Linebacker Mohamed Barry took the podium Monday morning for the Huskers’ weekly press conference and at one point was asked about discipline. He started to get in to an “accountability list” the Huskers have held this season. If a guy misses a class or a meal or a weight session, their name goes on the list.
Early on this season, that list was pretty lengthy. Around the time of the Northwestern game, that list only had one name on it. It’s no coincidence that as the Huskers’ discipline off the field has improved, the on-field product has with it.
“News flash, when guys are doing things the right way we win more games,” head coach Scott Frost said. “The guys, they get it now. We’re not asking anybody to do anything crazy, we’re asking them to be where they’re supposed to be and be on time and do the right things. What’s crazy is when you’re doing that, football gets more fun and life gets more fun.
“Cutting corners and finding ways around things and not being reliable isn’t a good way to be successful on the field or off. … As a team, that’s probably where I’ve seen the most growth. Guys are starting to understand that when they have a responsibility, they need to live up to it and be where they’re supposed to be.”
Penalty-wise, Nebraska played its cleanest game of the season against Bethune-Cookman on Saturday. The offense has hit its stride and the defense produced its most aggressive outing of the season with three turnovers and four sacks. Things are looking up. Doing things the right way has a hand in that, but so does confidence.
Nebraska is a more confident team right now heading into a matchup with a program it hasn’t beaten since 2011. Ohio State owns the all-time edge 5-1, but the Buckeyes have played back-breaker for the Huskers in recent seasons. They’ve scored at least 56 points in each of the last three meetings and have scorelines of 62-3 and 56-14 in the last two.
This Buckeye team might not be as complete as the last two Nebraska has faced but it’s still dangerous, maybe even more so given what happened the last time Ohio State was on the field. Head coach Urban Meyer and company willing have been sitting on a 49-20 loss to Purdue for two weeks by the time they take the field against the Huskers.
“They’ve got their backs to the wall and our guys know they have to be ready because we’re going to get the best of what they got,” Frost said. “I foresee their team coming out and playing with their hair on fire right at the beginning. We need to be able to withstand that initial surge and play well at the beginning.”
Nebraska could be battling a little bit of a phycological battle as well. Given the history between the two, no one outside of Lincoln expects this to even be close. Vegas puts the margin of victory for Ohio State around 23 points. No one in Columbus is even considering losing.
“When I was a player here, there were several teams we’d beat double-digit number of times in a row,” Frost said. “Anytime you go into a game like that, even if you play well and you’ve got a chance, in the back of your mind somewhere you’re thinking, ‘When is it going to happen?’”
The programs that win and keep winning and sustain winning over long periods of time find ways when they need to the most. Close games become few and far between.
“You start to get used to doing the things that make you a winner, winning becomes a habit, the expectations are that you’re going to win and when you have a team like that, you seem to always find ways to get it done,” Frost said. “I’ve seen it happen on a lot of teams I’ve been on, when you go in not just believing you’re going to win but knowing you’re going to win, you find ways.”
Since Urban Meyer took over in 2012, the Buckeyes are 20-3 in games decided by seven points or less. Nebraska… doesn’t have that sparkling of a record in coin-flip games. This game represents two opposites in that sense — one team at the top of the mountain and another hoping it’s on the way up.
“There will be a time in the near future where our guys expect to win those games and make the plays that we need to win the majority of the games we’re in close,” Frost said. “Good teams get there and we’re building it to try and get to that point.”
More news and notes:
>> Quarterback Adrian Martinez has had an opportunity to play in some big stadiums so far this season. That has included games at Michigan, Wisconsin and now Ohio State.
Frost expects that experience to pay off in the end.
"There's a lot of pressure on a Nebraska quarterback. I've lived that playing in those loud stadiums playing against really good teams," Frost said. "He's already gotten a chance to do that. He's going to get another chance Saturday because he's playing in a great place to play college football in a loud stadium against a really good team. The beating he took in Michigan, I hope it never gets worse than that for him in his career. I think he's going to be prepared for it. On top of it, he's going to be a lot healthier than he was going into [Michigan].
"I think he'll be ready and I think the whole team will be ready."
Frost also noted that Martinez is healthier for this matchup than he was against Michigan, and those around him are playing better too.
"We've gotten better around him and that's helped him to improve his play," Frost said. "For as well as he's been playing, a lot of the credit for that goes to better player up front, receivers, running backs all up in their game. Again, the quarterback looks great when everyone around him plays well and he's the one that usually takes the blame even when others around him aren't playing well.
"As Adrian goes, our offense will go and it'll be that way for awhile."
>> When it comes to redshirts, Frost said the staff is evaluating them on an individual basis. That means some players got a chance to see the field against Bethune-Cookman, while others may be held for the final four matchups.
"We're trying to do what's best for each individual player and their future and how that relates to our team and what we need," Frost said. "There will be quite a few guys that will have expanded roles in the last four games. It's going to help our depth on special teams as we get a little beat up down the stretch and should add to the depth on both sides a little bit."
>> Speaking of redshirts, defensive lineman Deontre Thomas may be a candidate for one this season. His placement on the depth chart has changed a bit as he practices through an injury.
"He could be out there playing right now. He'd have a club on his hand and we don't want to put him out there if we can help it without him being at his best," Frost said. "He kind of sat down with us and the defensive coaches and decided he would prefer to save that year. He'll be ready to play if we need him but if we can help it, we're going to hold him out."
>> Nebraska could have been in a tough spot at the running back position with the retirement of Tre Bryant and the transfer of Greg Bell. Frost thinks it worked out for the best though.
"To be honest, I'm glad it went that way," Frost said. "Those two guys given their chance have really shined and that's made us a better football team. I'm not sure if it had been a heavier position group with another guys or two in the mix as much as those two, if those two would have developed the same way that they have. Those two are a really good one-two punch right now and I think it's benefited our team that it's worked out that way."
>> While the last two wins were needed, Frost doesn't think it has changed the attitude of the team. Win or lose, they come ready to practice every single week which has added to Nebraska's practices getting better and better.
"If you'd come out to practice the last five weeks probably, I don't know if you'd see a difference between the ones before or not," Frost said. "I think that speaks to the character of the guys we've got. They're coming back and going to work. There's no pouting after a loss, there's no patting themselves on the back after a win.
"They just enjoy being around each other and going to work. we started this week off really well, too."
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.