Matt Rhule designed the Nebraska football practices to be difficult. The Huskers pushed through two weeks of camp and finally got to leave the dorms for the comfort of their own beds. This week marks the next phase of preparations. Rhule told local media following Tuesday’s practice that the current challenge for this competitive group is fighting through.
“The days start to pile up on you, obviously, but when you look at the lip side there’s not many days left to practice before 8/31,” Rhule said. “We better remain a humble team and, if we want to be confident come game time, we have to earn it right now. There’s a distraction of being home, out of the dorms and all those things. I think our guys have maintained good focus so far. I’ve never questioned this team’s work ethic.”
Nebraska’s head coach also wanted to clarify comments he made following Saturday’s closed-door scrimmage. He didn’t have an issue with the offense’s production. The football was good, he said, it was the procedural issues that troubled him. They didn’t work much on subbing in and out, which dealt the team a wake-up call in the scrimmage. Rhule said those issues started resolving as the scrimmage went on. Offensive execution, including pass protection, encouraged the head coach.
Red zone efficiency is important to Rhule. Therefore it’s important to Nebraska. At that distance they want touchdowns, not field goals, Rhule said. The quarterbacks are learning the nuances of the position—like the three components of the red zone, when they can scramble and safe places to put the ball. He likes to have big targets like Malachi Coleman, Marcus Washington and Thomas Fidone there. Tony White’s defensive game plan in the red zone limits what offenses can do, which also poses an everyday challenge. That makes running the ball in the red zone more important and Rhule is encouraged with the red zone run offense so far.
“I’m always going to try and run the ball at first,” he said. “There’s nothing more demoralizing on defense than having someone run the ball in.”
Jeff Sims is still the established starter but there’s a healthy competition for second-string behind him. Chubba Purdy progressed well through the summer and into the fall. Rhule said he’s settling in and not rushing things. Kearney native Heinrich Haarberg is improving in the passing game. “We can play and win with Chubba or Heinrich,” Rhule said. Plus, the head coach likes walk-on transfer Luke Longval. He is comfortable with the scheme after a season of junior college ball.
The Huskers are still ailing in some spots as the rigorous practices lead to multiple trainer visits. Washington isn’t quite fully cleared yet, Rhule said it would be any day now. Offensive lineman Teddy Prochazka told Rhule he’ll be back soon but the head coach wants to make sure he doesn’t bring the Elkhorn South graduate back too soon. Defensive lineman Princewill Umanmielen missed Tuesday’s practice with a non-long-term injury, Rhule confirmed. He feels Umanmielen will come back and the defensive line can still play at least six in the opener. Cornerback Ethan Nation is gaining praise from teammates and coaches. He stood out in Saturday’s scrimmage and showed his prowess in punt return. Rhule isn’t sure what Nation’s role will be, saying he he wants to make sure Nation can protect the ball.
Injuries and roster dips at certain positions bring a lot of attention to the freshman group, especially at receiver. Rhule and offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield both don’t want to rush freshmen onto the field. The head coach believes they’ll contribute to the team’s potential success but the lion’s share comes onto the team’s veterans.
“That first game the team we’re playing, that’s going to be a grown man game,” Rhule said. “I told our older guys if they want to win they better see a bunch of veteran players there on special teams.”