But against Purdue? The worst rush defense in the Big Ten and nearly the worst in college football? It didn't happen. Why not?
Some of it was a "could not," though that wasn't quite as apparent until after the game appeared to be heading towards an ugly repeat of 2015. It actually started as a "didn't want to". Here are the halftime stats:
12 rushes. 18 passes. Purdue lead 14-10.
Meanwhile, the Blackshirts were turning Purdue's David Blough into Drew Brees. Again. 16 of 20 passes for 231 yards.
If it was an experiment to prove that last year's problems were all "buy-in," then consider the theory completely disproved:
One difference between last year and this year was that Nebraska couldn't really run the ball well in this year's game. Which is hard to understand, given that Purdue's best defensive lineman, Jake Replogle, didn't play due to injury. To my uneducated eye, it's because Riley, Danny Langsdorf and Mike Cavanaugh elected to stick with Nebraska's two injured offensive tackles. Earlier this season, Nick Gates seemed to be playing at an all-conference level, but then injured his ankle last week. He kept playing against Indiana, albeit poorly, then missed almost the entire week of practice. He went the whole way against Purdue despite doing his best imitation of a Memorial Stadium turnstile in the second half. David Knevel was hurting even more, and finally was replaced by Cole Conrad. The only possible explanation is that Cavanaugh was more convinced that not only was an injured and ineffective Gates was better than inserting Christian Gaylord or Corey Whittaker into the game, it was also worth the risk that playing Gates would lengthen his recovery time. (Not that we don't have some important games coming up the next couple of weeks.)"Now that everybody's bought in, let's try that Purdue gameplan from last season again."— Husker Mike (@Husker_Mike) October 22, 2016
Or maybe it's just Cavanaugh's stubborn refusal to substitute on the offensive line.
Defensive adjustments helped in the second half, as Blough only completed nine of 23 passes for 78 yards. Tommy Armstrong was much more efficient through the air, and Terrell Newby found a few holes. Nebraska came back and won ugly.
Don't get me wrong: 7-0 is a hell of an improvement over last season. But now reality is staring Husker fans right in their face, because Nebraska won't be able to be competitive with either Wisconsin or Ohio State playing the way they have been as of late. The thing is, Husker fans know that this team is capable of playing at a much higher level, because they've seen it sporadically all season long. Sporadically won't work the next two weeks.