Finishing on Saturdays have been an issue for the Huskers this football season, but if the week of prep leading up to this week’s tilt against Minnesota (3-3, 0-3 Big Ten) is any indication, Nebraska’s on the right track toward fixing that.
“Week’s been great,” head coach Scott Frost said Thursday. “We're better this week than last week, again. So, day-by-day we're getting better and guys are excited to play in this one.
“Ever since the Purdue game, I feel like the culture on the team finally is pointed in the right direction and moving in the right direction and those [four senior] captains have a lot to do with that. Making sure they're holding everybody accountable. Everybody's having fun playing football, we’re just disappointed with how it's going so far. Everybody's doing the right things now and enjoying being around each other.”
Most of the talk this week has been dominated by finishing. Nebraska held a 10-point lead over Northwestern a week ago with just 5:41 to play in the game and lost in overtime. The focus in the aftermath has been on the final five minutes of miscues rather than the 55 minutes of winning football.
“I think they're closer,” Frost said. “I was broken-hearted for them that it didn't work because they played well enough to win.”
But even then, the 55 minutes weren’t perfect.
“Fifty-five minutes we were ahead, we didn't put together a complete game for 55 minutes,” he said. “We stubbed our toe on offense a bunch or we would have had a chance to blow the game open early.”
Nebraska scored first, then went 27:50 of game clock before scoring again. Offensive coaches Wednesday attributed that to detail plays here and there that, well, stopped drives. A route run at the wrong depth that threw off the timing between the wideout and the quarterback, a holding penalty that turns second-and-9 into second-and-20, a missed protection that ends in a strip sack and touchdown for the defense.
“Certainly, giving them a defensive touchdown on a blown protection didn't help,” Frost said. “Anytime you score on special teams or defense you've got a great chance to win the game and we almost overcame that, but you have to be good to overcome those kinds of things and we've had too many of those out.”
For three straight weeks the Huskers have run up at least 480 yards of offense; they didn’t touch that number once in a single game last season and haven’t had a three-game stretch of doing so since 2007. They could make four straight this week against Minnesota (something that hasn’t happened since 2000) but they’re searching for something better.
“Stats are great,” Frost said, “at the end of the day we’ve got to win the game.”
Other News and Notes
>> Defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg went through walkthroughs with the team Thursday. He hasn’t played since Sept. 22 following a knee injury but Frost said he’s working to get back.
“Mick wants to be back,” he said. “I think he's getting real close. He wants to finish this thing off the right way, so I'm hopeful that in the near future he’ll be back out there with his buddies.”
>> Outside linebacker Tyrin Ferguson, who began the season as a starter but has battled nagging issues since that same Michigan game, is also getting close to a return to the field.
“He looks a lot better this week,” Frost said. “He’d give us another boost as well.”
>> Senior wideout Stanley Morgan Jr. only had two catches and four targets against Northwestern. He’s only 10th in the Big Ten in yards this season and 11th in catches; Frost would like to get him more involved.
“We’re a better team when he has touches so we're going to do what we can to make sure he has a chance to change the game for us,” Frost said.
>> Here's Frost on the Minnesota offense:
"I just started watching their offense as I was getting ready offensively to play their defense. Watched some with Coach Chinander last night and this morning and they’ve got good players on offense, two receivers in particular. We've got to do a good job covering them. I think their scheme is smart and they mix up their running game with max-pro and RPOs and you’ve gotta be on your assignment and know where to go. Then, at the end of the day, when the balls in the air we've got to make plays on it."
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.