With victories over Northwestern, Illinois, and Purdue, the Nebraska Cornhuskers had their first undefeated month of October since 2001. But this momentum ended rather quickly in November. With its loss to the Michigan State Spartans, Matt Rhule’s program is still searching for bowl eligibility with a 5-4 record. Can the team finally go bowling with a win over the Maryland Terrapins at home in Memorial Stadium? Let’s break down what the Cornhuskers have to do to succeed.
Put Pressure on Taulia Tagovailoa
In 2023, senior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa has excelled as a passing threat in Maryland’s offense. So far this season under Terrapins head coach Mike Locksley, he’s shown off his arm strength by passing for 2,486 yards as well as 21 touchdowns. Because of this, Nebraska defensive coordinator Tony White and the rest of the Blackshirts will have to rely on increased pressure by the Husker’s defensive lineman in order to get to him. And they should deliver. Through multiple games, they’ve played at an elite level. But there is a major concern. Against a struggling Michigan State team, the unit was only able to muster two sacks from freshman Cam Lenhardt and sophomore walk-on James Williams. Unless junior defensive lineman Ty Robinson and sophomore Jimari Butler show up to add to their production, Terrapins offensive coordinator Josh Gattis is going to find a way to score major points against the Big Red.
Can Nebraska’s Quarterback Play Improve in Just One Game?
Throughout the month of October, Nebraska sophomore quarterback Heinrich Haarberg improved as a dual threat quarterback. Against the Northwestern Wildcats, he ran for a three-yard touchdown while also throwing a 44-yard touchdown to freshman wide receiver Malachi Coleman. And his home outing against the Purdue Boilermakers was another confidence booster. His first drive of the second half resulted in a one-yard score to tight end Thomas Fidone. And then, offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield’s play-action pass allowed him to find freshman wideout Jaylen Lloyd for a 73-yard touchdown. But in East Lansing, he took a major step back in his development. Against the Michigan State Spartans, the signal caller routinely missed open receivers and got sacked seven times. But the most egregious part of his day? At the end of the first quarter of play, he threw an interception right to sophomore safety Jaden Mangham. And in the fourth quarter, he threw another interception to freshman Khalil Majeed. As a result of this performance, a quarterback controversy has emerged once again. Can Haarberg put this narrative to rest, or will he continue to struggle?
Read more about NU’s quarterback play in Spartans Stun Huskers in East Lansing
Keep Feeding Emmett Johnson
With the Nebraska Cornhuskers loss against interim head coach Harlon Barnett’s 2-6 Michigan State Spartans, Rhule’s team is left with major questions. But the Huskers have a major bright spot in freshman running back Emmett Johnson. Two weeks ago against the Purdue Boilermakers, he set a career-high by rushing 76 yards. And he also helped the Huskers overcome turnovers, with a 28-yard touchdown run in order for the Huskers to seal the game over the Boilermakers in the fourth quarter. Against the Spartans, he rushed for 57 yards and made things interesting for the Huskers again late in the football game with a touchdown. But the Huskers couldn’t quite make a comeback. It would help if Satterfield’s offense found ways to give the Minnesota native an opportunity to score in the first half. If they do, Nebraska’s running game has a chance to explode.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) November 4, 2023
Another Big Day on Special Teams?
For the first time since the Minnesota matchup in 2014, the Nebraska Cornhuskers were able to convert a blocked field goal for a touchdown. Not only did the Boilermaker’s miscue provide a knockout blow to Purdue’s hopes of winning the football game, but it also provided hope that special teams coordinator Ed Foley could drum up points in the right situations. And then freshman Tristan Alvano hit a 55-yard field goal to put the game on ice. As the second-longest made field goal in Memorial Stadium, this brought a major spark to the matchup. But against the Spartans, there was none of this magic. Instead, quarterback Katin Houser led MSU’s offense to 20 points with few interruptions. But look out. In the matchup against Purdue, the Huskers were at home. Because of this, we could see the special teams unit make big plays once again.