If you listen to the Solid Verbal podcast (you should), you know what this is. A team has a tremendous test coming a week from whatever point in time it’s at, but it’s coming off a game that was either an emotionally-draining loss or the kind of win where you put a ton into it or you break through in a way you’ve been trying to and there’s a huge exhale afterward.
The game in the middle is the one Football Smart Guys (trademark pending) worry about. Is a letdown coming? Is a lookahead looming? Nebraska’s been trying to break through on offense and sustain some level of comfort from start to finish in a game all season. It finally did that in a 44-8 win over Northern Illinois Saturday.
Next up is Illinois, a team that just lost to Eastern Michigan at home, but No. 6 Ohio State looms on Sept. 28. The Buckeyes come to Memorial Stadium for a just-announced 6:30 p.m. kick nationally televised on ABC. Which . . . maybe . . . maybe . . . means College GameDay is destined for Lincoln.
The Huskers are prime candidates for Letdown Lookahead Sandwich Alert.
Head coach Scott Frost was asked about Ohio State Monday during his weekly press conference, but only tangentially. He was asked if he likes night games. The family man said no because he wants that extra time at home that comes when you play at 11 a.m. instead of 7 p.m., but the coach in him said they’ll play whenever told to.
That was it, though. No Buckeye talk. No GameDay talk. Frost probably wouldn’t have appreciated the question even if it was asked; he preaches “nameless, faceless opponent” and wants his guys literally taking things day by day.
“I’m excited to get into Big Ten play,” he said. “We've got a big test on the road this week. Watching Illinois on tape more on defense so far, they’ve improved a bunch since last year defensively. Some of the schematic things they’re doing are different. They look bigger and faster to me. You can tell they’re older and more experienced than they were a year ago. I’m looking forward to going on the road, and we’ve been close on the road a few times since I’ve been here and haven’t finished one, so if we get that opportunity Saturday I want to see our guys see it through to the end.”
A talking point all week will be Nebraska’s 0-6 record in road games under Scott Frost and overall eight-game road losing streak. The blown win at Northwestern will be on the minds of many, the almost game at Ohio State will be rehashed, fresh wounds from the collapse at Colorado will be painfully prodded.
“I just see it as something that for some reason hasn’t happened in a long time,” said senior linebacker Mohamed Barry. Not necessarily a challenge the Huskers can’t live up to, more a random trivia night question in the making.
In a way, that helps distract from the Buckeyes.
More so than anything else, though, the Huskers say their focus lies squarely on Champaign because this is the open of Big Ten play, and if they want to accomplish their goals, every Big Ten team is of equal — even paramount — importance.
The Monday after the Colorado game, Barry said no one is going to care about the loss when they’re in Indianapolis playing for a Big Ten championship. Which, technically speaking, is true. Losing to Colorado does absolutely nothing to their chances of winning the West. Nebraska is 0-0 in Big Ten play.
“Every game is important,” Barry said. “If we lose to Illinois and beat Ohio State it don’t matter no more because you lost to Illinois. They’re on our side of the Big Ten, so we have to beat them. They’re a respectable team. They’ve got real good players. We’ve got to beat them. That’s the emphasis this week — beat Illinois.”
“Big game next week, but we’re focusing on Illinois right now,” added Collin Miller, Barry’s running mate at inside linebacker. “I know you guys hear Mohamed preach we want big things this year. Conference [title]. We want to come out victorious, be on top. We are thinking about next week as well, but we want to perfect ourself this week against Illinois and be 1-0 going into next week.”
The defense kept Northern Illinois from reaching the end zone last Saturday, and yet they still feel like it wasn’t their best performance. The offensive line helped the Huskers to a season-high run total, yet they still think there’s work to be done on technique.
What the Huskers are selling is that they’re not finished working.
“We go in knowing we have to come out and give our A-game,” said freshman Wan’Dale Robinson. “They’re going to give us their A-game and so we have to give them ours.”
For any young guys eager to get to the Ohio State game and experience what will undoubtedly be a special atmosphere, they’ll get re-focused by the vets on the team. “The game you should focus on is the one that’s up right now,” senior outside ‘backer Alex Davis says. “We’ll focus on Ohio State later.”
Barry says he’s not worried about guys looking beyond Illinois.
Remember, this is an Illini team that put up 35 points and 384 rushing yards (8.0 per run) on the Huskers last season. The quarterback changed and the system shifted along with that, but the message from Barry and others is that this is still a Big Ten football team.
“They’ve got [running back Reggie] Corbin, they’ve got [wideout] Josh Imatorbhebhe, they’ve got some good players that can do things,” Barry said. “It’s going to be a good test for our defense playing a running back like Corbin. He can make cuts, he can reverse field, he’s a real good back so containing him and keeping that rush number real low, low to none, is what we’re trying to do.”
So listen to practice talk throughout the week; are coaches happy with the intensity? Watch Nebraska’s emotion to start Saturday’s game. On paper, this is setting up like a trap game.
The Huskers say it’s not.
We’ll find out. Welcome to Big Ten play.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.