Nebraska fans showed up to Memorial Stadium in droves regardless of results. New head coach Matt Rhule is grateful for that fan support. But at the same time, he doesn’t want the Huskers to be complacent with unwavering fan support. He wants to give the fans a good team to cheer for.
“I only hope that my work honors the people that come,” Rhule said before Thursday’s practice. “And I hope that the players, but after that I’ll say this. I don’t want a bunch of players taking the moment in too long. We’ve got to get good at football.
“What I know is the fans will show up no matter what next year and that scares me. That drives me. I want to do my part. The fans here have been doing their part for a long time. I start off this spring saying I’m thankful for that but I want our team to do our part.”
That is why Saturday’s Spring Game, the first of the Rhule era at Nebraska, will be more of a traditional, competitive game than a practice. They’ll play 15-minute quarters with NFL clock rules, offensive linemen will wear gray jerseys so they can play on both teams and rotate. Quarterbacks will be completely live. Ajay Allen and Ben Scott, who wore green jerseys recently, will play. Noa Pola-Gates, Elijah Jeudy and Jacob Herbeck are on track to play, provided they experience no setbacks in Thursday night’s practice. Pola-Gates recently tweaked a muscle and both Jeudy and Herbeck left last Saturday’s scrimmage early with rolled ankles.
Coaches will do something slightly different on special teams but those weren’t revealed on Thursday. Rhule said he’ll discuss them after the game so he can surprise people — “maybe you’ll like it, maybe you won’t.” Rhule said the Huskers will go full contact and physicality. Having said that, he shared his appreciation for Cameron Lenhardt and Quinton Newsome, who both recently corralled their pass rushes instead of taking an open shot at the quarterback in practice. The allowed physicality so far this spring falls in line with his teams’ spring physicality at both Temple and Baylor.
Rhule also clarified that Nebraska’s first-team defense will play its first-team offense. Coordinators will call their plays on both sides of the ball unencumbered. Rhule mentioned some coaches withhold packages and plays to give opponents less to study in the fall. That’s not Nebraska’s situation. Rhule said the Huskers need to get good at football, so they’ll run everything they’re comfortable with.
“This is a work day for us,” Rhule said. “I’ve said it a bunch of times but we’re a 4-8 football team. We’ve got to earn the right to talk about winning. Games are lost in the fourth quarter, games are lost on turnovers. All I want to see on Saturday is a team that is in the moment.”
Rhule’s first game as a FBS head coach came in 2013. His Temple Owls played Notre Dame at South Bend, Indiana. He was told to soak in the sights, the scenic, historic campus and “touchdown Jesus” that was visible from Notre Dame Stadium before a recent remodel. Take the moment in, they told him. Wow, this really special, he remembered thinking.
“Then we got our face kicked in,” Rhule said of the 28-6 loss. “So I said, all right, I’ll just get to work. So I’m hoping our guys get to work but I do want to make sure I thank the fans for coming on Saturday.”
Nebraska’s current head coach said he’s most looking forward to the return of former head coach Frank Solich on Saturday.
“To think that I’m the head coach at a place that had Tom Osborne, Frank Solich, Bob Devaney and all the people who have come since, it’s a real honor to be part of that,” Rhule said. “I’m excited to see coach and hopefully he likes the football that we play.”