Hail Varsity staffers Derek Peterson, Erin Sorensen and Greg Smith offer some final takeaways from Nebraska's loss to Iowa.
Scott Frost called his first year at Nebraska “a trying year.” It was full of ups and downs, “a lot of emotions” and a belief that if things could just start over now, it would all be different.
“We just weren’t there at the beginning of the season,” Frost said following the loss to Iowa. “In some ways the pain we went through was necessary. To get their attention, unify the team. I wish it hadn’t had to happen. This team is good enough to beat a lot of people. This team is good enough to be a bowl game. I’m so excited about the future and grateful to the seniors for holding things together.”
Yes, Nebraska’s seniors did hold things together through those ups and downs. Call them the glue, if you will. And they’ve been through a lot, which makes it that much harder that they won’t ultimately experience everything they helped build.
“Unfortunately, they don’t get any more time left with Coach Frost and see what we are going to become and build,” freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez said. “I know in a few years looking back they are going to have a lot of pride in what they built and laid the foundation for. These next few years we are definitely going to play for these guys who put their heart and soul out there for us and didn’t get the best result.
“We weren’t necessarily ready and hadn’t adopted the whole culture but at the end of the day they will be proud of what they did here at Nebraska.”
Frost said there are guys, like wide receiver Stanley Morgan, that he hopes to stay in touch with for the rest of his life. It’s clear that even in a year’s time, Frost has grown a deep appreciation for thus senior class. The feelings are mutual.
You saw the locker room photo following Nebraska’s 9-6 win over Michigan State. The look on the senior’s faces said it all. One week later, Frost and his staff spent their time post-game tweeting thank yous and positive words about all 19 seniors.
Senior Luke Gifford was emotional sitting in front of the media Friday evening. It’s a lot to put the last five years into context for these seniors. They played for three head coaches and a number of assistants. Change was constant, and they learned to adapt time and time again.
Now that things seem to be trending upward (or at least a bit more stable), their time is done. It feels a little unfair, even if the seniors treat it as anything but.
“I’m so happy for these guys,” Gifford said. “They are going to win a ton of games here and I’m thankful for them. The way they’ve embraced us and looked up to us as captains. They are good kids, they work hard. Coach Frost is awesome and I can’t wait to come back to watch them.”
A solid foundation laid in a trying year by a group of seniors that never lost faith. May they always feel part of this team, even long after they’ve graduated.
Year 1 of Frost as the head coach of Nebraska brought us basically what we expected. There were some tremendous highs, like the scene on Senior Day at Memorial Stadium following the win over Michigan State.
There were also some lows, like the game in Ann Arbor against Michigan which Frost called “rock bottom.” And then there was the Troy game that feels like it happened in an entirely different season.
Despite it all, we also got a lot of excitement for the future. Frost spoke about the future of the program at Nebraska during his post-game media session following the loss to Iowa.
“When we were 0-6, this team could have quit, it could have fractured,” Frost said. “The seniors just kept leading and pulling the rope. I’m grateful to them for this season and the way it worked out. I told the young guys, it’s time to get back to work. I like a lot of the pieces we have and we are going to add to it. There is no doubt in my mind where this thing is going and the direction we are heading.”
A big reason why fans are so excited about the future of this program is because quarterback Adrian Martinez’s future is very bright. Martinez finished eighth in school history in passing yards in a season (2,617), sixth in completions (224), second in completion percentage (64.6), fifth in total offense (3,246), first in total 300-yard games (7) and tied school record for total 400-yard games (3).
After the game, Devine Ozigbo set the bar of where he thinks it’s going for Martinez.
“I expect to see a Heisman in the next three years,” Ozigbo said. “I feel he’s a guy that can do it. He’s playing crazy for a freshman. Giving this kid more time to grow, develop and learn the offense will be bad for everyone else. I’m excited to see what he can do.”
Going forward, the Huskers have a lot of returning pieces on a team that finished the back half of the season 4-2 with chances to win both of the games they lost.
It also helps when national writers think your quarterback is special.
Here’s an interesting quirk that might not mean anything or it might mean something: opponent’s yards-per-completion average dropped each of the last six weeks of the season. The best performance of the season for the Blackshirts in that regard was holding Troy to 7.9, but the last two week’s the defense has produced the best two averages since. Iowa was at 9 yards a completion.
I wrote Tuesday about the improvements across the board but the secondary in particular has been much better. The takeaways are up, the takeaway opportunities are up in a big way, the chunk passes are down and completion percentage is way down.
The secondary, even after the Iowa loss, feels good about where they are as a unit right now. Senior safety Tre Neal told the defensive backs as such in the locker room after the game.
“Look, y’all are going to be the best group on the team,” he told the group. “Going into the season, we were the group that had the doubts, we were the group that was the most inexperienced, we were the group that you didn’t know what you were going to get from us. Yeah, we’re losing some safeties but you’ve got Deontai [Williams], JoJo [Domann], Marquel [Dismuke]. They’ve made plays.
“You guys are going to be the team. That’s who we’re going to lean on, that’s going to be the group.
“Y’all gotta take that step not just on the field and in the weight room, but off the field. Live your life right. If you’re not living it right, the football gods are going to come back and make you pay for it. Once you’re doing off the field right, you’ll start living right on the field.”
Soon-to-be junior corner Dicaprio Bootle talked postgame about a leadership role he plans to take into next season. Bootle not only led the team in passes defensed, he led the entire Big Ten conference. Nebraska didn’t have a guy in the top-30 last year.
And for the first time in a while, this secondary will move into an offseason with the same defense and the same position coach. There are some key pieces on the field leaving — safeties Aaron Williams, Antonio Reed and Neal — but the corners are all back and safety was already a deep spot.
“We’ve got a lot of returning guys that can play some ball,” Bootle said. “Coaches will go out now and recruit some guys that can also contribute. I think with us having a whole year in this defense and understanding what we can and can’t do in the defense and understanding how it works, I think just understanding the defense more and more will really contribute to us getting better.
“Even though we lost, I feel like we’re still riding the momentum. We understand what we can do now more than ever.”