At this point, Nebraska football can be viewed as nothing less than impressive.
It’s been nearly a week since the Huskers traveled to Ireland and lost 31-28 to Northwestern, and the game hasn’t become any less surreal to me.
As has been the case for many of the team’s losses, it’s not the final score that gets me. While Nebraska came in as the rightful favorite, it was always a possibility that it could lose, especially in Week 0.
However, this team is nearly unmatched in breaking any expectation you could possibly set. The Huskers blew a double-digit lead twice, let up over 500 yards to the Wildcats and had the infamous failed surprise onside kick.
The last of those notes has only stood out more as days have passed. The few who have defended the decision by head coach Scott Frost, or at least feel as though it’s been given too much attention, have some decent points. There were way more reasons Nebraska lost than the onside kick, and if it had succeeded, there wouldn’t be much vocal criticism of it.
But it’s increasingly clear that the decision was a poor one. Although I’m a proponent of not every single decision being made through just numbers, Frost’s vibes-based call had little chance of paying off and wasn’t one that a team which opened the second half strong on both sides of the ball should’ve made.
I’ll stop there on discussing the logistics of the decision, though.
This week, I’ve found it most difficult to keep in perspective that Nebraska hasn’t even played its Week 1 game yet.
We are one game into a year with new assistants, a new quarterback and other new talent, yet it feels so much like Nebraska’s season will inevitably be more of the same. The loss was another one-score heartbreaker with an implosion that you can’t even script, up with the likes of defeats to Iowa and Michigan State last year.
This is something felt by players to an extent. Caleb Tannor’s press conference, where he acknowledged this loss as harder to move on from than others, struck me from this week’s availability. He cited his still-standing belief that this would be the year for this team.
For those who aren’t coaching or playing for the team, it can’t be easy to have that same belief. From a logical standpoint, the road to a bowl-eligible season hasn’t fully dissolved yet. There are still five games one could easily imagine Nebraska winning — North Dakota, Georgia Southern, Indiana, Rutgers and Illinois — and it takes one extra upset to get to a sixth.
The talent is arguably there, too. Quarterback Casey Thompson was on point for two-and-a-half quarters, and wasn’t helped out by his pass-catchers much down the stretch. Anthony Grant rushed for over 100 yards. Trey Palmer, Isaiah Gardner-Castaneda and Travis Vokolek were impressive. I wouldn’t be upset if someone still wanted to give the defense the benefit of the doubt.
Even then, it feels silly to say all this. There are good players on the field that’ll make great plays on a week-to-week basis, but that was the case last season. Thinking the Huskers will turn in another poor year is by far the safest opinion.
This is a less impactful matter, but it seems like the national dunk contest on Nebraska football is only intensifying, too. I knew the onside kick jokes would come, but I didn’t foresee even minor league baseball teams referencing the decision.
Frost’s puke comment also has had some staying power. After Purdue defensive back Chris Jefferson recorded a pick-six and proceeded to vomit Thursday night, my Twitter timeline filled with jokes referencing Nebraska and Frost. When your head coach has essentially become the Puke Guy for a few weeks, that’s not great.
In the end, the loss to Northwestern serves as a microcosm for the current outlook of the 2022 season. There is, or at least was, a clear roadmap to the Huskers getting at least six wins this year, just as there is with having a double-digit lead halfway through the third quarter. But for the Frost era, something being in sight doubles as feeling incredibly far away.
There are still 11 games left in the season. It’d certainly be interesting to see Nebraska finally break the precedent set over the past few years.
>> It’s fun to revisit preseason quotes after a game has been played, to see if anything sticks out or aligns well with what was seen on the field. After the Northwestern game, I’m looking back at Sean Beckton being consistent in saying that only Travis Vokolek had locked down a spot in the depth chart in the offseason.
I gave the players behind Vokolek some benefit of the doubt since the tight end spot was the only one to not see a coaching change in the offseason. But after the starter went out against Northwestern, there seemed to be a decent-sized dropoff in the passing game. That wasn’t the case with Vokolek as backup last year, and it may be worth monitoring going forward.
>> Nothing crazy here, but Nebraska will probably just handle business against North Dakota tomorrow. I understand any worries, but should things go as the Huskers plan, it’d be nice to watch this roster make some plays and win games handily in these next two weeks.