Defense

Lamar Jackson, left, and Marquel Dismuke try to bring down Reggie Corbin.

Three things we learned and three things we still don’t know about the Huskers coming out of Saturday's victory over Illinois.

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Three things we learned

1. Applaud the comeback. Marvel at the stats. But Saturday did solidify that at this point, this isn’t the team everyone thought it would be. It took almost four hours for Nebraska to beat an Illinois team that lost to Eastern Michigan a week ago. Nebraska is a construction project still sketching its blueprint. This is not an offense that can put up points at will, because it demands to get in its own way. This is not a team so mentally tough it can get through anything, because a sleepy crowd on the road led to a 14-0 hole to a team that, I repeat, lost to Eastern Michigan a week ago. The comeback was valiant. But it was against a below average Illinois team likely to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten. When the celebration wears off, Nebraska will be 3-1, but as Scott Frost said on BTN afterward, could very easily be 2-2. Which isn’t where we all thought the team would be heading into Ohio State.

2. Wan’Dale Robinson might be the most important piece of Nebraska’s offense moving forward. With Maurice Washington’s persistent injuries, Dedrick Mills’ inability to break off long runs consistently and NU’s need for speed, Robinson might end up becoming Nebraska’s No. 1 option on offense. He had himself a breakout game with 168 total yards and three touchdowns. Robinson was a game-changer, and he’s only a true freshman. He — and sophomore Adrian Martinez and sophomore Washington — do inspire some hope.

3. The penalty and turnover bug remain. Nebraska’s inability to protect the ball negates all the yards it gains. And just because the Huskers gained those yards, it means nothing when they cough up the rock. Four fumbles — all on their own side of the field. Nebraska had 11 penalties for 119 yards. That won’t do it. People love to talk about culture. The best place to look for culture? The penalty category. It isn’t there yet.

Three things we still don’t know

1. So what’s next week going to be like? ESPN's "College GameDay” is coming to Lincoln. The game is at night, and wild things happen in Lincoln when the sun goes down. But Ohio State is terrifying. The Buckeye defense is vicious, the offense is as good as any in the Big Ten, or the country. A 14-0 deficit isn’t something Nebraska could likely climb out of. Can they actually keep up with Ohio State? Can they talk themselves into it?

2. What will it take to get Martinez to play like that for four quarters? His numbers speak for themselves: 327 passing yards, 118 on the ground. The second-half offense hummed when the pressure was on. The first half, Martinez looked tentative. When he’s aggressive, he’s special. But when he thinks too much, it isn’t there. What’s the trick to getting him to play for 60 minutes?

3. I mean, seriously, are the special teams going to figure it out anytime soon? Because if not, it could end up losing Nebraska a game. Or several. That nearly happened Saturday, giving Illinois the ball with a chance to win after a missed field goal from 27 yards. Maybe there isn’t an answer for kicker, but the kickoff coverage wasn’t ideal. And against better competition coming up, Nebraska will need to find a way to score points in the red zone, and will have to keep speedy returners in check.

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Chris Heady covers Husker football and is the Nebraska men's basketball beat writer. He started at The World-Herald in 2017. Follow him on Twitter @heady_chris. Email: chris.heady@owh.com.

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