There seemed to be a general sense around Nebraska football that when things broke towards the good they might break really big.
Saturday was big. Historic in ways that went beyond Scott Frost’s first win at his alma mater.
The 684 yards of total offense for Nebraska were the most against a Big Ten opponent. So were the 53 points. The Huskers had three rushers top 100 yards –– Devine Ozigbo (152), Adrian Martinez (125) and Maurice Washington (109) –– for just the fifth time in school history.
“Sometimes when you break through the dam the floodwaters come and this isn’t going to be the last one,” Frost said after the 53-28 win over Minnesota.
It was the offense the Huskers had been hinting at all season long, the one Nebraska fans knew would come with Frost from Central Florida. Eventually.
It fully arrived against a Golden Gopher defense that had held its previous two opponents –– No. 19 Iowa and No. 2 Ohio State –– to fewer than 3 yards per carry the previous two weeks. Minnesota is not one of the Big Ten’s best 1.5 seasons into the P.J. Fleck era, but it’s solid. At least it was on defense entering Saturday.
Yet Nebraska cut right through the Gophers. Why?
Momentum. At least that’s my read. It is the rocket fuel for this Frost offense, the thing that allows the Huskers to turn up the tempo, the flurry of punches people got used to seeing as UCF averaged nearly 50 points per game in 2017, and Nebraska too often dumped that fuel on the ground during its 0-6 start. There were impressive drives during that stretch, but rarely drives that seemed to build off the ones before it. Nebraska would bust down the field in four plays, as it did against Northwestern to open the game, and then do not much of anything until halftime. There was the opening touchdown drive against Purdue followed by five straight punts.
This time, however, Nebraska kept the pedal to the metal and it did it by staying ahead of the chains. Way ahead.
The Huskers’ ran a successful play, based on success rate, on six-of-seven plays on its opening touchdown drive. They were four-for-four on the second touchdown drive, seven-of-nine on the third and three-of-five on the fourth to open up a 28-0 lead. For the game Nebraska posted a success rate of 62.9 percent. The national average is typically around 41 percent.
That efficiency allowed the Huskers to fully add the explosiveness piece to this offense as well. Ozigbo had 105 of his 152 rushing yards on his first three carries including a 40- and 59-yard touchdown runs. Martinez had a rush of 53 yards. He also had a 67-yard touchdown pass to Stanley Morgan Jr. J.D. Spielman added a touchdown, which was the least surprising stat of the day as Spielman has scored in every game but one this season.
“We talked about No. 2 [Martinez], we talked about the two wide outs and the running back, and we didn’t stop them tonight at all,” Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said. “We didn’t come close to stopping them.”
Overall the Huskers had eight drives that included an explosive play and every one of those drives ended in points minus the drive at the end of the first half when Nebraska simply ran out of time. Six-of-the-seven drives that scored ended in touchdowns.
That’s the way this offense can look for Nebraska, right now, with a true freshman quarterback and a defense that, well, still has plenty of holes. Particularly against the pass. Minnesota averaged 9.7 yards per pass and hit for 10 of 15-plus yards. That was almost enough, during a tense middle stretch for Nebraska, to have Husker fans fearing the worst as Minnesota whittled a 28-0 lead all the way down to 28-22.
Nebraska responded with 18 unanswered points. No near miss this time. No gaudy-but-ultimately-empty box score.
This one included the numbers showing a Nebraska win on the first page. Finally.
After the best offseason, Husker fans had the worst start to a season in program history but they got their release this time.
And Frost got a Gatorade shower. At his postgame press conference he called it an “inappropriate Gatorade shower,” with a smile.
“I’m glad the guys are so excited. They deserve to be excited. But there’s going to be a day around here when we’re not celebrating one win.”
But before that Frost had to do his on-field interview with the Big Ten Network crew. He was still dripping at that point.
Asked how it felt at that moment, Frost responded simply: “I’m cold.”
It was relatively warm in Lincoln for his first win –– 58 degrees at kickoff –– but it finally felt like the Frost era should.
And now it feels like the Frost era can really begin.