It isn’t always immediately apparent that fundamentals are lacking in a football team. A lack of sound, fundamental football can sometimes be covered up by big splash plays. They can also be covered up by wins. A solid victory will push the little things out of sight for the casual fan.
For Nebraska's coaches and players, there is a reason “the little things” continue to come up. Following the blowout loss to Michigan, senior safety Tre Neal went to fundamentals right away as a culprit that aided in the game getting away from Nebraska.
“We weren’t gap sound as a team," Neal said. "We’d have 10 guys in the right gap or eight guys and the ninth guy wasn’t there. Those are good backs and a good offense so they are going to find those holes and weaknesses. When we dedicate so much to the run and you aren’t gap sound, you are going to get long plays.”
So, about those long plays. The Wolverines racked them up against Nebraska despite having a pedestrian rushing attack coming into this game.
Leading rusher Karan Higdon almost went for 100 yards in the first quarter and ended the game with 136 yards on the ground. The Wolverines managed to put up a gaudy 6.3 yards per rush against Nebraska.
Scott Frost said after the game that he wasn’t happy with last Thursday’s practice ahead of the Michigan matchup. Frost also said the team has to practice better and that those missing details can't fix themselves from Thursday to Saturday.
Neal echoed those sentiments after the Michigan loss.
“Again, it was just some of the little things," Neal said. “Our assignments and knowing what was coming. Guys knew it but they were hesitant. Thursday, you have to know it. We’ve gone three or four days of watching film. As soon as they ask you questions, you should be able to answer with what you’ve got. Seeing that kind of stuff is where you get iffy. You hope when the game comes around guys will know it, but it’s one of those things where doubt comes in. You can’t go into a game with doubt.”
Michigan's schemes weren’t a mystery to the Huskers' coaching staff but execution of fundamental football is where things fell apart. After Michigan hit Nebraska for a couple of big runs, there weren’t any new wrinkles being thrown at the Blackshirts.
“Again, we knew what runs were coming but guys have to get in the right gap,” Neal said. “I know I sound like I’m repeating everything but against teams like this in the pro-style offense, if you aren’t gap sound they are going to make you pay. It’s just that simple. Running backs and those guys get put in the league every year here. These guys are good enough to when they see you jumping around gaps, they are going to see it and make you pay for it.
"They are one of the top teams in the country and they proved it today. That shows these guys we haven’t made it. Just because Coach Frost is here, doesn’t mean he’s a savior. He’s not playing on the field. We’ve got to make the plays and make us able to win games. I try to tell the guys that coach Frost is here to help but he’s not the one who will save us. He’s not the reason we win football games, he’s not the one of the field.”
Execute and do your job. It sounds simple enough.
Nebraska will look to get back to those two fundamentals when they start their prep for a revitalized Purdue squad this week.
Greg is the Recruiting Analyst for Hail Varsity and has covered Husker athletics since 2013. He has always had a passion for sports while growing up in the Chicago area. As he got older and had to hang up his cleats and sneakers, he realized his passion for sports went beyond just watching and attending games. He has covered many events from the Rose Bowl to championship boxing matches. If he’s not talking sports, he’s hovering over his grill. He is married to an amazing woman, Kim, and they have a dog that barks when Greg yells at the TV during games.