BOULDER, Colo. — Things I know, and things I think I know:
Scott Frost told the Journal Star in August that he was "cautiously optimistic" about his team's chances to have a strong 2019 season.
So, he wasn’t exactly overdoing it in terms of expectations.
“I think just the overarching improvement is what makes me confident,” the second-year Husker head coach said at the time. “We’re still making mistakes. There are still areas we need to get better. We’re far from the complete team right now that I think can do some of the things that people are expecting us to do. But we’ve got time.
“Watching (practice) tape, I’ll think, ‘Man, we didn’t do that on the offensive line last year.’ I’ll watch another play and a tight end will make a play that he didn’t make last year. Then the DBs will do the same thing. Then the D-line does. I really believe we’re a better football team at every single position, and that should lead to good things.”
Through two games, Nebraska’s experienced mostly disappointment. It’s just two games, mind you. There’s plenty of time for Big Red to catch a wave. But there’s really not much time -- 19 days, to be exact -- before Ohio State comes to town. I’ll continue to size up Frost’s team largely in the context of the Sept. 28 game in Lincoln.
Ohio State is the ultimate barometer in the Big Ten, the program Nebraska in time likely will need to surpass to get what it wants. It must feel daunting at the moment because the Husker offense obviously isn’t ready for the sixth-ranked Buckeyes.
Bottom line, I’m not sure Nebraska is better than it was last season at any of the offensive position groups, including quarterback. Did Frost make a false read on the offense, a relatively young bunch? Or will its time arrive soon? The offensive line in particular needs to make massive strides before Ohio State arrives. The line’s chemistry looks off as the team is averaging only 3.1 yards per carry to rank 110th nationally. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes (2-0) are allowing only 1.93 yards per rush to rank 10th.
Nebraska (1-1) is ranked 86th nationally with an average of 138.5 rushing yards per game. The fact the Huskers scuffled against South Alabama and Colorado is especially concerning considering the Jaguars ranked 107th in total defense last season. Although the Buffaloes were 52nd nationally, they returned only one starter on their defensive line.
Nebraska ranked 28th nationally in rushing last season (209.0) and 25th in total offense (456.2). The line was a bright spot. But it's taken a step backward so far this season, which helps explain why the Huskers are 88th nationally in total offense, averaging 372.5 yards.
The knee-jerk reaction is to point the finger at redshirt freshman center Cameron Jurgens and sophomore left guard Trent Hixson, the two new starters. But against Colorado, the right side of the line -- guard Boe Wilson and tackle Matt Farniok -- was far from stellar, and Jurgens played much better than he did in the opener.
The issues on offense will keep Frost’s staff busy this week. Nebraska needs more “chunk” plays, Frost said Saturday. It’s not getting the ball to JD Spielman and Wan’Dale Robinson enough, he added. Although Maurice Washington has shown explosiveness at running back, he needs to run tougher between the tackles, the coach said.
Meanwhile, Dedrick Mills has carried 23 times for just 68 yards (3.0 ypc) with a long run of only 13.
Yes, it’s early in the season. Keep in mind, Devine Ozigbo wasn’t even a starter until the fourth game last season. But Frost wasn’t hiding his concerns following the overtime loss to the Buffs.
I’m guessing Ohio State is the furthest thing from his mind right now. Beating Northern Illinois (1-1) this week could be difficult enough.
* Nebraska has 10 verbal commitments for its class of 2020, a bit on the low end numbers-wise. That means as the staff looks to solve the team’s issues, it must also be mindful of building up the class during the season to avoid having to make a late push for commits.
Husker inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud, while talking about recruiting the state of Colorado last week, said something that stays in the back of my mind.
“Every game’s important for not just Colorado recruiting, but recruiting overall,” he said. “If you win games, recruiting’s easier. If you lose games, recruiting’s harder. It’s just the way it is. You’ve got to produce on the field. You can be as big of a used-car salesman as you want to. If you’re not producing on the field, it makes things a little bit harder.”
* Maryland’s strong start merited a No. 21 ranking in the Associated Press Top 25. If the Terrapins are for real, think how much harder it makes Nebraska’s rugged November schedule. On the other hand, never mind, Husker fans. You have enough weighing on your minds already.
* Maryland first-year head coach Mike Locksley, after the Terps hung 63 points on then-No. 21 Syracuse: “We run a style of offense that the defense can’t be right unless they out-execute us.”
Hot take: Josh Jackson, the graduate transfer quarterback from Virginia Tech, will keep that offense humming. He’s a mature presence operating in a system that has a wealth of skill-position talent.
* Standing in the breakfast line Sunday at a hotel near Boulder, a Nebraska fan approached and asked, “When is it going to get better?” He wore a forlorn look. Wanting to get my eggs and get out of there, I muttered that Frost has a seven-year contract and needs time to get it right. I told the fan to be patient.
Somehow I don’t think that’s what he wanted to hear.