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NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS PREVIEW


The Nebraska Cornhuskers were 4-8 in a 2022 season that saw the end of the Scott Frost era in Lincoln. The former National Championship-winning quarterback for the Cornhuskers was fired after a week three home loss to Georgia Southern. Interim head coach Mickey Joseph finished out the final nine games of the season.


On November 25, 2022, Nebraska Athletic Director Trev Alberts hired Matt Rhule to be the new head coach of the Cornhuskers. Rhule has a history of turning around downtrodden programs and the Husker brass is hoping that their choice of head coach is the right one this time.


Lots of changes came at the end of the 2022 season via the transfer portal as 20 players have left the program and 15 were added. Coach Rhule has also stated he intends to revamp the offense, going back to a traditional pro-style that utilizes a fullback. Defensive coordinator Tony White will use multiple defensive formations, but the Huskers will primarily use a 3-3-5 defense.


Nebraska's OFFENSE

Quarterbacks: Georgia Tech transfer Jeff Sims was added via the transfer portal and will be the starter. The junior signal caller started 25 games for the Yellow Jackets throwing for 4,464 yards with 30 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. He also rushed for 1,152 yards and 11 touchdowns. Sophomore Heinrich Haarberg, who is 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, is listed as the backup even though he has yet to throw a pass at the collegiate level. Dual-threat sophomore Chuba Purdy, who has a few starts under his belt from his time at Florida State and last season with Nebraska, is the third-string quarterback.


Running backs: Sophomore Gabe Ervin returns from a season-ending injury and will be the starter at tailback. Despite missing eight games he finished third on the team with 190 rushing yards. Last year’s leading rusher, senior Anthony Grant, will back up Ervin after gaining 915 yards and six touchdowns in 2022. The starting fullback will be redshirt freshman Janiran Bonner. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder has yet to register a carry in his collegiate career.


Wide Receivers: This group loses a LOT of production in 2022. Only two returning Huskers who are on the two-deep have recorded a catch, senior Marcus Washington, who was second on the team with 31 catches for 471 yards, and junior Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda, who had five catches for 120 yards. Rhule added two senior transfers - Billy Kemp IV from Virginia and Josh Fleeks from Baylor. Four-star freshman Malachi Coleman also will push for playing time. Although, with the change in offensive philosophy, the receivers will be used more for blocking than receiving.


Offensive Line: This unit is not very experienced once you get past the starters. Eight of the 13 listed on the depth chart are freshmen or sophomores. Junior center Ben Scott transfers in from Arizona State and has 28 career starts in three seasons. This group cannot afford a long-term injury to any of the starting five linemen.


The Cornhusker DEFENSE

Defensive Line: This is another group that loses a lot of production with the loss of three players who combined for 175 tackles in 2022. However, Coach Rhule brought in a pair of four-star freshmen, EDGE Princewill Umanmielen and defensive end Cameron Lenhardt, both of whom are penciled in as starters. Rhule also landed Texas A&M transfer defensive tackle, sophomore Elijah Jeudy. All three linemen will see plenty of playing time and will need to help bolster a bad rush defense. Nebraska was ranked number 105 in rushing defense after giving up 190.4 rushing yards per game. That has to improve if the Huskers are going to be successful in Coach Rhule’s first season.

Linebackers: Senior Luke Reimer led Nebraska in tackles with 86 in 2022. He gets back junior Nick Henrich who was lost for the season in the Huskers’ fifth game with a knee injury. Rhule has also added Georgia senior MJ Sherman and Florida sophomore Chief Borders from the transfer portal. This is a solid group who, if they stay healthy, will cause problems for offenses in the Big Ten West.

Defensive Backs: On August 2, 2023, second-leading tackler Myles Farmer entered the transfer portal after being suspended indefinitely by new head coach Matt Rhule. While losing the safety is a blow to the secondary, this group will be a strength for the Nebraska defense. Each of the five starters were Huskers in 2022 and Rhule also added Florida safety Corey Collier via the transfer portal. Sophomore cornerback Malcolm Hartzog led the Huskers with three interceptions in his true freshman season last year. This group of defensive backs will be one of the best units in the Big Ten West.


Special Teams: Junior punter Brian Buschini averaged 44 yards per punt with a long of 74 and had 14 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. Junior kicker Timmy Bleekrode was 9-12 on field goals with a long of 46 yards and was 34-35 on PATs. With the change in offensive philosophy, Bleekrode should get more field goal opportunities while Buschini will be relied upon more for field position-changing punts.


Schedule & PREDICTION

The Nebraska schedule in 2023 starts off with two games on the road, a very difficult game at Minnesota then a very manageable game at Colorado. The next two games are both at home against Northern Illinois and Louisiana Tech, both winnable games. Unfortunately, the Huskers catch Big Ten East foes Michigan State, Michigan, and Maryland on top of their Big Ten West schedule. That can be a tough slate but I see Nebraska going 7-5 and reaching a bowl game in Matt Rhule’s first season in Lincoln.

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