Behind Enemy Lines: Nebraska beat writer Jacob Bova

Thursday, September 20, 2018 - 7:17pm

Junior quarterback Shea Patterson has been part of a 94-point offense that helped Michigan to wins over Western Michigan and SMU.

Junior quarterback Shea Patterson has been part of a 94-point offense that helped Michigan to wins over Western Michigan and SMU. Buy this photo
Evan Aaron/Daily

In the softest part of its otherwise tough schedule, the Michigan football team has started to gain some momentum.

The 19th-ranked Wolverines (2-1) have dominated Western Michigan and SMU in the last two weeks, scoring a combined 94 points.

Now, though, things will begin to ramp up again for Michigan, as Nebraska (0-2) comes to Ann Arbor on Saturday, marking the start of Big Ten play.

The Cornhuskers have gotten off to a tough start in their first season under coach Scott Frost, falling to Colorado and Troy, both at home.

Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez suffered a leg injury against Colorado, and it’s possible that the Cornhuskers would be 2-0 if that hadn’t happened. Still, Nebraska seemingly hasn’t faced a team with Michigan’s talent.

The Daily caught up with Jacob Bova, a Nebraska football beat writer for The Daily Nebraskan, to talk about Cornhusker fans’ expectations for Frost, the health and ability of Martinez and predictions for Saturday’s game:

The Michigan Daily: With the first couple of losses, is there still a lot of faith in (Scott Frost) and a lot of hype for the program and where it’s headed? Or has it depleted at all? What’s your perspective on that?

Jacob Bova: I would say that a majority of Nebraska fans are going to give Scott Frost as much time as he needs to get this program right. There are like a few of those detractors that are already saying, like, ‘He’s 0-2. He’s not doing it.’ Those people are by far, they’re a loud minority. I feel like most Nebraskans will give Scott Frost the time he needs, and they have the faith that he will do the right thing. When he was at Nebraska as a quarterback and won the national title — by the way, we were the national title winners that year — anyways, when he won the national title that year, like, Scott Frost was loved by everyone. He’s always been someone that Nebraska fans — before he even got into coaching, he had some blogs that a lot of Nebraska fans followed. What he says has a lot of weight. And so, Scott Frost coming home, was like, it was seen by most Nebraskans as the only choice that Bill Moos, the athletic director, had. And people are gonna give him as much time as he needs. He just got a 7-year contract, so it’s like, I think most Nebraska fans are gonna be pretty patient with him.

TMD: Getting into the actual play this year, obviously Adrian Martinez goes down. Have you guys gotten any updates? Is he supposed to play this weekend? Does anybody know?

JB: So what Frost said after the Troy game was that he looked good. And from what I saw from the sidelines during warmups, he was warming up, and there was no real, I mean, he had a brace on his knee, but he looks pretty close to 100 percent, I would say. But at the end of the day, he didn’t practice until, I want to say (last week) Friday, I think — Thursday or Friday. So he didn’t practice until late in the week. This week, he’s practiced every day, and the offensive coordinator said that he looked better every day.

But this coaching staff is not one that’s going to risk putting him up against, I mean, Michigan’s d-line is for real, and our o-line hasn’t been the best. So he’ll be running a lot, and on a bad knee, if it’s still not 100 percent, there’s no way that Scott Frost is gonna risk it, especially since he’s a true freshman.

TMD: So if he doesn’t play, (backup quarterback Andrew) Bunch seemed to struggle a little bit. If you had to give a scouting report on Bunch, what would it be?

JB: So for what he was told to do, he did an admirable job. The thing is, is what he was asked to do was not much. He didn’t offer any deep balls. I think he only had one completion when the ball went in the air for 15 yards or more. So there was really no big play threat, yet, I mean, Nebraska has the receivers to do that. J.D. Spielman and Mike Williams are fast guys, and they can blow the top off a defense.

But, I don’t have enough faith in Bunch’s deep ball accuracy. Like he had a few throws deep that were just awful and into double coverage and that kind of thing. So honestly, Bunch starts, I have a hard time seeing Nebraska doing a lot. He’s a good enough athlete to where he can move the pocket, but he’s not a good enough athlete to run the read option, like, all the time.

I will say … if Martinez plays, what I would say is out of him, he’s a fantastic athlete. He’s a very good athlete, but also an underrated thrower. In the Colorado game, he had like a 50-yard pass to J.D. Spielman that was on a dime, like a perfect throw. And if he plays, first off, he’s going to be at 100 percent, which means he’ll be able to run and do all that. So I would say if he plays, then I think that the game will get a little more interesting. If Bunch plays, I think it could be pretty ugly.

TMD: From an outsider’s perspective, a lot of the talk has been about the offense, … but I don’t know a ton about the defense. From what I can tell, the rush defense, pretty solid. The pass defense has been a little bit suspect, is that correct, or am I off on that?

JB: No, that’s pretty accurate. I would say going into the year, a lot of people were asking questions about this defense. I mean, last year, the last three games, Nebraska gave up 50-plus points, and it was ugly. So there were a lot of questions going into this year of how the defense would look. But so far, the front seven has been, I think, has exceeded everyone’s expectations and have been very good. The game against Colorado, I’d say the corners, personally, I don’t think they played very bad. One of the corners, Dicaprio Bootle, this is his first year starting, and he’s physical and he’s played very well. The safeties in the Colorado game, I think is what cause a lot of the — Laviska Shenault, the wide receiver from Colorado, had a few where he just burned the defense. And I think that was a little more on the safeties than it was on the corners.

That being said, the Troy game last week, the secondary showed up. The secondary allowed — I think it was like 110 passing yards over the whole game. I mean, the defense, I’m more interested to see how they play against a team like Michigan, because, yeah, the rush defense’s numbers have been good, but it’s also been against Troy and Colorado, which are two teams that don’t run the ball very much.

And one last thing, the pass rush has been really good. They had seven sacks against Colorado and three last week against Troy. So, yeah, the pass rush has also been pretty potent.

TMD: Before the year, (did) you have a prediction of what you thought (Nebraska) would be? … What are your expectations for the rest of the year, and what would make a successful season for Nebraska?

JB: So at the beginning of the year, I think 7-5 was seen as a decent number — like 7-5, maybe 8-4. But I guess there were pretty low-ish expectations, but also Nebraska’s schedule this year is brutal. I mean, we have to go to Michigan, to Ohio State, to Wisconsin, to Iowa and home against Michigan State. So it’s like, the schedule this year is brutal. And so, I think that 7-5, 6-6 or even 8-4 were seen as probably like the baselines. Now? I mean, at this point, if Nebraska can get bowl eligible, that would be huge. That would require Nebraska, though, to win one of the Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin or Iowa games. Games that we’re gonna be significant underdogs in. You know, it requires us to win one of those and then not drop any of the other games. So, I think that if Scott Frost can get Nebraska to be bowl eligible this year, I think that would be seen as a success.

TMD: I know it’s hard to predict with the whole quarterback situation, but I want to ask you for a prediction. What do you think, score-wise, we’re looking at?

JB: Earlier today, we have a podcast, and I had a score prediction 21-9 Michigan. I feel like this game is gonna be pretty low-scoring. Michigan’s defense is for real. I think Nebraska’s defense is a lot better than what it was last year. But at the end of the day, I just don’t think that this team has enough — I don’t think this team is experienced enough and has had, I don’t know where the psyche is at this point. But I think the line was at like 18.5 or something like that, and I feel like that’s a little absurd. I think that might be a little much. But yeah, I said 21-9, I think, Michigan.