Change was coming on Nebraska’s offensive line. Coach Scott Frost said as much earlier in the week, as the Huskers prepared for a matchup with Northwestern.
By warmups on Saturday, it was clear what that change was: true freshman Teddy Prochazka would make his first career start at left tackle, while Nouredin “Nouri” Nouili would make his first start as a Husker at left guard. Turner Corcoran—who started the previous four games at left tackle—moved to right tackle in place of Bryce Benhart. The move snapped Benhart’s streak of starting 13 straight games at right tackle.
Center Cameron Jurgens and right guard Matt Sictherman remained unchanged in their spots, while Trent Hixson did not start. As for Brant Banks, he did not dress on Saturday due to a hand injury. Broc Bando was suited up but did not play. He continues to work back from multiple illnesses that kept him out of previous games.
Both Prochazka and Nouili found out about the change on Monday morning. For Nouili, that meant some nerves. Playing in front of 90,000 people was new for Nouili—he walked on at Nebraska after spending the 2019 season at Colorado State—but he quickly settled in after the first play of the game.
“The first play, it doesn’t really shut everything out but once you get into the rhythm basically, you kind of get tunnel vision and not see anything but the field,” Nouili said. “That first play was definitely a little exciting because hearing everyone screaming and going crazy about us is something I’ve never seen before.”
For Prochazka, he said he really wasn’t all that nervous about his first start. He credited that to preparation throughout the week leading up to the game.
“I was pretty comfortable throughout the entire week,” Prochazka said. “Everyone kept asking me if I was nervous, if I was ready to go. I prepared well enough to put myself in a position not to be nervous and throughout the week I was pretty confident coming into today. I knew the game plan, I knew I knew what to expect from them and I really had no reason to be nervous.”
While Nouili may have felt more nervous personally, Frost was complimentary of how he handled the week. He felt similarly about Prochazka.
“Nouri was more attentive to everything we were doing this week than he has been, and when you get your opportunity you have to take advantage of it,” Frost said. “And what I liked about Teddy is he didn’t seem nervous. He just seemed like, ‘This is what I’m going to go do.'”
Frost wants to watch the film but he thought Nebraska ran it better in the 56-7 win over Northwestern. The numbers back it up. Nebraska rushed 53 times for 434 yards on Saturday.
And as the Huskers moved the ball more and more, Prochazka and Nouili found one another. This was their moment. It was something they had worked toward together.
“There’s a couple of scenes I would assume that the cameras caught us celebrating together,” Nouili said. “We’ve been practicing together for awhile because we were the twos together for awhile so we’ve had our connection already. Coming into this game, we just kept doing our thing.”
More news and notes:
>> It’s worth noting that Saturday marked Prochazka’s fourth game appearance of the season, the maximum allowed by the NCAA before a player must forgo a redshirt.
>> Nebraska is 3-0 in home games to start a season for the first time since 2016. That 2016 team went 7-0 at home, 9-4 overall, but didn’t face a team at Memorial Stadium that finished the season ranked in the Associated Press poll.
The 2021 Huskers haven’t faced a ranked team at home yet, but that’s about to change. Michigan, No. 14 in this week’s AP poll, beat Wisconsin 38-17 and will come to Lincoln 5-0. The Huskers also host Ohio State and Iowa in November. The Buckeyes, ranked 11th this week, beat Rutgers 52-13. The Hawkeyes, ranked fifth, forced seven turnovers in a 51-14 win over previously unbeaten Maryland on Friday night.
“The schedule certainly is not going to get any easier,” Frost said. “We’ve got a bunch of ranked teams and elite teams down the stretch so we are going to have to improve from what we did tonight.”
>> For just the second time in its last 14 games, dating to the start of the 2020 season, Nebraska did not commit a turnover. Thanks to linebacker JoJo Domann and defensive lineman Deontre Thomas, it was also just the third time over that span the Huskers won the turnover battle.
Early in the second quarter, trailing 21-7, Northwestern had second-and-goal from the Huskers’ 1-yard line. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander called for a run blitz, Domann darted in off the edge, Thomas made his way up the middle and the two met Northwestern quarterback Ryan Hilinski in the backfield before he could complete a handoff. The ball spring loose with Thomas recovering at the 10.
“It changed the game tremendously,” Thomas said. “A lot of times when you’re in the red zone, on the 1-yard line, you’re supposed to score. But kudos to Chins, he sees it all in the box and he called a great call. We just kind of executed and picked up the fumble.”
>> There was a moment between the third and fourth quarter where Nebraska cut the lights and had some fun with a night game.
— Erin Sorensen (@erinsorensen) October 3, 2021
Nouili commented post-game about the overall experience, and mentioned how “insane” it was with the lights and fans.
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.