Nebraska knew what it would have to do to play without fans in Memorial Stadium.
“Bring your own juice, bring your own energy.”
That’s what defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said in early October about playing without fans. He wasn’t the only one to say it either. Coach after coach and player after player admitted it would be weird without the atmosphere they’d grown accustomed to at home. They weren’t too worried at the time because they practiced in the stadium daily in preparation.
Practice can only do so much though. Until you live it and experience it firsthand, you really have no idea what to expect.
Nebraska had played two games on the road to start the season. The Huskers were supposed to be home against Wisconsin in Week 2, but that one was canceled due to an outbreak of COVID-19 for the Badgers. Saturday’s matchup with Penn State became home opener 2.0, allowing Nebraska to see firsthand what Memorial Stadium was like on game day without fans.
Well, most fans. There was a small number of family members in the stands, supporting players and coaches of both teams. There were thousands of cardboard cutouts in East and North Stadiums too, smiling through it all. It was a far cry from the 90,000 or more fans that usually pack into Memorial Stadium on a typical game day though.
While a lack of fans—or maybe better said as noise in general—may benefit an offense, it’s a different story for a defense. Without the fans, the Blackshirts had to create their own “game-day energy.” That meant when things got tough and the defense needed a big stop, it was on them to make it happen.
Can you blame Collin Miller for trying though? The senior inside linebacker turned to the small group of parents and loved ones sitting in the West Stadium bleachers a number of times and raised his arms high into the air. While they responded to the best of their ability, it wasn’t the noise the Blackshirts were used to.
This is where practice comes into play. If Nebraska had truly practiced to “bring your own juice,” this was the moment.
Penn State had six red zone trips against Nebraska on Saturday. The Nittany Lions only had one touchdown to show for it. When things got uncomfortably close for the Huskers late in the fourth quarter, that’s when the defense really stepped up, too. Penn State had been perfect on fourth down conversions throughout the day, but late in the fourth quarter was when the Nebraska defense decided enough was enough.
“I’m so impressed by our defense in that last quarter,” Luke McCaffrey said following Nebraska’s 30-23 win. “All of them played their hearts out.”
Here’s the thing: Penn State outscored Nebraska 17-3 in the second half. Penn State also outperformed Nebraska 501 yards to 298. The defense was tired by the end and you could see it, but the Blackshirts also didn’t stop fighting. If that’s what bringing your own energy is all about, the Huskers stepped up when it was needed most.
“It means everything. It’s big time for our program and team,” JoJo Domann said.
Plenty lies ahead for Nebraska. The Huskers face Illinois at home next Saturday, Nov. 21. It’s another 11 a.m. CT kick, and there won’t be any more fans in the stands for that one than there was against Penn State.
But if the win over the Nittany Lions showed anything, it’s that this team can find that energy when needed.
Nebraska knew what it needed to do, after all. Sometimes it’s just nice to see what was practiced play out.
— Nebraska Football (@HuskerFBNation) November 14, 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.