft zones and large coverage gaps and came at the Hoosiers with much more tight man coverage and more aggressive and inspired play than we’d seen all season. Yes, Indiana is not the Buckeyes and they were missing their top two receivers, but still.
For that game, the linebacking appeared to be strength and we actually got a decent pass rush as well. The lowest graded unit was the D-backs but even they made big plays when they had to, including Mississippi true freshman Malcom Hartzog, ungraded by the services when they recruited him. He got his first start, played every snap and also ran a punt block in for a TD.
OTB: There is a sense of urgency from Rutgers heading into this game. I can assume it is the same for Nebraska coming off a victory. How important is this game? Whether it be for bowl purposes or just standing in the Big Ten.
CN: We’ve got a ways to go before we can fully flip the script from “Holy freaking crap, what do we even play for??” where the mindset must have been after Oklahoma (sort of confirmed by OC Whipple calling them out a couple days ago to believe they can win every game) to thinking of making a bowl game or playing for a division championship.
If those things are to happen though, Rutgers is a must-win. If Nebraska loses to a Rutgers team who just got beat 49-10 by the Buckeyes, much of the guarded optimism being enjoyed this week likely drops off the table for the time being. However, no one here is looking at this game like it’s in pocket. Rutgers has ramped up its toughness under Schiano and that has not gone unnoticed here.
OTB: What does a Nebraska native look to do up in New Jersey for a long weekend venture? Is it all about the food or looking to take in some scenery? Take me through a potential plan.
CN: Haha, I asked you for advice on that!.
I think most trips are an in and out type of deal – fly in on Friday night or Saturday morning. Party like Captain Jack in Tortuga, fatten up on the local fare and grab a Sunday morning hangover flight back home. The Friday game makes it a little different as many will add a day or two to the trip, have the weekend for heading into the city, seeing the sites, etc. I’d definitely expect to see some red at typical tourist haunts and probably a Cornhead or two depending on how much they’ve been chugging down.
Husker travelers are generally a pretty friendly bunch with many looking to make new pals in their travels. It should be a good time for all.
OTB: Finally, a prediction. How do you see this game playing out on Friday night? What is the final score and how does the winner get it done?
CN: I might adjust a little if the B1G surprises you with a Cruickshank suspension and the last I looked, Schiano said he hadn’t heard definitively. Personally, I think he should get a “Punt the Damn Ball Next Time” T-shirt and a $50 gift certificate to his favorite philly or gyro joint, but that’s me.
I see a tight one here. Rutgers offense has not been strong and QB injuries are an issue with Wimsatt still out and Vedral playing only 5 snaps against OSU, I think? And I believe the Husker defense will continue to improve on last week’s new mindset. On the other side, I absolutely expect the Huskers to have a tough time running the ball. I believe the difference will be Thompson who will hold the ball less and Palmer who will continue pop a big play or two – or else open up everything underneath if Rutgers overcompensates. We are truly in “Day by day, we get better and better” mode here and just need to see improvement each week and let the chips fall. This one is a tight, physical affair, but – Huskers 24 Rutgers 17