Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Frost Believes Huskers Can Be A Great Team. They Just Aren’t Now

September 04, 2022

Nebraska head coach Scott Frost and edge rusher Garrett Nelson each approached the podium after Saturday’s 38-17 win over North Dakota with welled-up eyes.

Both Nebraska natives, they watched the team come so close so many times last season only for the game to roll away at the most pivotal moments. A new season immediately brought the same result in Dublin.

So when the Huskers were able to score the final 21 points against the Fighting Hawks to pull away in front of 86,000 fans at Memorial Stadium, they felt the weight of the moment. They knew the improvements that needed to be made. Because neck-and-neck with an FCS opponent, losing three double-digit leads over two games, wasn’t good enough.

“We got a lot of new guys on the team, on the staff. Those guys see our team and the talent on our team and they’re really, really confident in who we are,” Frost said. “Got some old guys who have battled through a lot of adversity and been a good team before and haven’t won. As a head coach you have to balance, telling them they’re a great team while being honest with them and making sure we continue to get better.

“This team can be a great team and it’s not right now. That was my message to them.”

Nebraska’s defense, once an iconic brand across the country, has been tested. Northwestern totaled 528 yards in the opener. The Wildcats also held the ball for 34 minutes. Once again, the Blackshirts struggled to get off the field Saturday. North Dakota held the ball for 20 minutes, 38 seconds of the first half. That included drives of 7, 11 and 16 plays. Two of their first three drives in the second half ended with points.

Then came Garrett Nelson. The team captain edge rusher came from the backside and strip sacked North Dakota quarterback Tommy Schuster with a thunderous hit. Stephon Wynn Jr. darted across the turf to jump on it.

“They always feel good,” Nelson said of that play. “That’s my job, that’s what I’m doing. When I hunt down the QB and get the ball out that’s the epitome of what our position is supposed to do.”

Nelson and defensive back Isaac Gifford tied for the team lead with eight tackles. They both had tackles for loss, although Nelson’s came on that sack.

They talked about limiting the big plays. Northwestern and North Dakota both found success on long-yardage third downs. Twice North Dakota converted a first down on third-and-12. A disciplined defensive drive erased by one mishap at a time.

“It is frustrating,” Gifford said. “But, again, you’ve just got to put your head down, keep working and keep doing your job.”

Nebraska’s defensive line, specifically, struggled again. There was little control at the line of scrimmage. North Dakota’s Isaiah Smith ran for 104 yards, including a 63-yard breakout play. The Huskers also struggled to pressure the quarterback initially. More pressure came in the second half, where North Dakota’s Tommy Schuster was 8 of 15 for 43 yards.

“We’ve been in that situation a lot where it’s a close game and it could go either way,” Frost said. “Sometimes you just need the guys to do what they trained to do.”

Offensively, the Huskers were once again inconsistent. They had five possessions in the first half. The first went 87 yards in eight plays for a touchdown. One took 12 plays to get 61 yards and ended in a missed field goal. The other three were three plays or less.

North Dakota doubled Nebraska’s time of possession. They finished with 70 plays for 306 yards. Nebraska, meanwhile, tallied 437 yards on 62 plays.

Quarterback Casey Thompson said it was frustrating. The Huskers ran a quarter’s worth of plays in the first half.

“We knew we were getting the ball in the second half and marched right down the field,” he said. “That was a big drive for us.”

Three of Nebraska’s five touchdown drives on Saturday were 2 minutes and 2 seconds long or less. The final two touchdown drives, as the Huskers were going to put the game away, took 4 minutes, 25 seconds and 3 minutes, 31 seconds, respectively. For comparison, Nebraska’s touchdown drives against Northwestern, chronologically, were 2:19, 5:08, 3:15, 3:24 and 0:18.

In the absence of injured tight end Travis Vokolek, Thompson found Nate Boerkircher. The redshirt freshman from Aurora hauled in a 19-yard score in the second half. Thompson also found Trey Palmer (four catches, 82 yards), Marcus Washington (two catches, 31 yards), Alante Brown (two catches, 27 yards), Omar Manning (two catches, 16 yards), Chancellor Brewington (one catch, 5 yards) and Anthony Grant (one catch, 1 yard).

Frost said they moved the pocket for Thompson in the second half to get the junior more comfortable.

Thompson said the offense is still getting to know each other. It’s a team with freshmen, transfers and a new offensive staff. For example, Thompson said he didn’t know it was Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda who caught the opening touchdown against Northwestern. He didn’t even know the junior was in the game at that point. So the offense still needs to jell, he said.

“It’s good for us to get the win (Saturday),” Thompson said, “but practice is one thing, working together in a game is another.”

Junior Anthony Grant broke out for a second straight game. Grant ran for 101 yards against Northwestern and another 189 on Saturday. He’s the first Husker to pen the season with consecutive 100-yard games since Tre Bryant in 2017. His scoring runs have been from 3, 19 and a pair from 46 yards. Then there’s the runs he doesn’t score on. The ones he churns his way at the line of scrimmage to muscle forward for 3 yards.

Frost said he thought the offensive line progressed well throughout Saturday’s game. Eventually, he affirmed, the line played great.

It was another close game among dozens Frost has coached. He said that doesn’t impact anything “other than in the scope of my career.” He then drew upon his love for the show Ted Lasso. He told his team throughout the week they needed to be goldfish.

“We have a lot we can get better at,” Frost said. “I think the team’s in a great place because they’re confident, they see the talent, but they know we can be a lot better than we were (Saturday.)”

Nebraska gets to its first “normal” game week preparations this week before hosting Georgia Southern on Saturday, Sept. 10, at 6:30 p.m.

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