Scott Frost asked his team something after the Northwestern loss he didn’t really want a response to, he just wanted them to think about the question.
They have a mantra, this new coaching staff does. Have a desire to excel and no fear of failure. After a 34-31 overtime loss on the road, a loss in which Nebraska held a 14-point fourth quarter lead, Frost wanted his guys to answer for themselves whether they took the field late thinking, “I’m gonna go finish this,” or was there something nagging in the back of their minds saying, “Oh no, here we go again?”
“I don’t want the guys to get used to losing and be OK with it,” Frost said Monday afternoon at his weekly press conference. “I know the vast majority of our team isn’t, but I don’t want them to get comfortable with it either.”
He was admittedly worried coming into the building Monday morning about which team he was going to see out on the practice field following what happened last weekend.
The worry quickly subsided.
“I was so impressed with how they came back today,” Frost said. “Not only would I say it was our best Monday ever, by far, probably our best overall practice of the year. I told the guys after practice that says a lot about who they are and how they responded.
“I wish people could see inside the walls and see how good the culture is right now and how much it’s turned and how much better it is and how much the guys have banded together. … I told them I’m so glad I’m their coach, that I hope they can recognize how much improvement they’ve made and how far they’ve come not just on the field but everywhere.”
Frost does find a little humor in the way the narrative tends to write itself. For 55 minutes, the story that Nebraska wrote Saturday was one of excitement. “It happened, Nebraska finally won. Corner turned.” Instead, the final five minutes of the game wiped away the positive from the ledger and replaced it with phrases like “epic collapse” and “worst start ever.”
The way it should be? Sure, “we’re in a competitive business,” Frost says, but it blurs reality a little bit of what actually took place.
“We were one play away at the end of that game, on about 20 different plays, from having some really good things said and having some excitement,” Frost said, drawing on what was a theme from Saturday’s postgame. “I want the guys to take that out of [the game]. We certainly have played well enough several times to win games, haven’t caught a lot of breaks and it just hasn’t happened but it will.”
Frost watched the defensive film back with defensive coordinator Erik Chinander on Sunday. They identified six or so plays when Nebraska went base and the Northwestern offense sputtered. Until the fourth quarter, the defense gave up one touchdown to the Wildcats. The coverage busts have grown few and far between.
Frost sees things heading the direction he wants it to go.
“There’s no doubt watching the last three weeks how much better we’ve gotten,” he said. “It breaks my heart for these guys that it hasn’t led to a slash in the win column yet.”
Technique is where the attention turns to now. Sixty-two percent of Northwestern’s yardage came on 15 percent of its plays. Sometimes it was a misalignment, other times it was giving up leverage, other times it was playing the wrong technique in coverage. Whatever the reason, Frost said the detail things — the things that frankly don’t get ironed out until a second offseason in a system — are happening at the worst times.
“Those mistakes and errors happened and they happened exactly when they couldn’t happen and those are habits we have to break,” he said. “But hey, when the chips are down and the game’s on the line, we need to be at our best. We haven’t exactly done that yet.”
Hence the glass-half-full approach to the second half of the season.
One of the team goals heading into this season was to make it to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game. However realistic that may have been, that goal is unattainable at this point. A bowl game, another goal, can likely be put into the same category. Asked what the carrot on the end of the stick is now, Frost said it’s all about seeing the hard work rewarded.
“Winning a game is… that’s the carrot for me,” he said. “It needs to happen. At the beginning of the season, I got asked a hundred times, ‘What’s a good result this year, what’s a good record, how many games do you want to win?’ My answer then is the same as it is now, we’ve got to get better day-by-day.
“If we take care of [business] day-by-day, then we’ll end up in a good place in the not very distant future. We can’t change that thinking right now, we can’t change that message to the players right now. They’re responding. Today was the best practice we’ve had since I’ve been at the university.”
Other News and Notes
>> It appears freshman safety CJ Smith will be out for an extended amount of time after a knee injury suffered against Northwestern. Smith had to be carted off the field after a would-be Wildcat tackler rolled up on his knee.
“I’m not sure if we know for sure yet but it doesn’t look really good yet for the rest of this year,” Frost said.
>> After receiving a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately, Frost said quarterback Noah Vedral will play this season if they can get him into games but they won’t burn his redshirt.
“He’s the most familiar with our scheme of anybody on campus,” Frost said. “He’s good enough to be on the field for us.”
Nebraska didn’t immediately apply for a waiver when Vedral transferred from Central Florida after his freshman season, but once starter Adrian Martinez was injured against Colorado in the opener, they petitioned the NCAA for immediate eligibility. They didn’t get an answer until last Friday.
“I wish we would have gotten that ruling early,” Frost said. When asked what took so long, he was a little hesitant. “I got an explanation and it wasn’t the NCAA’s fault. I’d rather not comment farther than that.”
Vedral has six games to play four. In six appearances for the Knights a season ago, he completed 22-of-29 passes for 276 yards and a score. He also ran for another 77 yards and two scores on 18 carries. Most of his work came during mop-up duty.
>> Saturday’s atmosphere, at times, felt like a home game for Nebraska. Cornerback Dicaprio Bootle felt that on the field whenever the Huskers made a big play. Look at the right angle and red overpowers purple.
“Those fans up there in Chicago were incredible,” Frost said. “They were supportive before the game, they were supportive and encouraging after the game. That’s what Nebraska fans are all about. I said it on the radio show afterward, I can’t tell you how appreciative I am of those people that are behind us. I hope a lot of those people see the progress we’re making.
“It isn’t where we want to be right now but just wait and see.”
>> Linebacker Luke Gifford said there have been players from opposing teams that are just as surprised at the Huskers’ start as Nebraska is. Quarterback Adrian Martinez said there isn’t a losing culture inside the locker room and Bootle said that’s different from a year ago.
>> On a third-and-1 call during overtime, the Huskers were flagged for false start. Watch the replay and you’ll see Martinez calling for the ball well before he gets it.
“The ball was supposed to come,” Frost said. “I didn’t know it and I didn’t know if it’s true or not, Adrian said the music was still playing and I don’t know if that had anything to do with it or not but that’s not supposed to happen.”
Frost made sure to structure that statement so it wouldn’t come off as shade towards Northwestern, just another in a string of mishaps coming at the worst times.
“We’ve had a couple of those at the wrong times this year,” he said. “We had one in the Colorado game on our last drive where we just didn’t snap the ball. Our quarterbacks have to be louder, our centers have to be locked in. We can’t make mistakes like that, particularly late.”
>> Running back Devine Ozigbo likes the helmet on the new alternate uniforms. Be prepared to fight him on it.
Frost added that he hasn’t seen them yet but “anything to give us a little mojo right now I’m all for so I hope they look good.”
>> Minnesota rung up 54 on Nebraska last season. Ozigbo felt like the Gophers ran the score up on them. He said that’s what they’re supposed to do, score points, but it provides motivation nonetheless.
As for the defense that gave up those 54 points, they’re a little motivated.
“Oh yeah. I’m motivated as heck,” linebacker Mohamed Barry said. “I’m ready for this game.”
“Anybody that was in that game last year should feel the same way,” Bootle added. “They did run it up on us and it felt like they weren't going to stop. So, if we get that opportunity and we got them where we want them, we've just got to keep our foot on their necks and just crush their spirit. If we're in a dog fight, we've just got to keep fighting until the clock hits zero.”