On Sunday, Nebraska head coach Scott Frost had all four of his team captains in his office to ask what needed to be done to get the 0-4 Huskers back on the right track. After that meeting, those four captains — linebacker Luke Gifford, wideout Stanley Morgan Jr., defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg and guard Jerald Foster — organized a player’s only team meeting.
During practice Monday, Frost saw a team that’s finally starting to get it.
“I think our guys finally realized — the guys doing it right — that if [the mistakes are] going to get stopped, they can’t allow [them] to exist. From that standpoint, it’s been kind of a watershed moment for us this last game,” Frost said. “I saw some guys practicing hard today that I haven’t ever seen practice with that kind of energy.”
Frost pulled those guys aside and asked, “What took so long?”
A week ago, the Huskers were coming off a beatdown at the hands of one of the Big Ten’s elite in No. 15 Michigan. This week was different, though. Nebraska again played well enough to win a football game Saturday against Purdue and still lost 42-28.
Frost said after the game Saturday the Huskers, who were flagged 11 times for 139 yards, looked like one of the most undisciplined teams in the country. Asked if going back through the tape reaffirmed that thought, Frost said “absolutely.”
“I saw a lot of selfish and undisciplined decisions and plays,” he said. “And it’s not everybody. Gosh, there’s so many guys that I’m proud to be coaching and happy for. There are some warriors on the football team.
“We’re last in the country in penalty yardage. Well, there you go. You can’t bust on things and not do your assignment, you can’t hit people 4 yards out of bounds. They seem to be happening at terrible times, we get an interception and get a holding call, you get a drive going and get a personal foul, you get a stop on third down and you get a penalty.”
So, Nebraska has made wholesale changes for the first time this season. The depth chart released Monday listed 11 changes ranging from the return men on special teams to starting cornerback to starting wide receiver.
“I told the guys I’m going to ride with the guys I know will do it the right way and I trust,” Frost said. “There’s a lot of guys we had to work with and help to understand how we want things done and what it takes to be that kind of person, that kind of good teammate.
“We’re not giving up on anybody but if there’s somebody we trust to at least go out there and not get us beat, I’m going to let them go out there and have a chance to make plays.”
Across the country, the week between Game 4 and Game 5 has been news-filled. In the wake of the new redshirt rules, teams are making personnel decisions and players are making personal decisions based on playing time. Oklahoma State’s sixth-all-time leading reception-getter decided to redshirt and transfer a week ago after his fourth game. Clemson turned from a senior starter at quarterback in Kelly Bryant to freshman Trevor Lawrence after four games and Bryant announced he would redshirt and transfer.
Publicly, coaches and players on the team have voiced a “buy in or leave” mentality over the course of the last few weeks, but with decision time now here, Frost says he hasn’t gotten even “a hint” of guys leaving. He said everyone’s in the boat and everyone’s working to turn things around.
The ones that weren’t all the way there appear to be getting there.
Take a near-interception from Saturday’s game. The Huskers and Boilermakers are tied at 7-all and Purdue is inside Nebraska’s 20-yard-line. A swing pass out to wideout Rondale Moore in the flats bounces around and ends up tipped into the air. Nebraska had a chance to pick it off and about 90 yards of green grass ahead if it did, but couldn’t make the play. Purdue got points on that possession.
“We do turnover drills every day at the beginning of practice,” Frost said. “One of them is tip drill where someone tips the ball and you go up full-speed, high-point it and make sure you’re the first man to the ball. It’s been OK but it hasn’t been guys practicing diligently with the intent of ‘If this ever comes up I’m going to make a play.’
“When we do our warm-up drills, I make every skill guy carry the ball. We make them carry the ball while they’re doing active stretch. We try to strip it out as coaches every day. There was one day earlier this fall where we got 17 balls out. They were working on it. I don’t know how diligently they were working on it until turnovers cost them two games and they realized ‘Maybe this is important.’
“It hasn’t mattered how much I’ve tried to tell them or how much the coaches have tried to tell them. It’s just like having teenagers and kids. Sometimes you can tell them all you want, until they experience it, it doesn’t get changed. I can see a change now.”
Frost likened what’s going on right now inside the walls of Memorial Stadium to a home construction. You can’t rush it.
“When you’re building a new house, you can’t build it on a bad foundation or you won’t have a house very long.”
— Hail Varsity (@HailVarsity) October 1, 2018
A couple breaks here and there, a game played on Sept. 1, and maybe Nebraska’s season looks different. Frost believes that. He believes Nebraska is a better team than it was last season. The results might not show it in the win-loss column but the one guy who knows more about Nebraska than anyone believes it. He believes they’re better than they were a week ago.
He said Nebraska just needs to continue to grow day-by-day. He thinks they did that Monday. If they continue to build and get better, he likes what the end of the tunnel is going to look like.
“As a player a long time ago I learned perseverance and to keep fighting no matter what,” he said. “You go through hard times in life in a lot of different ways and all that does is make it sweeter when it turns out the right way. That happened to me as a player and it’ll happen to me again as a coach.”
Other News and Notes
>> Mick Stoltenberg is out indefinitely and linebacker Will Honas is done for the season after ligament damage suffered Saturday in his knee required season-ending surgery. Frost also said linebacker Tyrin Ferguson and running back Maurice Washington, neither of whom played Saturday, were full-go in practice to begin the week.
>> Running back Devine Ozigbo has officially taken over as the top back in Nebraska’s offense. Frost doesn’t find it “ideal to be rolling guys in and out” because it prevents backs from getting into a rhythm. Ozigbo was the bell cow Saturday and responded with a career rushing night.
“Devine played all game because he practiced the best,” Frost said. “I trust Devine at this point. Devine’s one of the guys that’s going to battle every time he’s out there, so we need him to keep it up and we need some guys to follow suit.”
>> Another new starter is walk-on wideout Kade Warner. Frost said Warner “[is] a good teammate, he plays as hard as he can and he's where he's supposed to be." Frost will roll with anyone that fits that mold.
>> Warner also flashed the ability and, maybe more importantly, the aptitude to block downfield. Frost said the marks of a good team are great special teams and perimeter blocking.
“You want to see the mark of a good team, find a team where wide receivers block well because then 4-yard gains turn into 8 and 8-yard gains turn into 40,” he said.
>> On Wisconsin, Frost said the most important thing about the Badgers is they don’t beat themselves, “which is the polar opposite of what we’ve been,” he said. He didn’t want to get into the “Wisconsin is old-school Nebraska” debate but said if his team is going to have a chance in the game, it will need to prevent the Badgers from controlling the ball and grinding out long drives.
Both quarterback Adrian Martinez and linebacker Mohamed Barry pointed out how few snaps other teams get against the Badgers. That’s clearly been an emphasis during prep.
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.