Hail Varsity staff members Erin Sorensen, Derek Peterson and Brandon Vogel offer some final takeaways from Nebraska's 34-31 loss to Northwestern.
ESPN sent Tom Rinaldi to Lincoln ahead of Nebraska-Northwestern for a drop in on a winless football program. The resulting segment ran on College Gameday a few hours before the Huskers dropped their sixth straight to open the season, but Scott Frost’s comments before kickoff were just as relevant after the final gun.
Maybe even more so.
“If you’re not willing to look at who you are, you’re not going to fix who you are,” he said. “Right now we’re on hard times. We’re going to look back on these times someday with a little bit of a smile. You need to rejoice in your suffering sometimes because it develops perseverance.”
Nebraska fans and players have had plenty of that sort of rejoicing time this season. As the losses have mounted, it feels like the Husker coaches are even steering into it a bit. With half the games in the books now, the likelihood of salvaging a 2018 season that would be straight-up encouraging to the majority of observers, casual or committed, might be gone.
And while this is of no solace for those most committed now, it will likely buy Nebraska some bonus points next offseason. The Huskers haven’t played well, or at least not a complete game, to this point, but they’re better than 0-6. The credit for that will only come in the spring and summer when the conversation is about projection rather than historical firsts when it comes to losses. Whether this is a good thing or not remains to be seen, but the Huskers will probably be under the radar entering 2019 rather than a team everyone points to as resurgent.
That's not what this season was supposed to produce, but here we are. Over the summer Frost said Nebraska would be really good by Year 2. This 2018 season was expected to get the Huskers part of the way there. And I think it is, even if it’s hard to see with the naked eye.
Rinaldi asked Frost about that comment. He’s still not wavering.
“I don’t believe that,” Frost said. “I know that.”
Scott Frost didn’t want to say much about quarterback Noah Vedral after Nebraska’s 34-31 overtime loss to Northwestern. He was “glad he was granted his waiver” and said he wished “it would have happened earlier this year.” That was about all Frost was willing to say at the moment.
That means questions about the depth chart will have to wait.
“We’ll figure that out later,” Frost said on Saturday.
That didn’t stop the questions from being asked, though. Many fans on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram wanted to know where Vedral would fall on the depth chart. Frost has his starting quarterback in freshman Adrian Martinez. Sophomore Andrew Bunch has been his backup after the transfer of Tristan Gebbia. Nebraska’s only other quarterback option is freshman walk-on Matt Masker, who was on the travel roster for Michigan and Wisconsin.
Nebraska found out late Friday afternoon that Vedral had been granted his waiver by the NCAA. The Huskers had gone back-and-forth on applying for it, but hadn’t made an official decision. Once Gebbia transferred and Martinez was hurt against Colorado, Frost knew they needed to at least try.
It would have been much better had Vedral received the waiver weeks ago. Martinez officially burned the possibility of a redshirt against Northwestern. But, better late than never. Vedral will still add immediate insurance for Nebraska, which is likely why the Huskers opted to leave Masker at home and have Vedral travel to Evanston for the weekend.
Frost will likely unveil plans for Vedral in the weeks to come, but it’s safe to assume the Central Florida transfer will still redshirt this season. He can appear in up to four games without losing his redshirt season, but it’s good news for Nebraska to have another quarterback option if needed. It’s especially good since Vedral has college football experience. He played in eight games for UCF in 2017, completing 22-of-29 passes for 276 yards and a touchdown. He also added 77 rushing yards on 18 carries with two touchdowns.
Frost may want to figure out what to do with Vedral later, but it’s safe to assume Nebraska fans will see him under center at some point this season. Don’t expect him to take Martinez’s job, though. Vedral is strictly insurance right now.
Any real competition at that spot will have to wait until this season ends.
There are always emotionally-charged, irrational people after a loss like the one Nebraska suffered through yesterday. Yes, most of the fanbase is upset but still staying patient, but I saw my fair share of comments calling for staff changes to the defense after six games.
So, let’s talk about that.
First, that’s not going to happen. Year 1 was going to be a rebuild, hence the whole “Year 1” thing. So far, it has been a rebuild. Shocker. The product isn’t going to be finished and the edges are going to be rough, as has been the case this season. You don’t make changes like that. You especially don’t fire three defensive coordinators in two years.
A couple things to keep in mind.
The defense at Central Florida just last season ranked 52nd in the country in scoring defense. By nature of the way the offense plays, the defense is just flat on the field more. The same way Husker defenders talked about Northwestern slot wideout Flynn Nagel shaking free because the Wildcats threw it 64 times and when you throw it that much, big plays are bound to happen, the more opportunity an offense has on the field, the more points it’s likely going to score.
Their whole thing is the offense outscoring teams. The plan at Nebraska is probably to have a defense better equipped to occasionally stonewall people given the upgraded access and reach in recruiting, but the end result is always going to be the same — this is a team built to bury teams with its offense, not suffocate them with its defense.
That plan doesn’t work when the offense gives up seven free points on a missed protection that leads to a strip-sack. That plan doesn’t work when the offense misses kicks. That plan doesn’t work when the offense goes nearly an entire half between scoring drives. That plan doesn’t work when the offense can’t sustain itself.
And the players have to make plays. Asked if he would have done anything differently, Frost simply said: "Well one, I don't call the defense. And two, make a play. One more play. Two fourth-and tens. We obviously can't get a 15-yard penalty when they're buried on the 1 [yard-line]. We can't get pass interferences. We have to make one more play."
That tells you all you need to know about his confidence in the guys leading that side of the ball.
And he’s right. Two different Clayton Thorson passes were in Nebraska hands to be intercepted; both were dropped. They got two takeaways but still lost the turnover battle. A team with Nebraska’s razor-thin margin for error can’t afford to keep missing on opportunities.
Stop either fourth-and-10 play on the Wildcat’s second-to-last drive. Don’t get flagged for roughing the passer. Don’t get flagged for pass interference. Turn your head in pass coverage.
There are areas where Nebraska’s coaches need to be better. Frost will have to answer for the overtime fourth-down call to go for it. Maybe there will be questions during his Monday morning press conference about play-calling down the stretch, but players have to make plays at the end of the day.