Big guestions facing Nebraska football, Matt Rhule after blowout in Boulder

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - AUGUST 31: Head coach Matt Rhule of the Nebraska Cornhuskers looks on against the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the first half at Huntington Bank Stadium on August 31, 2023 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - AUGUST 31: Head coach Matt Rhule of the Nebraska Cornhuskers looks on against the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the first half at Huntington Bank Stadium on August 31, 2023 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images) /

With the eyes of the nation on Deion Sanders and Colorado, Matt Rhule and Nebraska football had a chance to spoil the party.

Instead, it was another disappointment on the grand stage that we Husker fans have grown accustomed to experiencing.

The game was a nightmare. What can I say? Last week, I said I’d have a better idea of what we can expect from Nebraska after game 2.

Well, here we are.

Now we know what Nebraska has. I’m not sure what you’re expectations were for this year, but after these two games, I hope you’re willing to reconsider.

What Matt Rhule has now and big questions he needs to answer

There are still a lot of unknowns, but here’s a highlight of what we know after two games and some big questions Matt Rhule needs to answer.

Nebraska football has a fast, tough defense that tackles well.

I can’t say how impressed I am at what Tony White has done in nine months. First, this is the best tackling Husker defense in the last eight years (since Bo Pelini’s last season). They swarm to the ball. They make one-on-one tackles. They generate a pash rush. They have young players who have a LOT of upside.

The defense will improve as they grow more comfortable in the 3-3-5 scheme. I’m excited to see what they will become.

Questions: Can Tony White’s unit start to generate 2, 3, or 4 turnovers a game? Can he channel his inner Phil Parker and get 6-10 points a game from his defense? 

Nebraska lacks playmakers at wide receiver.

Nebraska’s receivers made some plays early. But they struggled to get separation on longer routes against Colorado as they did against Minnesota. It doesn’t help that Jeff Sims rarely hits a receiver in stride–most of his passes are low into the ground, forcing receivers to dive.

Questions: Can tight ends Fidone and Boerkircher compensate for the lack of playmaking at wideout? Can a few freshmen wide receivers have breakout games? Will Billy Kemp “go off” Wan’dale Robinson style at some point? 

Nebraska’s offensive line is average at best.

Shocker, I know. But I don’t think the line is as bad as some fans believe. They still make holes at times, and until the game started snowballing, they were pushing Colorado defenders around. Pass blocking has been a pain point for the line since…well, for a long time. This is not a secret, but the left side is still a liability.

Questions: How much will getting Teddy Prochazka help this unit? Can this group improve even more by focusing almost exclusively on north-south run blocking and the occasional play-action pass block?

Gabe Ervin needs to carry the ball even more.

Nebraska fed Ervoin to the tune of 17 carries for 74 yards. Not a bad day. He needed another 10-15 carries, though. He’s a big guy–built for Big Ten football. While he doesn’t have breakaway speed, he has excellent ball security, decent vision, and is a bruiser. (All that said, Rahmir looked great at times, too. He needs to be a more significant weapon for this team.)

Questions: What’s keeping Satterfield from going all-in on Rhule’s “body blows” philosophy? Will Nebraska feed Ervin game-in, game-out?

Jeff Sims is struggling…mightily.

Okay. That’s an understatement. Rhule missed on Sims. No question. But Sims did improve year over year at Georgia Tech. He only threw three interceptions last year. He only fumbled twice. What’s going on? I can’t pretend to know. Matt Rhule gets paid the big bucks to figure out what that is. I hope he does. He can’t afford not to without setting this program back 2-3 years.

You never want to see someone get injured, but Sim’s injury adds intrigue. A high ankle sprain is typically a 3-4 week recovery. It’s the same injury Patrick Mahomes had in the playoffs last year. Mahomes was back on the field in 8 days.

Question: How will Matt Rhule correct his “miss” on Sims? Will Sims even suit up next Saturday? Will he play against Louisiana Tech?

The sky is not falling. But be honest. You are a bit discouraged, aren’t you? I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t.

Next week’s Nebraska football prediction: Northern Illinois

All of this doesn’t bode well for any game. Even against Northern Illinois, Nebraska’s opponent next Saturday.

The last time Northern Illinois came to town, they beat Nebraska 21-17. Tanner Lee threw three picks. Mike Riley would be fired at the end of that season.

But this year’s Huskies team isn’t that 2017 team that went 8-5 and finished second in the MAC.

Yes, they beat Boston College last week. But in the battle of the Catholics, Boston College slipped by Holy Cross 31-28 on Saturday. BC may win three games this year. Meanwhile, Northern Illinois followed up their win with a loss to FCS Southern Illinois. The Huskies had 360 total yards and threw three interceptions.

As bad as the Nebraska football program is, NIU is worse. But they’ll come into Lincoln believing they can win like they did in 2017, I promise you.

My take? In front of a pensive and angry home Nebraska football crowd, Matt Rhule gets his first win as Husker head coach this Saturday. We’ll see a heavy dose of Gabe Ervin and Heinrich Haarberg. Plenty of triple-option plays (yeah, 90s!). Mostly, we’ll see a hungry, swarming defense that scores a touchdown for the Big Red.

Nebraska 24, Northern Illinois 10

Through all kinds of weather. Go Big Red.