It’s offensive coordinator Mark Whipple’s first season in Lincoln. He’s a veteran football coach who’s held various jobs across 30 years. But sometimes what he’s watched at fall camp sends him back to 2006 in Detroit.
At that time Whipple was calling plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers. And the Steelers were playing in the Super Bowl. Early in the second quarter of that game, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missed a fourth consecutive completion. At that point the Steelers failed to gain a first down on any of their first three drives. Momentum of their first set of new downs abruptly ended when Roethlisberger threw his first of two interceptions that game. (The second happened when Pittsburgh was inside Seattle’s 10-yard line.)
Keep in mind, that Steelers team never hosted a playoff game and the Seahawks were 15-3 after two playoff wins. Yet, the Steelers won the game, Roethlisberger went 9-for-21 and Whipple walked away a Super Bowl Champion with first-hand experience coaching a nervous team.
“I thought right before, if I screw this play up I won’t be able to go back to Pittsburgh,” said Whipple, likening it to some of the moments he’s seen in camp so far. “Those guys, it’s important to them, but they’ve got to relax. There’s a fine line. We’ll make some mistakes, it’s how you handle adversity.”
Coaches typically talk about keeping players loose during camp and not to build up a moment too much. But it’s understandable why there could be anxiety and hesitation on the field.
“If you win the game, it’s great,” Frost said. “If you don’t, you’re staring 0-1 in the conference. The guys know the importance of this game.
“I think the team might have been a little tight last year because of it and we’re not going to do that. We’re going over to let it rip and play the best game we can play and let the chips fall where they may against a good team.”
Frost reiterated that outlook in Sunday’s press conference. He said he met with the team and they all agreed they came out against Illinois too focused on the gravity of the game.
That message seemed to resonate with the players. Newly named starting quarterback Casey Thompson said he’s not a nervous guy on the field. In his game against Oklahoma last year, playing for the Texas Longhorns, he said he got into a “meditative” state before the game. He hopes the offense mirrors his calmness against Northwestern on Saturday.
Team captain Garrett Nelson said the team will focus on each task at hand in the lead up. The entire trip has essentially been planned out, so the edge rusher said the team should maintain focus on one item at a time. He also said the team’s aware of all the underlying factors going into this particular season opener.
“You don’t want to be messin’ around or unfocused but you also don’t want to be holding onto the stick too tight and crashing into the mountain,” Nelson said. “We’ve kind of fallen into that because we know the stakes, we know what’s riding on it, we know the pressure.
“As a leader I want guys to know there are a lot of stakes, there is a lot of pressure but we’ve done the training, we’ve done the work, we enjoy playing with each other, we’ve just got to go do that when a different color is on the field.”
Junior defensive back Quinton Newsome was asked about what the team needed to do in order to avoid pressure.
“We got to come out ready to play football, ready to compete, ready to go out there and secure this win and attack every game and knowing the first game will be the starting par for this season,” Newsome said. “We just have to attack.”
The Huskers will take a break from football and engage in cultural activities on the trip. Still, Nelson said the souvenir that he’s got his eyes on is a win.