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Nebraska Football: What the Cornhuskers Must Fix to Make a Bowl Game

Huskers need three more wins to become bowl eligible.
Nebraska Cornhuskers Football

Nebraska has shown signs of life under interim head coach Mickey Joseph but still has plenty of room for improvement on both sides of the ball.

An infusion of energy brought by interim head coach Mickey Joseph has seen the Nebraska Cornhuskers pick up a major confidence boost.

The Big Red (3-3, 2-4 Big Ten) can still qualify for their first postseason bid in six years by doubling their win total. Unfortunately, a five-game conference slate featuring some of the nation's best defenses awaits.

Related: Nebraska Midseason Review and Second Half Preview

While improbable, this year's edition of college football has taught us that nothing is totally out of the question until it is.

Joseph must flesh out his quarterback room and find Casey Thompson a reliable receiver not named Trey Palmer. Interim defensive coordinator Bill Busch is no doubt working feverishly to patch up all-too-frequent secondary struggles.

But even correcting all that won't reward Nebraska with sweet holiday swag unless they fix literally the team's largest problems.

The offensive line was bound to take a step back this year. Former Husker center Cam Jurgens looks to be the Philadelphia Eagles' heir apparent once Jason Kelce retires. Few teams immediately replace that level of talent.

Still, few moves were made to protect Thompson or make way for Anthony Grant and Co. Three-star prospect Justin Evans-Jenkins was part of Scott Frost's final recruiting class, while Nebraska also added two transfers in Kevin Williams and Hunter Anthony. 

None of them have made a starting lineup yet.

That's it. That's your revamp.

Turner Corcoran, Ethan Piper, Trent Hixson, Broc Bando, and Bryce Benhart are your most recent starters. Following a season-ending injury to left tackle Teddy Prochazka, Corcoran shifted into that role with Piper slipping in off his right hip.

Despite this bunch's efforts, Husker quarterbacks get repeatedly rocked and running backs can't find daylight.

Since Joseph took over the reins, his team averages all of 118 on the ground in every contest. This drops to 103 if you toss Palmer's 60-yard scamper versus Purdue.

This is especially concerning with Illinois looming. The Illini rack up over three sacks per game on average and allow just south of 78 rushing yards. Those numbers are good for the nation's 15th- and second-best, respectively.

Nebraska needs to get used to this grind. They won't see a run defense outside of the current top 25 from here on out.

On the opposite side, the unit formerly known as the Blackshirts features a consistently bullied defensive line. Nebraska ranks 115th nationally against the run allowing more than 190 yards per game and surrendered 175-plus in five of their seven played. 

Yes, that includes FCS North Dakota.

Quarterback pressure doesn't paint a rosier picture. The Huskers tie for 114th in the nation with all of 10 sacks. Nearly half (4.5) of those come from Garrett Nelson alone. Even Purdue's Aidan O'Connell made this group look disorganized a time or two using his legs. With all due respect, he's not your prototypical dual threat.

Former TCU Horned Frog Ochaun Mathis' production hasn't matched his hype. Teams have identified that he and Nelson are Nebraska's biggest threats and are stepping up to make them disappear.

Massive sophomore Ty Robinson repeatedly finds himself out of place. The hope of Alabama transfer Stephon Wynn Jr. picking up where a departed Damion Daniels left off has faded.

With this front neutralized, the Huskers' linebackers and secondary are so taxed that most quarterbacks put up big numbers. This is a team that allows over 281 passing yards on average each week and almost seven per attempt.

Nobody's expecting Nebraska to completely scrap everything the big boys do mid-season. But Joseph has overseen levels of improvement nobody saw coming except maybe him and his players. In terms of expectations, he's playing with house money now.

Jury rigging The Big Red's shaky pillars of football success into bowl-bound units sure won't be easy. But we've seen crazier since August, right?

Stay tuned.

— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@Bcav402). To contact him, click here.