What you practice is what you become. That’s one way to say it.
“Bring your own juice, bring your own energy.”
That what Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander had to say about playing without fans. That’s the reality for the Huskers and every Big Ten team in 2020. When the Big Ten Conference brought back football for the fall, it came with a stipulation: no fans.
Well, maybe some fans. Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour—a member of the Big Ten Return to Competition Task Force—recently said while there won’t be ticket sales, there might be a way to accomodate the families of student-athletes and staff both home and away. That would be a “campus-by-campus basis” if it’s possible, and obviously yet to be determined.
Either way it shakes out, it’s going to be a very different experience for teams like Nebraska. Going from 90,000 or more fans on a home game day to “zero to 500 people,” as Chinander said, will have its challenges.
What does a game inside an empty stadium feel like for a team? You can look toward the NFL for some insight.
“Practice,” New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said in mid-September.
“It’s like scrimmaging the Titans or scrimmaging Detroit or scrimmaging the teams that we scrimmage,” Belichick further explained. “There are a few fans there, but basically, there’s no fans there. It’s just the competition. And there’s some energy from your teammates and your own energy, so it is what it is.
“But, I mean, that’s what it’s like out there in practice. There’s no fans in practice either.”
If games feel like practice, then you might as well start practicing like you’ll play. Nebraska offensive coordinator Matt Lubick said that’s what Nebraska has been doing. The Huskers have started practicing inside Memorial Stadium to get used to what an empty and quiet stadium will sound like.
“How we’re preparing for it is we’re actually practicing in the stadium when it’s empty so our guys will be used to what it feels like,” Lubick said. “The biggest thing we’re trying to do is create our own energy by executing and making plays. We’re going to miss Nebraska fans yelling and screaming for us.”
Nebraska isn’t alone. Ohio State—the Huskers’ first opponent of the 2020 season—has moved its practices inside Ohio Stadium in preparation for the season. With a capacity of over 100,000, Ohio Stadium is a definite advantage for the Buckeyes when full. Having the opposite? Well, that takes a different level of preparation.
With that said, Lubick acknowledged that it’s actually not the worst thing for his group. The quiet stadium will help any offense think and communicate pre-snap without all of the yelling from fans. But while that may help an offense, it certainly doesn’t benefit the team as a whole.
“It helps us in a way where it kind of hurts the team in general sometimes with your energy,” Lubick said. “We’re lucky here that we have the best fan base in college football. When our crowd is going nuts, our players feed off of that. We have a tremendous home field advantage so that’s a definite downside.”
When you turn toward the defense, that’s what Chinander means by bringing your own “juice.” Without the fans, the Blackshirts will have to create their own “game-day energy.” There won’t be a crowd to lift the defense up when it’s needed. There won’t be a sea of people in red yelling in support when Nebraska needs a crucial third down stop.
Preparation for that can’t wait either. Chinander and the defensive coaches have been asking their vocal leaders to step it up more now than ever. He’s even been “chasing guys around a little bit” during individual drills, asking for more and more chatter.
“We need to get that going now,” Chinander said. “We have the best fans in the country, period. There is always a lot of juice coming from the stands, so we are going to have to bring our own a little bit.”
Nebraska is looking for ways to still get fans involved on game days, but it certainly won’t be the same. For teams like the Huskers, losing that fan energy can be a concerning one. And the team knows the only way forward and it requires everyone on the team to buy in.
“Energy from the sideline, energy on the field,” senior safety Deontai Williams said. “Coach has been emphasizing energy this whole offseason. That’s what we need this year, just energy.”
So that’s exactly what Nebraska is practicing for. What you practice is what you become, after all.
Bring your own juice.
— Nebraska Football (@HuskerFBNation) October 3, 2020
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.