Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Nebraska Finding Its Toughness as Bulk of Big Ten Season Begins

October 11, 2022

Last week, interim head coach Mickey Joseph stressed Nebraska’s toughness. You have to be tough in order to play at Nebraska.

The Huskers cemented their toughness when Malcolm Hartzog grabbed the game-winning interception against Rutgers. Quarterback Casey Thompson marched out to kneel the game away, having endured pressure on the majority of this throws. Tight end Travis Vokolek hobbled off for a couple of plays. He missed two games earlier this season with an ankle injury. Even punter Brian Buschini, who kicked an oncoming helmet when Rutgers blocked a punt on Friday, gritted his teeth and returned to complete the job.

Joseph and players returned to the podium on Tuesday. The coach recalled the team’s toughness and Thompson, with a scuffed shoulder, talked about playing through near-constant pressure.

“I’m proud of our players and the way they responded the last two games, they found a way to win,” Joseph said. “Hats off to the coaches also. You can preach staying on course but working hard and making things happen, you’ve got to practice that way, you’ve got to practice to make things happen.”

He’s pleased with practice so far this week. Joseph reiterated Thompson’s toughness and he’d return to the field through a bruising game. He also acknowledged the coaching staff needs to help the offensive line.

“We’ve got to give them some help,” Joseph said. “With the play calling, with the protection, we’ve got to make sure we have our right five, our best five, on the field.”

Left guard Ethan Piper has stepped into the final five. Following injuries to Kevin Williams Jr. and Teddy Prochazka, Piper’s started the past two games. He’s taken the opportunity as a learning experience. In reflection, he said the line has to get back to basics.

“We cannot get flustered,” Piper said on Tuesday. “I think we were thinking too much about what Rutgers was trying to do to us especially in pass protection. We just have to believe that our team’s technique is going to produce the results that we want.”

A few linemen, including Piper, reassured their quarterback in the second half after taking a stream of hits.

“My message to him was just, ‘Hey, we are going to do better,'” Piper said while acknowledging there was too much pressure on Thompson during the Rutgers game. “‘Believe in us, and we believe in you.'”

Thompson said immediate pressure from the defense is one of the hardest parts of being quarterback but he’s trying to stay positive and stick through it. He joked he’d like the “Tom Brady rule” with the benefit of roughing the passer calls some NFL players received over the weekend during the Rutgers game. As a quarterback, he’d take a flag like that whenever possible.

Linebacker Nick Henrich credited the team’s toughness. He was also sidelined by injury through two of the first three games but has since returned to anchor the defense’s second-half strength.

Henrich and the defense saw their quarterback consistently return to the field after getting knocked down. Buschini also hobbled back out with one heavily wrapped ankle and another throbbing foot. Offensive coordinator Mark Whipple also showed toughness, prowling the sidelines with a medical scooter and walking boot.

“It motivates you to go out and do that,” Henrich said.

Nebraska hones another week of toughness leading into Saturday’s game at Purdue. The Boilermakers (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) are led by capable veterans. Saturday’s game, Nebraska’s third consecutive night game, is sold out. Nebraska’s final bye week of the season awaits on the other side.

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