Nebraska Football: Cornhuskers Midseason Review and Second Half Preview

Wan'Dale Robinson has been a nice addition to the Huskers' offense

Halfway through the 2019 season, any hype surrounding the Nebraska Cornhuskers has faded. Yes, they could still win the Big Ten West but Wisconsin looks most likely to take the division crown yet again.

 

Year 2 of the Scott Frost era can still be considered a step in the right direction if — and only if — the Big Red is bowl eligible. At 4-2 (2-1 in the Big Ten), that's looking likely but none of the six remaining games (see below) will be cakewalks.

 

Despite the offense sputtering and a great deal of frustration among fans, there has been a number of notable moments. It's time to review what's been and look forward to what's to come.

 

Offensive MVP: Maurice Washington

He might not dominate the stat sheet, but Washington's impact is undeniable. He gives Nebraska an offensive threat that no other player has. That includes Adrian Martinez and rising superstar Wan'Dale Robinson. Robinson's stock is skyrocketing, though. More on that later.

 

Yes, Martinez is the captain of the ship and there's no other quarterback like him on the roster. However, the sleek running style and versatility of No. 28 makes him a must-watch for fans and defensive coordinators alike.

 

He's far from 100 percent, but that doesn't stop him from trying to be everything for the Huskers' offense. If he and Martinez can heal up, a so-so starting quarterback may even be tolerable for the Big Red effort if Washington can stay healthy.

 

An admittedly big "if" thus far through his career. Right now, Washington ekes out a win for MVP honors over Robinson. But there are six more games and that could easily switch.

 

Defensive MVP: JoJo Domann

Domann received his Blackshirt later than most due to not being part of the team early in the season. But since he's been on the field, his play has demanded the honor. No other defender has been as consistently violent, passionate and ruthless as No. 13 has regardless of opponent.

 

When Ohio State mercilessly rolled over Nebraska, Domann never slowed down. He didn't give up. He laid a lick on Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields that, despite Fields' excellent day, he probably felt the next morning.

 

If Erik Chinander had 11 Domanns on the field, the Huskers would have one of the most-feared units in the nation.

 

Best Moment of First Half: Lane McCallum's 25-yard field goal to beat Northwestern

 

 

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Best Newcomer: Wan'Dale Robinson

The hype surrounding Robinson was palpable. Then again, the kool-aid flowed about his team. However, the former Mr. Football from Kentucky has almost effortlessly bullied his way into the spotlight.

 

When Maurice Washington went down for the count and Dedrick Mills needed to be spelled, what appeared to be a scrawny do-it-all athlete was told to shoot his shot. Size be damned, Robinson has cracked pads with much larger athletes and caused them to take steps back.

 

He drew comparisons to Rondale Moore out of high school and does to this day. While he's not Moore yet, the two may look eerily similar as their careers progress.

 

Biggest Surprise: Adrian Martinez's Struggles

Frost was due to have a sophomore slump on his watch. It wasn't expected, though. After the impressive rebound Martinez showed through the final six games of 2018, surely the bar would be raised and cleared with ease, right?

 

That bar was set higher, but No. 2 has yet to clear it. He hasn't accomplished what Marcus Mariota or McKenzie Milton did under Frost. Fans would love him to be near-flawless again, but alas, he is human.

 

His play has done nothing less than confuse Nebraska fans, but we reach a time to reset. As it stands, his biggest hurdle is what's going on between his ears.

 

Three Things to Watch in the Second Half

 

1. A mellowed out Martinez

Touching back on the Huskers' sophomore offensive captain, a sense of urgency to flip the Big Red's fortunes is natural. However, he can't do that in a single game. Or a half, nor a quarter. It's a drive-by-drive, play-by-play journey.

 

2. Ball security

Nebraska's charitable nature with the football has been one of its most damning elements this season. Through six games, the Huskers have turned the ball over on 14 occasions. That's worth a cellar-dwelling rank in FBS and only poses more problems for an offense that’s nowhere near a finished product.

 

3. Defensive lockdown

When Frost's team is humming in harmony, it puts strength and conditioning to the test. No one should expect the Blackshirts to get many shutouts. Opponents scoring in the high 20s isn't out of the question and not the end of the world.

 

However, Nebraska hasn't been lighting up the scoreboard meaning the defense plays far more snaps and is asked to do more than it can handle. In the meantime, the Huskers have to find some manner of compromise. There will be offensive drives that go longer than preferred as will defensive ones.

 

Quick scoring drives that may take all of an actual minute to complete will happen again. The Blackshirts must match these with their own short jaunts onto the field with your standard three-and-out or a six-to-seven play drive that results in a punt or takeaway.

 

Ranking the Toughest Remaining Games on the Schedule

 

1. Nov 16 Wisconsin

The road to Indianapolis for the Big Ten West's representative continues to go through Madison. While the Badgers visit Lincoln this year, Jonathan Taylor will prove to be the biggest test of any running back that the Blackshirts will face all year. We saw how J.K. Dobbins rolled.

 

2. Nov. 29 Iowa

An ever-growing rivalry also takes place at Memorial Stadium this year and the Hawkeyes have had their moments this season. A typically efficient Iowa team won't make life easy for the home team. But that’s to be expected.

 

3. Oct. 12 at Minnesota

The gap between the first two contests on this list and the challenge Nebraska faces from the Golden Gophers is somewhat significant. Minnesota is going to be every bit of the test Northwestern was and then some.

 

4. Oct. 26 Indiana

The Hoosiers have been a huge question mark on Nebraska's schedule. No one can seem to come to a consensus on who they are. However, the Huskers get them off a bye week and should continue to solidify down the stretch. Definitely a tremendous toss-up.

 

5. Nov. 23 at Maryland

Maryland hasn't been particularly good early in their schedule and it's hard to think the Big Ten slate is going to be any kinder. By the time Nebraska faces the Terrapins, both teams will essentially be as good as they'll get. This is the easiest of the Huskers' final three regular-season games and could play a major role in bowl placement, if not eligibility.

 

6. Nov. 2 at Purdue

Teams usually end up getting far more dinged up as the season marches on as is the case in West Lafayette. In a perfect world, the Boilermakers get quarterback Elijah Sindelar and all-everything Rondale Moore back for this early November matchup. The former looks extremely unlikely and the latter is a gray area at best.

 

— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces). To contact him, click here.

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