On September 11, Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts gathered media members to answer why he fired head coach Scott Frost. Alberts said he owed it to the players. They deserved the best shot at winning as long as they played in Lincoln.
A month later, the Huskers ride a two-game winning streak, doubling last year’s conference win total. Interim head coach Mickey Joseph stood at the same podium Alberts spoke from and downplayed the idea of momentum while acknowledging value in winning consecutive games.
“Our job is to come back today and start preparing ourselves to go 1-0 this week,” Joseph said on Tuesday.
So Nebraska stays focused on the task ahead: a Saturday night clash in Indiana against Purdue. The Huskers opened as double-digit underdogs. An upset would keep the Huskers tied atop the division standings with a third consecutive conference win — something the program hasn’t seen since it last went to a bowl game in 2016.
Quarterback Casey Thompson echoed his head coach’s outlook. “Momentum is an illusion,” he said, adding the Huskers are taking the season one day, one game at a time.
“We want to build a culture of winning around here, but we have to focus on the process and winning on a daily basis,” Thompson said yesterday. “So, we are just focused on taking one day at a time and one week at a time. I think since Mickey Joseph has taken over he has done a good job at allowing us to focus on the task at hand and not get too far ahead of ourselves.
“Before we can talk about any end of the season awards and accolades and goals, we just have to take it one day at a time.”
Joseph fielded a question about winning culture in his introductory press conference on Sept. 13. One Husker used “losing culture” to describe the situation. Joseph said he wanted to change that outlook. In hours players suffered a home upset and the next day were informed the coach who brought them to Lincoln was fired. And the No. 6 team in the country was coming later that week.
Of course, Joseph opted to change the program further, dismissing former defensive coordinator Erik Chinander after the loss to Oklahoma. Bill Busch stepped in and the defense hasn’t allowed a second-half point since.
So how does a team give up over 40 points in consecutive weeks suddenly win two straight with two second-half shutouts? What’s the change?
“We made a change at defensive coordinator,” Joseph answered plainly on Tuesday. “That’s the change.”
Players bought into that change. Defensive tackle Ty Robinson played his best game at Indiana. He said the coaching staff’s reassurance in him to let loose and go after the ball was the affirmation he needed. He wants to be the player he knows he can be for himself and the team.
Linebacker Nick Henrich’s bought in as well. He’s watched his teammates play with unbridled joy and aggression. They’re enjoying the game while being led with energy, passion and mentorship.
“I just say it is his energy he brings every day, it iss huge. It is contagious,” Henrich said of Joseph. “He is just super involved and that is why he has made this easy. It is a super-tough transition any time a coach is let go during the season but (Joseph) has made it just as easy as possible with how he is as a person and as a man so that has been really nice.”
Joseph told the Huskers to fight through Rutgers. Endure punches and then finish the play. Thompson saw the opportunity to do so on the defensive line. The rest of the team saw it as the game went on.
The Huskers enter another hostile road environment on Saturday. But what matters most is today.
“The job is to go 1-0 this week,” Joseph said. “Nobody is going to win the West this week. We aren’t looking down the line. We are looking straight at Purdue. The most important thing is Wednesday practice.”