Nebraska dropped its matchup with Troy Saturday, 24-19. The Huskers are now 0-2 for the first time since 1957. Brandon Vogel, Greg Smith and Erin Sorensen offer three takeaways from Nebraska's matchup with Troy.
Nebraska got a gift with 11:43 remaining in the third quarter. Already down 17-7 at the half, one of the best sources of hope for Husker fans during the break was that Nebraska would have the ball to start the second.
Result of that drive? A punt. A punt that Troy fumbled and true freshman Cam Taylor recovered at the Trojans’ 8-yard line. Expected point value, based on a decade of drive data, for a drive starting at the opponents’ 8 –– 5.3 points. A field goal would be a loss in this scenario.
Nebraska ran twice for a total of 2 yards, setting up a third-and-goal from the 6. The Huskers’ play call at that point told me everything about how the offense was executing under backup quarterback Andrew Bunch to that point and the options the staff thought they had. The Huskers threw a fade to Stanley Morgan Jr., and a fade is a low-risk, but low-expectation-of-success play, even when it’s thrown to Morgan.
This was not the attack everywhere and always approach to offense that’s a hallmark of Scott Frost teams. It was any-points-are-better-than-no-points. This isn’t a criticism of Bunch or the play call, just an indication of how things were against Troy.
The Trojans did the thing you’d expect against a backup quarterback –– loaded up against the run –– and Nebraska, for much of the day, struggled to turn it loose and open up the passing game. “We kind of wanted to ugly the game up and not lean on [Bunch] early,” Frost said, adding that he thought Bunch played well.
I thought Bunch played well, too, on an ugly day for the offensive line, but Saturday’s game will go down to me as a pretty clear testament to the value Adrian Martinez brings to the offense. He allows Nebraska to run all of the offense it has in to this point.
This isn’t an excuse, just an indication of how things were against Troy.
October 28th, 2017.
That was the last time that Nebraska football tasted a victory. When coach Scott Frost and his staff took over the Huskers' program, they were not just inheriting a 4-8 football team but a team that had just as much mental work to do as physical work. Sure, Frost needed to bring back Husker Power and better nutrition to get the players’ bodies ready to play better football. However, the part of the mental part game that we can’t chart so easily has perhaps flown under the radar too much.
Through all of the mistakes, turnovers and penalties through the Huskers first two games, one thing is clear. This program needs to learn how to win again. Senior outside linebacker and captain Luke Gifford was asked about this notion after the loss to Troy.
“I think the guys need to remember how to win," Gifford said Saturday. "When you get those opportunities, good teams have to shut it down. And that’s what’s so frustrating, you can see how good this team can be. There’re so many good things that we’ve done. And things that you see throughout the week and the way we go about our work, but it needs to all fall into place. And I think once we do that, we can get this thing rolling. I hate to stand up here and talk about how we can and do this and do that because we’re not. We haven’t yet.
"It’s not lip service, I don’t want it to be that. But you can see it in this team that we have something.”
I take Gifford and many others on team at their word when they say they are working hard. The truth is you can see increased effort on this season, particularly on defense. The offense has been clunky so far but the second game in a brand-new system was led by a backup quarterback.
This team desperately needs to experience a victory. The only problem is they now enter conference play. After the week three results around the conference, suddenly the slate doesn’t look so daunting. Even for a program struggling to find its groove.
Walking to the post-game press conference after Nebraska's loss to Troy, I wasn't sure what to expect. Coach Scott Frost has been thrown into the thick of it with Nebraska, for better or worse. What would he message me to the team?
"I just got done telling the team that when things get tough like this, you’ve got two choices; you fight back and you work even harder or you give up," Frost said on Saturday. "I also told them that if anyone doesn’t want to stay on board this ride with us, let me know now and we can get off. I know where this is going, we just haven’t had the results early that we need.”
That quote stuck me as a little odd at first, but I didn't give it too much pause. He was on to the next question and answer before I could really think too much about it.
And then senior linebacker Luke Gifford came to the podium.
"Everything you do in life you have to have discipline," Gifford said. "Getting up to be at meetings at 5:55 instead of 6 and making sure you’re at every meal on time. Those are the things where we’ve come a long ways but there’s still a little bit left to go. And it shows up on the field on Saturdays when it’s third and whatever and you get a penalty for whatever it is. It’s just shooting yourselves in the foot and I think that goes back to discipline.”
No arguments from me there. Discipline is important, but it was his second sentence that struck me.
"Getting up to be at meetings at 5:55 instead of 6 and making sure you’re at every meal on time. Those are the things where we’ve come a long ways but there’s still a little bit left to go."
Between Frost, Gifford a number of other players on Saturday, I've been left with the impression that something is lacking for Nebraska on its roster. It sounds like some players haven't fully bought in to what Frost and his staff are trying to do, and that's showing up in preparation. That preparation then leads to lack of discipline on game days.
I suppose I should have seen this coming. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander alluded to it on Tuesday when asked about the Blackshirts that were handed out.
“Some of them it’s ‘You played great in the game, now you need to compete with yourself in practice," Chinander said at the time. "Maybe you didn’t go to class, maybe you’re late for meetings, maybe it’s other behavioral issues that we need to correct,’ but there’s a reason why each and every one of them did or did not get a Blackshirt."
There's no additional context about who is and isn't going to class, or showing up to practice on time. It sounds like there are some issues regardless, and that's showing up on game days.
I take Frost at his word though, and anyone not buying in will want to hop off soon. This thing should click one of these days (sooner or later, I don't know), and any extra baggage will be left behind.