Scott Frost can sense his team has a chip on its shoulder. Players talked before the season about a determination to play and improve and show they aren’t what they have been, but with last week’s cancellation presenting yet another roadblock in their drive to just play football, he called the attitude toward adversity now almost “callous.”
Things have not gone Nebraska’s way much of late.
Defensive backs Cam Taylor-Britt and Deontai Williams, one a junior and the other a senior, will have to sit out the first half of this weekend’s game in order to serve a suspension brought about by second-half targeting ejections against Ohio State on Oct. 24.
Asked about them a week ago, Frost said he didn’t believe there was an appeal process, so they were going to be stuck with the decision “whether we agree with it or not.” But there is a process where a video review from the national coordinator of officials can be asked for by the Big Ten, and if that national coordinator determines the ejection should not have happened, the suspension can be reversed.
That clearly didn’t play out. The league office did not respond to questions about the status of those suspensions. The two will sit the first half of “the next game played,” per the letter of the law.
“Certainly don’t think that’s necessarily fair to these kids, especially considering we’re down 33% of our original season now,” Frost said. “We’re down to eight games total, if we get to play them all, from here on out. It’s an awfully big penalty considering I thought at the very least one call was very close.
“It’s too bad for the kids that are getting the opportunity to play taken away and are gonna miss a half on top of that.”
Nebraska’s stance for months has been that coaches and administrators are simply fighting for what their players want. Frost said it several times during his Zoom meeting with the media on Monday: they just want to play.
He looks around the college football landscape and sees a team in Clemson that has already played six games. JD Spielman’s new team, TCU, has played five.
Now into November, Nebraska has played one.
That’s a tough pill to swallow.
The Huskers wanted to play last week. Wisconsin, with an alarming number of new positive cases within the team, decided it wasn’t safe. Because the program hadn’t yet reached the Big Ten’s Red/Red testing threshold, Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez and Chancellor Rebecca Blank had the authority to decide whether to pause team activity or continue on. They chose to play things safe.
Though Nebraska has publicly asked that local health decisions be left up to local decision-makers in other matters, the Huskers were less than pleased with Wisconsin’s decision.
“I’ve weighed in on my opinion on some of those decisions before and it hasn’t done any good so I don’t think I’ll weigh in on their decision on that,” Frost said. “(The Big Ten) left a provision in there for teams to decide if it wasn’t safe in their community or university to play. That’s what our last opponent chose to do so we’re on to the next one.”
In the aftermath, Nebraska tried to find an opponent willing to test its team and willing to come to Lincoln on short notice. It found one in UT-Chattanooga, and the league again said no.
“We told the kids we were gonna try, told them it was probably going to go to a vote at the Big Ten whether they were gonna let us or not,” Frost said. “We tried to do it the right way. I don’t think they were very confident when they heard that, and they were right.
“The kids kinda laugh about those things now. More than anything, they just want to be on the field competing. Hopefully we get a chance to this Saturday.”
Nebraska practiced Friday and Saturday and then gave the team Sunday off. There was a team event Saturday night—a scary movie night on Halloween to keep the team from “doing dumb things”—and then Nebraska turned its attention to Northwestern.
Frost got to trick-or-treat with his kids. Husker players got to watch Northwestern beat Iowa 21-20 live.
Monday morning, Wildcat head coach Pat Fitzgerald said Northwestern’s grind-it-out game with the Hawkeyes and Nebraska’s week off might present an advantage for the Huskers. They get an extra week to prepare, Fitzgerald thought. They’ll come in the fresher team.
Frost didn’t necessarily feel the same.
“Maybe if this was Week 7 or 8, having a week off would be nice,” he said. “We’ve only played one game. I don’t know. Pat’s one of the smartest guys in the country, but I don’t know if I agree with him on that one.
“… We would have rather played a game last week.”
Frost called this year a “broken” year. Plan for one thing, watch that plan go up in flames, prepare a backup plan and then hope you’ll actually be able to use it. “We’re making it up as we go along,” he said.
It’s Murphy’s Law almost. Nebraska wasn’t going to get to play despite being one of the loudest proponents for doing so. Then Nebraska was able to play, and it became the first Big Ten team impacted by a COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent cancellation through no fault of its own.
Add to that all the close losses and the barbs at the program and you get a pretty sizable chip.
“You can just tell,” Frost said of the sense he gets from his players. “They’ve wanted to play. They see us fighting to get them to play. We’ve kind of failed at every turn. They just want to be on the field.
“I think they feel like maybe some people are out to get them or maybe have an ax to grind against them a little bit. I think they feel like they haven’t accomplished everything they could have accomplished. I think they feel like they’ve lost some close games that we could have won if we played a little better, a little harder, a little smarter.”
Quarterback Adrian Martinez called it a determined mentality.
“I feel like we’ve had that coming into this season and we continue to have that chip on our shoulder,” he said. “I feel really good about where our heads are at this week. We’re really focused on playing Northwestern this Saturday.”
Not a single time has Frost worried that all the adversity a still-young team has faced to this point would cause the collective morale of the team to go the other way.
“I just don’t see it,” he said. “I don’t think we have the type of guys that are gonna throw their hands up and give up.”
Credit the team’s maturity for that. Credit the culture.
“I think our program’s ready to turn a big-time corner, but it’s tough to if we’re given circumstances where we can’t get on the field and get better,” Frost said. “I think our kids are just anxious to get back out there and try to compete to win a game.
“I don’t know what’ll happen Saturday playing a really good team, but I know our kids are gonna play hard.”
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.