Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Nebraska Players, Coaches Embrace ‘Next Man Up’ as Season Winds Down

November 16, 2022

Nebraska’s support staff finally got offensive coordinator Mark Whipple back to his feet before halftime of Saturday’s game. He held his play calling sheet with a staffer on each arm. Out came the cart to give him a ride to get x-rays.

Senior offensive analyst Steve Cooper replaced Whipple on the sidelines for the first few plays of the second half. He was the only one on Nebraska’s staff with play calling experience. He only previously called plays at his alma mater, Portland State. That didn’t matter. At the time it was next man up. Staffers ultimately moved Whipple to the booth and he finished the 34-3 loss from there.

Interim head coach Mickey Joseph said during his Tuesday press conference it’s likely Whipple, 65, will finish the season from the press box. The long-time coach likes to call plays from the sidelines so he can “feel” player confidence and in what direction the game’s going. He’s done that throughout his coaching career. Then Nebraska safety DeShon Singleton tackled Michigan’s AJ Henning to the sidelines, wiping Whipple out. Joseph said it was on director of football operations Andrew Sims to make sure Whipple goes to the box.

“So if it does not happen it is on Andrew,” Joseph chuckled.

Whipple’s injury, frankly, was scary. Replays showed he hardly had time to register what was coming and certainly didn’t react in time to avoid it. His absence on the sideline became a logistical hurdle while trailing 17-3 at halftime. But the staff dealt with it. They’d told players all season that it’s next man up. This time, the coaching staff had to do the same.

The Huskers are hurting with two games left in the season. Since the start of fall camp the roster is down two healthy quarterbacks, two running backs, one wide receiver, one tight end, four offensive linemen and a team captain linebacker, while numerous others are able but wounded. No. 2 quarterback Chubba Purdy will undergo surgery on a high ankle sprain in the next day or so, Joseph confirmed. Starting quarterback Casey Thompson threw a little in Tuesday’s practice and repped in team drills but coaches aren’t in a rush to declare him ready for Saturday’s game. Even Logan Smothers, the other ready option, played against Michigan with lingering injuries and illness. Coaches chose Jarrett Synek from Hastings as the third quarterback option last week, sending him in during the final drive.

Synek emerged as the next prominent option, moving ahead of Richard Torres, Matt Masker and Heinrich Haarberg. The redshirt freshman impressed teammates while playing on the scout team. His performance drew coaches’ attention as well.

“I think because when you look at it as a coach, he is the most athletic one,” Joseph said of Synek. “If you have to go to a third guy you want him to be athletic. You do not want them all to be the same, so he can go in there and give you some run game and throw it a little bit so that is where we are at right now.”

Fellow freshman Ernest Hausmann also drew praise from teammates and coaches after yet another impressive performance. Hausmann started at linebacker for two games but was benched after the Georgia Southern game. He returned the lineup as a result of Nick Henrich’s injury as a maturing, growing defender. Team captain Garrett Nelson complimented his growth from the beginning to the end of the season.

“Playing middle linebacker in the Big Ten, and middle linebacker in general, is a hard thing to do, you kind of have to be a computer,” Nelson said. “Being a true freshman in the Big Ten and handling all that is next to impossible and he’s done a really good job about it.”

Javin Wright started at nickel for Isaac Gifford, who played some snaps at safety against Michigan. That was to fill in for Myles Farmer, who was suspended for the Michigan game. He’ll be back on the field for the Huskers this week against Wisconsin. The Michigan game was also the first time since Illinois game that Nebraska’s offensive line started the same five in consecutive games. In fact, that’s only happened those two times since the first three games of the year.

Nebraska lost Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda as the only transfer portal departure during the season’s coaching change and moved Tommi Hill from cornerback to receiver to help fill depth there. He’s played some snaps while attention remains on Trey Palmer, Marcus Washington and Oliver Martin. Alante Brown is still dinged up from the attempted hurdle of a Michigan defender but isn’t expected to miss much time, Joseph said.

Then there are the coaches Nebraska lost during the season who left the program entirely. Athletic director Trev Alberts dismissed Scott Frost on September 11 and elevated Joseph into his current role. The players Frost recruited to Lincoln, out of high school, junior college and transfer portal, all lost their coach. A week later, Joseph dismissed defensive coordinator Erik Chinander. Next man up mentality brought Mike Cassano into his current wide receivers coach role, Bill Busch into the defensive coordinator spot and Joey Connors the team’s current special teams coordinator.

The two remaining games carry weight without bowl consequences. Saturday is the home finale against Wisconsin. Nebraska hasn’t beaten Wisconsin in 10 years. Then there’s Iowa. No more motivation needed. The Huskers won’t be 100% going into either game but the only way forward is through.

“It’s next man up,” Joseph previously said. “They don’t let you play with 10.”

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