Despite the mental anguish heaped on the Nebraska football program over the past few weeks, a postseason invite is still on the table. With an expansive buffet of bowl games courtesy of the NCAA's affinity for the almighty dollar, the Big Red can score a profit of their own. Of course, they have to lock down two more wins first, starting with Saturday's game at Purdue.
Here's how they can prevent staying home come December:
1. Emphasize winning on the road
Scott Frost's road record as the Cornhuskers' head coach is far from stellar at 1-7. To make matters worse, the two games left on Nebraska's schedule that appear the most winnable — thus the most likely to get the Big Red into a bowl — are away from Memorial Stadium.
Purdue is one of the few Big Ten teams having worse luck with injuries than the Huskers with quarterback Elijah Sindelar still sidelined and wide receiver Rondale Moore's status for Saturday up in the air. Maryland's also in a rut with eight players out for the season. An additional five players are listed as questionable for the Terrapins' upcoming game versus Michigan.
These games are "must-win" in every sense of the term. The chances of Nebraska taking down Wisconsin or Iowa this year are almost non-existent despite the duo tripping to Lincoln. Barring a Herculean effort and a helping hand from Lady Luck, that is. This is college football, after all.
2. Play the quarterback who earns the start
Adrian Martinez has yet to consistently show "it" this season. The athletic gifts he displayed as a true freshman can't seem to stick around for an entire game's duration. But he still wants his name called to champion the attack at Purdue.
Following Tuesday's practice, he said, "I feel like I'm ready and I expect to go." If the former starter is ready to take the seemingly settled snaps from center Cam Jurgens, under normal circumstances, he would. But is that the best thing for his team?
Noah Vedral and Luke McCaffrey both looked more than capable of leading the Huskers' offense versus Indiana. The Big Red did put up 31 points, the most since notching 42 in their win over Illinois, a Martinez-led affair. After that, however, it was a mere 20 points combined against Ohio State and Northwestern.
This is a tricky situation.
Vedral's shown some of the snap decision-making Martinez hasn't. McCaffrey was impressive despite being far from the finished product. If Martinez gets the start on Saturday and struggles, how quickly might Frost yank his cornerstone recruit?
Both quarterbacks atop the depth chart appear firm in their belief of Frost. That's why Martinez gets the start if both he and Vedral are at a hypothetical 85 percent. You go with the guy you flew across the country to secure his LOI.
That's not to say he shouldn't get the hook if drives stall with him at the helm again, though.
3. Focus on wide receiver physicality
A battle within the Indiana game — and, quite honestly, every contest this season — was the Huskers' wide receivers versus defensive backs.
Overall aggression is severely lacking. Kade Warner has proven himself to be a vicious blocker and JD Spielman engages well. No other frequently-used wideout looked interested in locking up with their man or escorting them away from running lanes. It does Frost's rushing attack no favors regardless of whoever is toting the rock.
The most curious thing is that Frost taught this to his receivers at Oregon and he's been around physical receivers since his playing days. That this is absent eight games into the season is one of the most low-key curious aspects of an offense that needs every sliver of help it can get.
4. Never be afraid of having more fun with the playbook
Nebraska was more than happy to trot out some trickeration against the Hoosiers. From wide receiver passes to direct snaps and more, the Huskers looked like they were having a blast moving the football using nontraditional means.
They looked tremendous when going up-tempo last Saturday in Memorial Stadium against Indiana. This roster still has more than enough skill and speed to apply physics to their advantage on every drive.
Yes, this is a game taken seriously, but it's still a game. Never forget to have fun with it and you're rewarded more often than not.
5. Simplify the defense
Much like in the seven games prior to Indiana, the Blackshirts were easily moved out of position. The defensive line itself didn't have a horrible day, but the back seven was shuffled around like a deck of cards thanks to Peyton Ramsey's command of the Hoosiers' passing game.
Linebackers and defensive backs were frozen while making reads. The secondary had to make choices that Indiana had at least two options for on most occasions. Then it was up to Ramsey to deliver. He didn't have two wide receivers combine for 18 catches and 253 yards by accident.
Have a look at Erik Chinander's defensive numbers among FBS teams through 2019 so far:
- 83rd in rushing defense (177.25 ypg)
- 66th in passing defense (223.4 ypg)
- 81st in third-down conversions allowed (40.2 percent)
- 57th in fourth-down conversions allowed (50 percent)
- 108th in red zone conversions (88.2 percent)
- 88th in 20-plus-yard plays from scrimmage allowed (40)
These are statistics that tell the opposition they can confuse and abuse the defense. All they have to do is watch film and be patient for roughly a quarter or two. Nebraska has been outscored 76-55 in the second half of Big Ten games thus far. That includes a 42-17 showing in its last two.
Over the remaining four regular-season contests, the Blackshirts as a whole could benefit from far more reacting and less reading. The latter clearly isn't getting the desired results.