Okay, Coach. There are two days before the Huskers take the field for the first time in 2018. How are things looking?
“It’s been a good week,” head coach Scott Frost said Thursday morning when he met with the media. “Our guys have done consistently what we’ve asked them to do. They’ve prepared well. They’re still getting used to some of the things we want them to do … so it’s never going to be as clean the first time around as down the road but it’s probably the best first week I’ve seen coming in with a new team.”
The Huskers play Akron on Saturday at 7 p.m. under the lights of Memorial Stadium. It’s a long wait to the season, and then it’ll be just as long a wait before they get to play. Athletic Director Bill Moos doesn’t like night games (his old rancher, early-riser personality poking through) but Frost has a plan to keep the players engaged.
The team will get together in the morning to get moving, something “so their bodies are more prepared for the night,” Frost says. The afternoon belongs to the players. Go watch college football. They’ll meet back up in the evening when appropriate and get ready for the game.
“Sometimes it’s a long wait when it’s a night game but night games in Memorial Stadium are pretty special to me,” Frost said.
The Tunnel Walk will be different, and there’s not really any reason to not be excited to take the field for the first time. “If Husker Vision is doing their job,” Frost said, “I’m going to be jacked up. I don’t know how you can tell a guy running out there for the first time not to be.” But after that, Frost wants execution and precision.
“We do a lot of things in practice to try and create distractions with music, guys wanting to dance, sudden changes,” he said. “I want all of our guys to be having fun and then when it’s time to play, flip the switch and dial in. We train them for that. Saturday will be a test of that.”
Akron presents its own set of challenges. The Zips played in the MAC Championship last season, return nine starters on defense and bring dual-threat quarterback Kato Nelson into the game. Frost says they’re a well-coached team, says there’s a reason they played for their league trophy last year.
“You can tell by how disciplined their players are, they’re where they’re supposed to be, they know what they’re doing. I think they’ve got good talent, they play hard. All the signs of a good team,” he said. “We need to be able to match intensity and execution. If we do that, I think we’ve got a shot.
“I think our team has done as much as they can in the last nine months to prepare without playing a game, but you never really know on some things until it’s gameday, there’s hitting going on and you’re playing another team. We’ve got to go out and execute and play a good game and take care of the football and create turnovers on the defensive side.”
Other News and Notes
>> The Huskers will don an alternate uniform once or twice in 2018. Moos just didn’t want to say what they’ll look like, but was able to confirm one would be worn when Nebraska faces Illinois on Nov. 10.
>> Nebraska will be allowing hometown area codes on the front of player helmets this season. It was a move started by Frost at Central Florida — a well-received one at that — and a move that will be continued in Lincoln.
“I always thought as a player all my teammates wanted to play for three things,” Frost started. “The first was the team, if you have the right kind of team. The second is the name on the back of your jersey, your family, who you represent. And the kids are really proud of where they’re from. I don’t think that takes away from our team-first thing. Being able to represent your hometown matters to these kids too.”
>> There has been plenty of quarterback news over the last seven days, but the two guys now atop the Huskers’ depth chart have handled everything well.
First, there’s walk-on sophomore Andrew Bunch. Bunch was No. 3 and out of the quarterback competition for the final stretch of it; now he’s No. 2. He said Wednesday his approach hasn’t changed but Frost sees a growing confidence within him.
“I went to him yesterday during practice and said, ‘This is the best day you’ve had in a long time,’ and he said, ‘Coach, that’s because I’m getting reps again,’” Frost said. “That’s the key for him is making sure we’re getting him enough reps to be ready. I’ve already seen the improvement.”
The other guy, the starter, true freshman Adrian Martinez, has a budding confidence as well. Frost said it’s natural when in the midst of a competition to be anxious about where you fall in the pecking order. It’s about how you respond when you learn you spot.
“Since he’s become the guy, I’ve seen his confidence grow even more knowing it’s his show,” Frost said. “He’s going to have to continue to gain confidence through good plays and decisions. There’s going to be some bad ones too. We know it’s going to happen, we’re going to live with it and as time goes on, there’s going to be more good ones than bad ones.”
Asked if he would scale back his aggressiveness in playcalling given the depth at the quarterback position, Frost said things might change if they’re in a blowout one way or the other but expect him to call what he needs to.
“I’m going to call a game based on what we need to do to win,” he said. “When the game is hot and going, we’re going to call what we need to [in order] to move the ball.”
>> The Huskers will “probably” go with rotating captains in 2018 rather than four permanent ones.
>> Senior safety Aaron Williams was hampered in the spring, then he was non-contact throughout the start of fall camp. Since he’s come back to full-go, Frost has been pleased.
“Since he’s been back, he’s been doing a really good job,” Frost said. “Competition’s been open at every position since we got here and it’ll continue to be open. We’re going to play the guys that are playing the best and we’re all anxious to see him at full-speed out there doing what he can do.”
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.