As Scott Frost and his Nebraska Cornhuskers move towards what appears to be a rebound game versus Northern Illinois, it's time to look in the mirror and take stock. This team has talent, but also clearly more question marks than were apparent heading into the season.
Nebraska has several issues to shore up, but a few potential solutions stick out that can be quickly implemented.
1. Completely open up the playbook
At a point in your program's history, you're able to hold back some of the magic your offense is capable of. It's understandable that Frost wanted to do this for Colorado and especially conference foes like Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa, etc.
However, part of Nebraska's past was showing up and kicking a defense's teeth in despite the opposition knowing what they could do. This isn't to say the Huskers need to return to mid-90s form, though. Frost's offense is an amazingly simple yet dynamic system that rewards speed and misdirection. With the talent he has, pulling the curtain off of a system he strongly believes in might do him well moving forward.
There's a benefit in owning who you are. Fans talk about "identity" like Wisconsin's physicality or Mike Leach's Air Raid offense and immediately know what they're going to get. This can't be said about Nebraska and hasn't been for quite some time.
One of the best ways Frost can simultaneously recruit and show he believes in his players is to charge forward and trust in what he preaches: no fear of failure. Colorado head coach Mel Tucker called a flea-flicker backed up against his own end zone. Whether it works or not, that shows a strong belief in what his players are capable of.
Meanwhile, Frost explained that he didn't want to risk an interception in overtime. There's no time like the present to publicly embrace a "no fear" mentality.
2. Make sure Adrian Martinez knows the offense is his
While Frost calls the plays, Martinez ultimately calls the shots. He's shown himself to be an incredible run-pass threat, he can change things up at the line of scrimmage, and he has fellow skill players that are similarly dangerous.
One has to wonder why he's looked a step slow and carried the ball with a bit of abandon. Through the latter half of 2018, Martinez was poised, confident and was truly at one with what Frost wanted to accomplish. Now, he appears tentative and unsure of what to do from moment to moment.
There's a reason he had some touting him as a Heisman dark horse. He didn't suddenly lose the ability to break ankles. He proved he could drag defenders with him versus Colorado.
Whatever Martinez did to grab hold of the reins during the latter half of 2018, he needs to do it again. He's the captain of this ship when the offense takes the field.
3. Deny the opportunity to overthink
Touching back on Martinez for a moment, he appears to be favoring the deep ball versus a shorter or medium gain. This, unfortunately, results in a boom-or-bust mentality not unlike what former Husker quarterback Taylor Martinez displayed during his tenure.
Adrian Martinez, however, is a far more versatile athlete and while only a sophomore, should feel comfortable in his own skin. The number of starts he's accumulated speaks to that. Now, we must discuss defense.
Linebackers Alex Davis and Tyrin Ferguson have struggled overall during their careers thus far. Last Saturday, they showed promise as pass rushers in giving Colorado quarterback Steven Montez happy feet. This simple "meet at the quarterback" mentality has repeatedly shown to be best for players who overthink concepts.
As defenders are allowed to rely on their talent – now and in the future – scheme, while important, can sometimes take a back seat.
4. Ensure both sides of the ball know their roles
Of course, everyone on the field for Nebraska has specific assignments. While they must adapt to an opponent's calls, it's important for them to embrace their abilities while addressing flaws as often as possible.
Obviously, running back Maurice Washington can do what Dedrick Mills cannot, as their styles differ. However, Mills can improve his game to provide a more effective punch. This also ties into the offensive line.
No running back can be effective in an inside run game if proper blocking isn't executed, a stark problem for the Huskers early on. There is no excuse for this when it comes to Brendan Jaimes or captain Matt Farniok. But there must also be a jump in performance from a struggling interior.
Cam Jurgens made a significant leap from South Alabama to Colorado. His progress looks to be the only notable improvement, though. At this point, taking a step back to ensure players feel confident in executing fundamentals is crucial for further progress.
5. Put the kicker in a position to succeed
With Barret Pickering on the sideline for who knows how long, Issac Armstrong was thrust in an unenviable position. His punts were fantastic last Saturday, but his career as a placekicker is literally just beginning. Yes, his shanked field goal in overtime ultimately cost Nebraska, but Martinez taking a sack on third down only made a bad situation worse.
While the Huskers go with Armstrong, he has to be eased into the position. That means kicking needs to be simplified. He hasn't had the opportunity to crawl as a kicker but he's being asked to run due to necessity. That's the nature of "next man up", but there's some give and take when the next man up has never done what you're asking before.